Understanding Relationships

by David Tillman

Trying to understand and make sense of a relationship, especially after it has ended, takes time and reflection. 

I was talking to my friend Eric one day and he shared a way of looking at relationships that has helped me. Eric told me, there are three types of relationships: casual, assignment, and continued assignment. A “casual” relationship is two people getting together for a short time. After a weekend or a few weeks, one or both realize this is not a long-term relationship. The relationship intensity changes and often the relationship ends. An “assignment” relationship is where two people get together to learn something from each other. When the assignment is competed, the relationship ends. A “continued assignment” is like the assignment relationship, however, in the midst of one assignment there is another assignment created. Think of a red thread of assignments interweaving through a relationship over time. This new assignment could be related, or not related, to the earlier assignment. As each assignment comes to a completion (or gets stalled), the newly created assignment creates the focus for the relationship to continue and grow.

A long-term relationship, like marriage, is a series of assignments. For the relationship to continue and grow new assignments are created. Five, ten, thirty, fifty years into a marriage (relationship), we are not the same person as we were on the day we met. We have grown and learned so much from each other throughout a relationship. There may come a day where we, for whatever reason, may it be death or something else, that our assignment(s) is complete and the relationship ends.

Sometimes it is easier to look at a work relationship rather than a personal relationship. A mentor of mine worked for our company for fifty-four years. He loved his sales job and many of his business clients had become close social friends. He would visit his clients most business days to talk about new business projects (new assignments). Then he went back to the shop to write up the order(s) and do his part during the production of the job. After he retired, it took him some time to adjust to a new routine. The orders (assignments) that kept his business relationship with his clients purposeful and vibrant had ended. He maintained some social relationships with clients and co-workers after he retired. With his newly found free time he created new assignments with his family, church, and fraternal group he had been devoted to throughout his life. Upon his retirement, his business assignments ended. He created new assignments in existing and new relationships.

At the time, this understanding of casual, assignment and continued assignment relationships, helped me to emotionally let go of a relationship that had physically ended many years ago. I learned that in the process of letting go of past relationships I had opened up energy for new relationships (new assignment).

© David Tillman, 2018, all rights reserved