What Everyone Wants In Relationships

The Irish are not unfamiliar with gallows humor. When my father died suddenly at the turn of the millennium we were shocked and saddened at his passing. But the family joke was Dad was the only thing that hadn't survived Y2K.

At Dad's wake I was happy to greet several of the men who had worked with him over the years.

Many of them I had not seen since I was a boy but I remembered them with fondness. There was Kelly and Carnie, Mulligan and Roman. Roman wasn't Irish. But he was dad's boss so he got a pass.

These gentlemen, septuagenarians all, had come to pay last respects. They swapped stories about the good old days and inquired about the others they had worked with, both living and dead.

At one point in the conversation, Kelly shared a truth that has stuck with me to this day. "As the years pass," he remarked, "you don't remember the projects, or the deals you did. You remember the people. That's what lasts, the good friendships."

Old school? Maybe.

Later that year I was reminded of the wisdom of Mr. Kelly's words as I facilitated a meeting of business partners. They were experiencing a rough patch in their relationships despite a long track record of solid collaboration.

As the meeting progressed it became increasingly obvious the rough patch was related to conflict that had turned from honest differences of opinion about the business to personal disrespect.

I asked each of the partners to talk about what their long-standing friendship meant to them. Before long there was not a dry eye to be found. It did not take long to parse through the areas of disagreement and find mutually satisfying solutions.

My late mentor, the cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, identified four things we all want in relationship. These perennial truths apply to business, family and community interactions equally. When they are present, relationships thrive. Where they are absent or insufficient, relationships become obstructed and conflicted.

Honor & Respect

The first requirement for healthy relationships is honor and respect. Honor is the capacity to extend respect. Respect is the ability to "look again past our opinions, differences and fixed perspectives."

One of the most important ways we convey respect is listening. Consistently, people in conflict identify the failure to listen as a cause and an escalator of division.

Too many of us operate on just two modes: speaking and waiting to speak. No one wants to have their thoughts, feelings, words or needs go unheard, be dismissed or diminished.

Slowing down to listen is respectful. It is also an enabler of relationships. It is a gesture that says, "You matter to me."


Membership is the second requirement for healthy relationships. Where we feel we belong we engage in a heartfelt way. A sense of allegiance and loyalty grows; we're part of the tribe.

Belonging helps us be part of something greater than ourselves. Having a shared mission or a cause, and good company on the journey, strengthens social bonds.

Even hardships on the road enhance the sense of comradeship and affinity. When we work together to meet challenges and overcome obstacles we bond at deep and meaningful levels.

As demonstrated at Dad's wake those bonds of friendship can last a lifetime.

Being Wanted, Needed and Acknowledged

Feeling wanted and needed reinforces our sense of self-worth and self-respect. Such recognition lets us know our presence and contribution is valued.

Having the experience of being chosen - whether for a pick-up baseball game in the schoolyard or for an important assignment at work - is validating.

When we feel wanted, needed and acknowledged reciprocity flourishes. This spirit of healthy connection allows us to participate in the flow of giving and receiving, central to teamwork.


We all value the opportunity to choose as a means to guide our own lives. This agency of liberty and responsibility plays a central role in the creation of identity and the pursuit of a meaningful life.

When our choices are respected and supported we feel a sense of partnership and relationships grow stronger as a result. When our choices are restricted or opposed most of us struggle. An environment where we are treated like children fosters authority issues and rebellion and undermines relationships.


The four things we all want in a relationship seem simple. However, given the speed of our daily lives it can be easy to forget these time-tested truths. Remaining mindful and a commitment to practice can be transformative. Our collective lives become more meaningful and nurturing when we create lasting friendships. 

The great Irishman, William Butler Yeats, observed: "There are no strangers here; only friends you haven't yet met." Ultimately, isn't it precisely what we all long for in relationship?

Posted on May 23, 2015 .