SF Counseling Center

Relationships and Concentric Rings

It may not immediately make sense to think of relationships in terms of concentric rings, but here is the idea.  Many people get into relationship difficulties because there can be a misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship.  However, look at the photo of concentric circles above, and think about each ring loosely as a category.  The center ring may represent your closest relationship(s). The center ring is reserved for those you are absolutely closest with, not just people you like or even love but the people who are so close you actually let your not-so-flattering side out as well.  Those people. It could include a spouse or partner, kids, maybe parents and/or a close relative or friend.  This circle should not include everyone.

The next circle would be very close friends and family. People you love or really like a lot.  These are important people in your life.  A litmus test, however, is that we tend not to include them in our craziness (that’s for the center circle!). As the circles get further from the center, these would represent people with whom you are less intimate.  A couple of rings out from the center might represent casual friends, work friends, perhaps people in your social circle that you like but with whom you are not super-close.

People are not set in any given circle.  Sometimes we lose track of friends, or the relationship simply becomes a little more distant.  They might move to a slightly more outer ring.  Similarly, we may have a work friend or casual acquaintance that we find we really like, or perhaps even fall in love.  Obviously, that would move them increasingly more toward the center ring

Using the metaphor of concentric circles of relationships, we can begin to explore the nature of relationships a bit differently.  One example is to understand the nature of some behaviors in relationships.  Why didn’t the neighbors invite me to the birthday party – oh, it turns out it was only for immediate family (you are not in that center ring, or maybe the next ring, but maybe that is ok).  Sometimes people feel relationships are too much work.  One variant of that might be exemplified in this statement: ‘Relationships are so much work, do I need to open up and be emotionally intimate with every friend?’ No.  Maybe that friend is someone with whom it is fun to hang out, grab a coffee or see a movie, but maybe that is all the relationship needs to be.  At least at this point in time.  There is nothing wrong with some friendships being more casual and some being more intimate.

Once you think about the nature of your relationship, it can help you calibrate your expectations of that person.  Should you expect a casual acquaintance or a friendly coworker to loan you money for your rent?  How about the person/people with whom you are closest? When you learn how to adjust your expectations of others, based on the type of relationship it can help take a lot of pressure off of each of you.  Similarly, when you understand your role in relation to the other, you can gain a better understanding of where you do or should stand.  Not every relationship should be a casual acquaintance and not every relationship has to be mind-meldingly close.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also want to check out:

(Borges and) The Exquisite Vulnerability of Being Known

Attachment Style and Relationships

10 Easy Tips to Help You Improve Your Relationship 


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