What is a Relationship?

I recently attended a workshop with Lon and Sandy Golnick. The workshop was titled Relationships by Design and I am sharing what I learned from them.

The word relationship has no meaning…

Why is it that the question ‘What is a chair?’ generates a consistent response yet asking even a small group of people to define a relationship produces many different answers?

A dictionary is of little help as looking up the word ‘relationship’ yields the following definition: ‘The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected.”

If you then look up the word ‘connected’ you are rewarded by the following definition: ‘Having social or professional relationships.”

This is known as a circular reference proving that, while useful, the word ‘relationship’ has no meaning.

The difference between ‘Play’ and ‘Game’

Games don’t have rules, they are rules

When we agree to play by the same rules that is called being in Game.

You can interact without rules. That is simply called play.

If you are playing by different rules (or don’t know the rules) you cannot be in Game

When any participant stops following the rules, they are no longer in Game.

There is no such thing as being ‘in a relationship.’

In-relationship is a state (just as liquid and ice and vapor are states of water)

Relationships don’t have commitments. A relationship is a state that exists because of its commitments

In-relationship is a binary state (you either in-relationship or not in-relationship)

Being in-relationship or not in-relationship is not good or bad or right or wrong.

Similarly, there is no such thing as a good relationship or a bad relationship.


Commitments must take the form of an action. It is impossible to commit to a result.

Commitments must be shared and only exist when accepted.

As such, commitments are bi-directional. There is no such thing as ‘My commitment to you.’ Similarly, there is no such thing as holding someone accountable for their commitment.

When we embrace the concept of commitments as mutual, we remove judgment.

When we remove judgment, we accept that commitments cannot be broken. They simply go unfulfilled which creates the possibility of creating a new commitment.

Relationships don’t have commitments. Relationships are commitments

If you make a commitment to another person and they accept your commitment, then you are in-relationship.

The absence of commitments is a state of not in-relationship.

You can interact without commitments. This is called Play.

Unspoken commitments are not commitments.

Breaking commitments puts us in a state of not in-relationship.

Withholding (aka lying) puts us in a state of not in-relationship.

Final thoughts

Neither being in-relationship or not in-relationship is better or worse or right or wrong.

That said, reading the menu of a fancy restaurant tells the story of eating there and may even allow you to imagine eating there.

This is materially different from sitting down to order and experience the meal.

Most of the emptiness in our lives comes from telling the story of being in-relationship while trying to convince ourselves we are living the experience of being in-relationship.


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