We use the metaphor of a three-legged stool with a seat to define a relationship. If you remove one leg from a stool, it falls over. If you remove the seat the legs will fall apart. Likewise, if you remove any one of the four required elements of a relationship, your relationship will fall down and fall apart.
A solid relationship rests on these three legs: Time, Trust and Communication
Time. Time includes both quantity and quality. Quantity means being physically present; quality means being emotionally present. “Hanging around” together on the weekend or offering the remaining scraps of energy you have left at the end of the day is poor in both quantity and quality. Taking a week-long, luxurious vacation together is rich in quality but doesn’t make up for three months of neglect. A relationship requires both quantity and quality of time together to remain strong.
Trust. Building trust requires both Integrity and Risk. Integrity means doing what you say you are going to do, being reliable with your words and actions. If you say you’ll be back at 6, then be back at 6… not 6:30. It’s a simple understanding but a challenge to put into practice. Trust also means taking a risk and being vulnerable, to share your emotions with another knowing that your secrets remain safe. To earn someone’s trust you must take a risk and have the integrity to do what you said you would do. Most of the time it means keeping what was shared between the two of you.
Communication. Communication has two components. The first is speaking. Being able to share your thoughts and feelings through verbal communication is essential. Moving beyond the logistical and into the meaningful is essential. The second is listening, active listening, is even more essential than what we share. Active listening is confirming what you hear as you are hearing it. Asking good questions leads to great listening and a deeper understanding of the person who is speaking.
But the metaphor is not complete. A three-legged stool without a seat sounds like a primitive torture device. Keeping the stool together is the seat of reciprocity. You can give all of your time, trust, and communication to your partner, but if your partner does not return those in kind, your relationship is doomed to become empty and filled with resentment.
Throughout our lives, we will have multiple relationships beyond those that we would call intimate. Think of the relationships you have with siblings, parents, bosses, coworkers, neighbors, friends, and extended family members. For those relationships to grow requires time, trust, and communication. This is even true within your spiritual relationship. If you want to know God or have a spiritual experience, you must spend time, take risks, and communicate with God.
If you want a quick snapshot on the health of your relationship, evaluate the amount of time, trust, and communication you invest that is reciprocated.
- How much time are you spending together? Is it quality time or just quantity time?
- Are you being vulnerable with each other and are you doing what you said you would do?
- Are you listening? Do you feel heard? Are you able to repeat back what you heard and understand where the other person is coming from?
- Finally, are you taking more that you give?