“Have You Seen your Relationship in 3D?”

That’s a question I’ve never received, at least to my recollection. However, there is another question I have received: “Have you seen that movie in 3D?” The question is usually followed with, “Oh, you have to see it in 3D. It’s so much better!” I’ve seen a few movies in 3D format and, overall, I’ve been impressed with the visual ingredients and the viewer impact. Seeing something in three dimensions is certainly more “real” than a two-dimensional view. The absence of one dimension deprives the viewer of a total sensory experience. Recently, while considering the effects of 3D technology, I began to ponder the idea of “3D Relationships.” Specifically, I was wondering about our ability to experience the height, length, and depth dimensions of a human relationship. The height of the relationship could reflect the level of joy we experience, while the length clearly indicates the duration of the relationship. The depth of the relationship deals more with issues of intimacy, understanding, and overall maturity. Without the depth dimension the individual is cheated out of the best part of the relationship.  Therefore, the preference is clear:  let’s see relationships in 3D!

In regard to a “3D Relationship” you might have already raised in your mind a good question:  “How many dimensions does a relationship really have?” I asked the same question, and my ponderings reminded me of some research done in the late 1950’s about three key dimensions of personal relationships. In his book The Interpersonal Underworld published in 1966* Dr. William Schutz presented and discussed his research and the resulting FIRO models. The acronym FIRO stood for Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation. As I read his book and examined some of his research I was particularly impressed with the concept that every human relationship is comprised of three key dimensions:  inclusion, control, and affection. Our behavior within those three dimensions affects our level of satisfaction and happiness with our relationships. In my professional work as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I’ve shared that concept with many couples, and the discussions usually helped them toward better mutual understanding of their basic relationship. In this brief article I’d like to share with you several aspects of Dr. Schutz’s work, along with some adaptations to contemporary relationships. In our discussion I’ll use the marriage relationship as the primary setting, but the concept concerns relationships in general.  

A healthy relationship means that the two people are, at the least, reasonably satisfied with each other on all three dimensions—inclusion, control, and affection. For each dimension there are two types of behavior: the amount of behavior we express outwardly to the other person and the amount of behavior we want to receive from the other person. Since we aspire to have healthy relationships we need to make sure that all three dimensions are receiving adequate attention in our day-to-day efforts. With that need clearly in mind let’s explore the three dimensions by defining the core concepts, determining the current level of mutual satisfaction, and developing the application. Hopefully, our exploration will provide a fresh way to view 3D relationships.



                                        “Image Is Everything.”


So says the sign outside of a local barber shop. The statement caught my attention and caused me to consider its meaning and its implications both for individual and relationship health. Is image really everything? If it is, perhaps we need to rethink the role that image plays in our day-to-day lives. If, indeed, image is everything, perhaps we need to work much harder to cultivate and maintain the right image. The statement on the sign invites several relevant questions about the issue of image.

What does “image” mean to you, and how important is it in your life? First, in your personal life how much attention do you give to image? How much time do you spend on your physical appearance in terms of clothing, hair style, and physique? Secondly, in your relationship life how does the issue of image affect your choices of spouses and friends? What specific image are you trying to project or present to people around you? What price are you paying in your effort to create and sustain that particular image? How concerned are you about the way you are seen or perceived by people around you? To what extent do you base your appearance and behavior on image?

The bottom-line question is this:  “Is image really everything?” As we consider our responses to these questions we probably would downplay the notion that “image is everything” but admit that image is certainly something. The importance we place on our image could be measured by a number of assessment tools, such as the time and money we invest in image, or the amount of emotional suffering we experience when our image is criticized or rejected by other people. Another useful assessment tool is the extent that we wear a mask.

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                                      “How Can I Manage by Behavior?”

Have you ever compared life to a maze? You know, the kind of maze with countless dead-ends and trails that keep you circling back to where you are now. The kind of maze in which all of the choices look alike so it’s hard to know which path to take. The maze that gets you clearly confused and totally tired and, to make matters worse, it seems as if you’re no closer to the end than when you started. Yeah, that kind of maze. While watching television recently I saw a sitcom episode in which two mice were placed in two identical mazes in order to compete against each other in trying to reach a bit of cheese. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the behavior of the mice as they went this way and that way, bumping into walls, retracing their steps, and going in the wrong direction at times as they slowly moved toward the cheese. The roadmap was clear to me as I watched the maze from above, but the mice did not have the advantage of my perspective. Finally, one of the mice managed to solve the maze and was compensated with a cheesy reward.

As I enjoyed the humor of the maze episode I also pondered the similarities to our journey through life. In many ways life is indeed a maze, complex and frustrating for the typical traveler. From our human perspective we can identify with the mice in that, with limited vision of the big picture, we can only see what is immediately in front of us. Like the mice we can “smell the cheese” but usually we resort to a basic trial-and-error approach to reaching the “cheese.” During our efforts to solve our maze we’re hoping that we don’t get to the end only to find that someone has moved the cheese!

Clearly, our ultimate goal is to solve life’s maze and to complete the maze successfully. Our success will be determined to a large extent by our personal behavior during the journey through the maze. Additionally, success is dependent upon our ability to manage our minds and our moods. Our individual thoughts and our personal emotions combine with our daily behavior to determine whether or not we solve life’s maze. The self-management of thoughts and emotions has been explored in companion articles, leaving us here to consider the issue of our behavior as it relates to managing our maze.  


                     “We Can’t Communicate!”

On this particular point Ted and Tara* were in full agreement. After ten years of marriage they were deeply frustrated that their couple communication was ineffective and insufficient. Tara underscored their problem when she said, “No matter what we try in our communication we can’t seem to get on the same page with each other. What we actually get is more frustration!” As she described her relationship with Ted she added, “When I go to him to talk about a major stress I’m having, he tunes me out or he leaves the scene. He doesn’t care about my feelings.” In response Ted explained his point of view:  “But I can’t handle it when Tara comes at me with so much emotion. I feel like I’m under attack and I max out quickly. Then I just have to get away from her so I can think things through privately.” As we continued talking it became clear to me that Ted and Tara loved each other very much in spite of their communication and problem-solving issues. Yet I could hear a growing sense of fear about their future if they did not find a better way to relate to each other. Ted’s follow-up question echoed their growing concern and stress:  “So, how do we survive in this kind of relationship?”

Excellent question, Ted! You’re certainly not the first person to ask that question simply because many other couples struggle with the same communication stress. The prevalence and predictability of the stress invite us to explain the sequence and to explore a solution.


                     “How Can We Stay in Touch?”

This important question reflects a concern about relationship connection. Spouses or couples who raise the question understand that the loss of connection invites trouble for their relationships. One man described his concern with the words, “My wife and I are hanging on together by a thread!” Perhaps you’ve felt a similar sense of anxiety about your relationship. The question about “staying in touch” encourages us to examine the concept of relationship connection and to explore specific tools that can increase and maintain connection.
The issue of relationship connection reminds me of the importance of bridges. Pretend for a few moments that you’re taking a journey somewhere. You’re on the highway, driving toward your destination, making good time and enjoying your trip.  Then, being the observant driver you are, you notice in the distance ahead a large blinking emergency road sign.  As you approach the sign you see the information you had hoped you would not see:  “Bridge Out—Detour.” 
The sign “Bridge Out” certainly conveys significant information to us.  Historically, bridges have always been important to people.  When intact, bridges are usually taken for granted; when “out,” the same bridge is both missed and mourned, especially if the detour involves a twenty mile trip!  Whether they are built over waters or wetlands, gullies or gorges, chasms or canyons, bridges play a vital role in connecting people.  Bridges have been essential for effective travel, commerce, and even war-time activities.
For our purposes regarding growing healthy relationships a bridge is a useful metaphor for “connection” and “disconnection” between people.  If we want connection with people, we build a bridge (“Let’s get together.”).  Conversely, if we want disconnection, we “burn the bridge,” as if to say “Let’s get apart!”  To build or to burn as a decision depends upon our goal—to connect or disconnect.  There are times when we may need to disconnect, to end the relationship, so we choose to “burn the bridge.”  On the other hand there certainly are times when we want to connect to insure that the relationship will endure, so we choose to build the bridge. The bridge brings connection; connection enables us to stay in touch.


                              “I Just Can’t Help the Way I Feel!”

With these words Mary* talked through her tears about the affair she was trying to end. Months earlier she had “developed feelings” for a friend at work. The man was an eager listener and Mary enjoyed the positive attention she was receiving. He seemed to really care about her feelings, and the relationship evolved quickly into an emotional affair that was exciting and validating for Mary. Predictably, within a few weeks they began meeting together outside of the workplace and the affair quickly became very physical. Mary’s new-found life came crashing down, however, when her husband confronted her with solid evidence of her behavior and gave her an understandable choice—their marriage or the affair. He preferred to work through the crisis and save their marriage, but he would pursue a divorce (and custody of the children) if she maintained her affair. In the midst of her dilemma Mary was now trying to sort things out and make a life-altering choice. In exploring the extramarital relationship she stated several times, “I just can’t help the way I feel.”

How many times have you heard that statement from individuals caught up in their emotions? Perhaps you’ve wondered what they meant by their words. Do they literally believe that their feelings are beyond their control? Are they trying to justify their feelings? Are they trying to emphasize the intensity of their feelings? Are they seeking permission to continue feeling the way they do? In Mary’s situation the emotions were extremely intense and powerful for her, so much so that she could not imagine life without them. Yet she also felt love for her family and grieved at the prospect of losing her husband and her children. Her words reflected her turmoil: “I’m so mixed up. What do I do with my feelings?”

Mary’s question touches every person simply because we all experience emotions. Many people travel the Highway of Life with uncontrolled emotions, while other individuals work very hard in their efforts to manage their emotions. Our feelings determine our emotional state or our mood. Who wants to journey through life with a depressed mood or an anxious mood or an angry mood? Furthermore, who wants to travel with the individual who maintains those kinds of negative moods? Safe travels mean that we will practice emotional self-control; that is, we will learn how to manage our mood.

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