Relationships exist on a continuum, a continuum of intimacy and commitment, and this occurs on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level. When relationships ebb and flow in balance along this continuum, things go pretty smoothly. But what happens when roles are distorted? Inequalities lead to emotional turbulence, abuse, and discontentment.
Considering the multiple levels of intimacy along this continuum can help establish healthily growing mutual relationships. When relationships are broken because of damage, neglect, or abuse, restoration is necessary for a healthy future. Our greatest intimacy is with God. God has already offered us a lifetime commitment and is available to guide us in meeting all of our needs.
From Acquaintance to Commitment : How relationships develop
The ebb and flow of relationships is nothing new to humanity. Reading the Bible from beginning to end reveals a never ending saga of relational support and upheaval, and God's constant calling on his people into restorative health. His commandments and instruction is not for our hinderance and limitation of pleasure; quite the opposite, if we examine it closely it is designed for the deepest indulgence in relational enjoyment and intimacy, aiming at a goal of being the very picture of heaven on earth.
You’re encouraged to take some time to dive into these Biblical stories. Turn your heart toward God and follow the links that pop out at you. Receive any wisdom you might find, and consider how you could put it into practice today.
a Relational Continuum
ACQUAINTANCES: Small talk is sometimes disregarded as frivolous or meaningless, but it's actually an initial building block of trust and an exploration of common ground. It's here, on an acquaintance level, where we initiate the continuum of a relationship, and depending on common ground, two people may decide to move deeper
Physical Intimacy: Normally acquaintances don't share physical intimacies, but hookups are on the increase. Hooking up is a relational risk, because very little is known about another person at this stage. Sex and intimacy leave us very vulnerable to breaches in trust and personality conflicts. Broken faith hardens our hearts over time. Because few hookups ever lead to lifelong commitments, a series of hookups, and the resulting brokenness can damage our ability to be able to be fully vulnerable and trusting with our lifelong partner down the line. God designed physical oneness to be a beautiful part of a fully committed, trusting, connected relationship. The hurt, emotional turbulence, and hardened hearts that follow hookups can only be restored by cleansing grace and a new trajectory.
Work: Some work relationships never extend beyond the acquaintance stage. With each person fulfilling their own responsibilities, possibly overlapping one another in civility and cordiality, a great deal of work can be done without increasing in intimacy.
Self Disclosure: Very little - light stories about the weather, current events, interesting or funny personal incidents. Unloading cares and concerns at this stage, or sharing intimate details about your life, may lead to problems. A lack of history and care can mean snap judgements might prevent an ongoing relationship. It's also possible that the person you've met can't be trusted with information that is deeply personal.
Spiritual: Maybe participation together at church, in service projects, or prayer over public issues and general topics
Commitment: None save a personal commitment of respect and care for fellow humanity
FRIEND: A Google search reveals this definition, "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations."
Physical Intimacy: Casual – a pat on the back, a hug – Whatever is mutually comfortable for both parties.
Self Disclosure: Sharing stories about life and love, and as trust grows, deeper troubles, concerns, desires, and seeking/giving advice
Work: Sometimes helping each other get things done, mutually participating and helping as possible in one another's activities.
Spiritual: Talking and discussing experience of God, praying together about concerns and cares
Commitment: Mutually defined by the relationship, situational or can grow to longterm
ROMANTIC INTEREST: a person with whom there exists both friendship and sexual interest, with the possibility of partnership. It must be stated that this is unacceptable between those vastly different in age and maturity, such as between an adult and a teenager or child; or between close family relations because of genetic complications
Physical Intimacy: Mutually beneficial physical contact for reassurance, flirting, and pleasure. Again, physical intimacy at this stage is premature, because so many relationships cannot be sustained much beyond this point.
Self Disclosure: Self disclosure increasing for support, knowledge, and trust building
Work: Experimenting with involvement in one another's work, testing waters, sometimes integrating working roles into the relationship
Spiritual: Talking and discussing experience of God, praying together about concerns, cares, and future plans
Commitment: A constant evaluation of commitment determines the continuance or termination of this relationship
COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP: a person with whom their exists a friendship and sexual interest, with a growing interest in long-term partnership
Physical Intimacy: Our society encourages sexual relations at this stage, and for good reason. The average age for marriage in America is about 28 years old. This is well past the age when our sexuality is established. But we were not designed to handle the severance of a sexual relationship well. Refraining from sexual intimacy at this stage solidifies commitment and increases self-control, a skill which will lay a foundation of protection for a long term relationship when it experiences hardship. Diving into sexual relationships at this point may foreshadow affairs down the road when difficulties in life strain a relationship and future temptations heighten. It is our casual attitude toward sexual intimacy in these earlier stages that actually makes a lifelong committed relationship difficult to impossible. Refraining from sexual intimacy at this point also protects future relationships from torn devotion. Restraint can heighten the urgency of entering into a lifelong commitment, or a realization that the person you're with is not suitable to be a lifelong partner, which prevents years lost with an uncommitted partner. It's so common in our culture to dive right in. But there is value in taking a step back and recommitting our sexuality to God, who wants to see us enjoy it for a lifetime.
Self-Disclosure: Increasing disclosure of histories, belief systems, and future dreams
Spiritual: Seeking, learning, and experiencing God together, considering whether this experience will be mutually pursued for the long term
Work: Establishing regular patterns of work integration, experimenting with the work relationship in longer term goals
Commitment: Establishing relational habits with an eye toward the future, considering and evaluating the possibility of a lifelong commitment. Some people enter into marriage at this point, without a commitment for a lifelong relationship. After some time has elapsed, it is this very reluctance to enter into a lifelong commitment that will guarantee that the relationship will end at some point.
LIFELONG COMMITMENT: a publicly professed commitment to partner in life together in work, family relations, emotional support, and sexual intimacy
God's design and humanity's response are two different things. Humanity's rejection of God's design has always brought heartache and trouble: Adam and Eve, Sarah and Abraham, Jesus on Marriage and Divorce, Paul's Early Church Teaching on Marriage, In the Context of God's Love
Physical Intimacy: Seeking not only the one's own pleasure, but the pleasure of the other; building communication through the depth of physical and sexual intimacy.
Self Disclosure: Deepest self-disclosure shared with each other, like none other, as if that person were an extension of self. Commitment to do whatever it takes to support one another through difficulties and challenges of life.
Spiritual: Seeking, learning, and experiencing God together for a lifetime; seeking the prosperity of the other person continually before God. This only works if both parties are similarly invested.
Work: Dynamically and personally integrating sustainable work practices for mutual benefit. Considering abilities, limitations, and gifting to make the whole relational machine run best.
Commitment: A commitment to love one another, submitting, surrendering, and serving one another for a lifetime. When times get tough, stretching the gamut of physical, emotional, and spiritual muscles to support one another in highest priority, joining together in work, intimacy, friendship, spirituality, and play.