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The relationship continuum: From “It to Us”: Part 1 of 5 – Our drive to connect

The It to Us continuum

The relationship continuum, from “It to Us”. I completely forgive you for asking: What the heck is that supposed to mean? If you’ll stick with me for a bit however, after a brief description of our drive to connect, I promise that over this 5-part series I will not only explain the “It to Us continuum” fully, but will also provide you with a good understanding of the different ways in which we connect with one another.

In my experience as a relationship therapist over the last 25 years, I’ve come to understand that any given relationship can be placed along a continuum denoting exactly what type of relationship it is.  I call this the “It – Us continuum”. Once you understand how it works you’ll quickly be able to evaluate any given relationship to determine how much personal commitment those involved have to each other, what it is that brings them (and keeps them) together, and most importantly: the level of intimacy they share. In part 1 of this series, we’ll talk first about our drive to connect and to be in a relationship of some sort in the first place.

Almost nobody exists as a solitary figure. As a species, humans pretty much always connect with each other – it’s inevitable. Our pre-programed survival instincts cause us to do so. This drive to connect with others is, quite literally in our DNA. This is why pretty much every one of us lives in within a collective some description: be this a small remote hamlet on the Isle of Skye, or a tower block in Peckham. Almost no one lives the life of a hermit, it just doesn’t feel right.

This pattern of connecting starts out at the group level. If you cast your mind back to your school days and the playground, you’ll remember there being a large number of possible friends and playmates in the schoolyard. Each member of that crowd had the same field of prospects to connect with as you, but we all pretty much automatically disregarded some members of the group as potential friends and gravitated towards others. This smaller collective then became “our” friendship group and depending upon the combined personality of its members, that group was either more, or less, inclusive and welcoming of new members. Certainly, groups composed of “Mean Girls”  are not new, and playgrounds/offices/NCT groups have suffered some variant of this forever!

Once we’d found ourselves a sub-group to connect with (even if this was a large sub-group such as the school drama club, rugby team or chess club), we then found ourselves becoming a bit more selective and chose one or two people from within that sub-group to become “best friends” with – or even our girlfriend/boyfriend. This pattern of narrowing down from a larger group to a more specific one, to then selecting those we want to be in a closer relationship with does not really change all that much as we get older, it just becomes a bit more sophisticated.

What does change however is the nature of the starting field of prospects. As we get older this field becomes more limited, and specialised.  It might consist of other mums at the school gate, members of a club we’re in (the gym or the running club), people from our office building as a whole, or just the company that we personally work for. From there we narrow down the field and bring people closer in the same way we’ve always done. In the next blog of this series, I will begin to describe in more detail how this process works in terms of the “It – Us continuum”. Specifically, I’ll talk about the entry level of the continuum, and talk about “Its”.