I wrote about a model for relationships in Triumph over Time. The model for relationships is somewhat simple, however, we’re humans, which means the relationships themselves are crazy complex.

There’s you—the self you. There’s the thing or person outside of you. There’s the connection between you and the thing or person outside of you. Each thing or person sharing the connection has their individual relationship to the other. All of that sits within the relationship system; what you can think of as the relationships with the thing or person (or even a group. If it can be named, you can have a relationship to and with it; any noun.

Every interaction I have travels from me, through my relationship to you, across our connection, through your relationships to me, and then it arrives with you; your self.

Let’s focus on the relationship to bit, because it’s the crux of relationship. The relationship to piece has the same mental, physical, and emotional batteries mentioned in the action loop. To use a metaphor, this is where the emotional bank account Stephen R. Covey describe in the The 7 Habits book. Every interaction that comes through connection will either deplete or charge the batteries inside the relationship to.

When you think of finances, how do you feel?

For some they begin feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained; they shutdown. For others, they get excited and feel invigorated. That’s their relationship to finances (or money).

Now, between your relationship to a thing or person, there’s a space. In that space are your boundaries and dealbreakers. For example, maybe you refuse to borrow money for any reason; that’s a boundary for you and your relationship to finance and money. Finances aren’t a sentient thing, therefore, its relationship to us is entirely neutral.

When it comes to other people, however, it’s a different story.

Whether you know me or not, you have a relationship to me (or at least the ideas I’m writing here), and I have a relationship to you (or at least an abstracted idea of you). There may be some ideas that, for you, cross a boundary—positive or negative. There may be an idea or turn of phrase that is a dealbreaker. Dealbreakers are harder boundaries that are more fiercely protected and crossing them could result in negative consequences to either side of the relationship with.

When it comes to other sentient beings, particularly with humans, there are also alliances and agreements; it’s not possible to enter into alliances and agreements with things or people who have lost their capacity for processing informed consent—like someone who is unconscious or unaware.