I love games. I especially like the beginning of games, when the whole adventure is about to begin. You’re not sure how it will all turn out, but you’re looking forward to the brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums. However, most folks don’t approach building new relationships with quite the same feeling of glee. Frankly, many people feel the same way about building new relationships as they do . . . say . . . cleaning out the cat box or going to the dentist – not a barrel of laughs but necessary none the less. But whether we’re talking games or cat boxes, there are always some guidelines to follow so the outcome is hopefully positive and beneficial for all involved.
There are so many helpful and insightful books, articles, and blog posts out there about what these guidelines, habits, and rules are to help us build meaningful relationships. They all have something to teach us. And yet, at the end of all this advice, I find that most of it boils down to a few key pieces. I call it the Law of Relationships. My law states:
For a healthy, positive relationship to exist between 2 or more people, respect, trust, and caring must be present first.
Just like scientific laws act as the rules of the game of our existence, the law of relationships acts as the underlying principle that underpins all of the other actions we take when we build and maintain our relationships. When I look at all my varied relationships across the span of my life so far, I see they generally fall into two categories – good and not so much. Within the “not so much” category, usually respect, trust, and caring are all on the slim side. Bottom line – If the other person has proven themselves to be untrustworthy, not respectful of me or others (and therefore not earning my respect), and does not inspire me to care about them on a personal level, all the advice and techniques in the world will not turn that relationship into a solid foundation upon which we can build a future. There’s the rub.
So how do these rules of the game help us, even in these situations? Particularly when the way is challenging, I think of these relationship rules as the Minecraft approach to relationship building. In Minecraft, you develop a vision of what you want to create and then you build and create it – resource, by block, by crafting formula – within a controlled environment. Although you have endless options in what you create, the building blocks and rules of how to use them are finite and set. When it comes to building relationships, especially new or challenging ones, most of the advice takes the Minecraft approach. You mine for information, collect personal details, use your tools to intentionally craft a relationship for a specific purpose. It’s very practical and helpful when you’re not sure how to start. However, like the Law of Relationships states, at some point you need to actually respect and care for someone if you want a real relationship to develop. Those are the rules of the game.
So let’s be honest – respect usually comes as a result of watching someone’s actions to see if what they say and do are in sync. Do they do what they say when they think no one is watching or when their effort won’t gain them anything? You come to respect their judgment and coupled with their consistency of action, it begins to build trust. Once you have those two things, caring usually comes along because you are now invested in each other and you want to help sustain them. Before you know it, you’ve got a real relationship growing. That formula needs to work both ways, however. Are you a person whose actions and words are in sync? Do you do the right thing even when it isn’t going to be noticed or the effort won’t gain you a thing personally? Do your actions inspire trust and respect? And there’s the first step in building a quality relationship – be a person with whom you would want to build a relationship. Start with yourself, be genuine in your care and assistance of others, and you’ll find yourself on your way to establishing new relationships with those around you and with those whom you support.
But for all of this to be true, and for our relationships to be real, it really can’t be a game. It has to be sincere. Ironic, isn’t it?
And there’s the adventure in our game called real life. We might have rules and guidelines, and we might intentionally work on ourselves to be our best selves, but it’s all very real; it’s not a game. The brilliant moves, shocking turns, and brain aerobics needed to solve frustrating conundrums takes on a new level of intensity when “the game” is actually real life – your life. So use the advice and the techniques to craft your own vision of good relationships as you strive to keep it real in a world that wants you to believe it’s all just a game.