Climbing The Relationship Staircase

Potemkinstairs

I don’t know about you, but I find relationships challenging. All kinds, not just romantic. In fact, any type of interpersonal involvement! Positions and titles define things much easier. I know what is expected of everyone, and it removes all the stress! But no, relationships are organic. They evolve and change and grow. They require investing and stewarding and involve my heart, which means feelings and emotions and the potential for pain. Relationships, by definition, need vulnerability to flourish. Vulnerability means risk. A relationship without risk will be static and will not grow.

Men, how do we develop and deepen our relationships?

We pursue. We chase. This is true of all our relationships, not just the romantic ones. As men, we demonstrate courage and leadership and drive and passion by being the ones who pursue. So let’s define ‘pursuit.’ What do I mean?

Picture a staircase, and you are at the bottom. Next to you is a person you want to grow in relationship with. You want to get to know them better, understand them more and strengthen your connection. The level you have with them currently isn’t enough; you’d like more. Each step on the staircase represents a little bit more commitment in the relationship – a little bit more intimacy, a little bit more of your heart, and dare I say it… a little bit more vulnerability. This staircase principle is true for all kinds of relationships. Family; friends; leaders; other men; women. Yes, women as well.

Pursuit is inviting another party to ascend with you to the next step of the relational staircase.

pursuitJessica regretted not taking her pepper spray with her

As a man, you get to show leadership and courage and see if the other person wants to take the next step in the journey with you. Through clearly communicated action and intention, you can give them the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to your invitation. They may say no and you may get rejected. But honestly, you’ll get over it. If you’re too scared to risk rejection, you might need something simple, like the willpower to man up and step our of your comfort zone, or something deeper, like inner healing or a revelation of your true identity in Christ.

The good news is, they may also say ‘yes.’

Progressing a relationship is a process that takes time. I can’t say how quickly, because everyone is different. But racing up the staircase, in my experience, can often be problematic for people when, all of a sudden, one party no longer wants to ascend, sending your connection to a screeching halt. Oversharing Oliver and Olivia need to learn discretion, wisdom and maturity. Otherwise, cue the hurt, rejection and searching questions. You don’t go all in before, during or after one coffee! Once you’ve ascended a step, it’s really difficult to step back down again without some kind of fallout.

runaway-brideJane took her time choosing the right outfit for her coffee date

Slowly, slowly climb up the staircase. Don’t over commit and expose yourself. Don’t under commit and expose the other party in your relationship. The heart is a tender thing; guard it, for it is the wellspring of life.

You see, each step should involve an increase in intimacy and commitment. Trust is needed, and trust is  built step by step. There aren’t any shortcuts. Intimacy and commitment are two relationship keys required from both parties, no matter the level of relationship. Why? Intimacy without commitment is abusive, and commitment without intimacy is exploitative. These relationships aren’t healthy relationships. Intimacy grows as we walk further along our relational journey.

This is why marriage is at the top of the staircase. In some ways, it’s the start of a new, unique staircase, Marriage is a covenant – a lifelong relationship that stays connected no matter what. It is therefore the place which has the fullest demonstration of intimacy, and be matched with the fullest demonstration of trust and commitment.

You may need to define what your relationship looks like. You don’t step up the first rung and say ‘lets get married.’ The first step might look something like, “Hey, I’d love to get to know you better. Can we get a coffee some time?” or some other situation where you can prioritise a person and get to know them a bit more intentionally. Boundaries will always be important, but trust builds up over time. It grows through the respect shown in stewarding each others hearts, which causes the relational connection to grow.

netIt wasn’t quite the relationship Johnny had in mind

Pursuit means you need to communicate intentions. You’ll need to say what you want from the relationship! Scary, again! Another chance at possible rejection. I’ll say it again – relationships never grow without risk. Be the man, take the risk, and risk the pain of rejection. There is no reward without risk. However, rewards are sweeter when worked for. The most rewarding relationships are the ones you have to fight for.

Stating intentions for a relationship is called defining the relationship. But really, we are always defining the relationship. We are always needing to clarify, communicate, invest, steward, apologize, manage expectations, define boundaries and express needs. I’m married, and I need to do those things all the time. That’s why relationships are organic. They are alive. They grow and develop. As soon as we look for universal, one-size-fits-all rules to navigate the emotional minefield of relationships, we lose the very thing about them that brings us life.

Returning to the staircase illustration, what this means is that we can look at all our relationships and decide what step we want it to be on. We can hope the other party is in agreement. But we’ll only make it happen if we ask and see! If we don’t step out, due to insecurity or fear, we run the risk of missing out on something amazing, or we allow ourselves to remain in disingenuous relationships where needs, desires and expectations are not truthfully being communicated. Open and honest communication is a huge part of healthy relationship. We have to be willing to speak truthfully with each other.

So, climb the stairs. Take the risk. Rejection hurts but it also heals. All people value being pursued, because pursuit communicates value. Especially for women. This is why romance is such an important thing. But that’s another subject entirely…

Anthony Hilder

Anthony Hilder is a life coach, writer, speaker and thinker, with a background in business, ministry and coaching. He enjoys sampling new foods, watching soccer and supports Tottenham Hotspur, guaranteeing many sleepless nights. He currently lives in Redding, California with his wife Katie.

Be sure to read Anthony’s blog and follow him on Twitter @anthilder.

  • Pillars of Steel

    These are some great thoughts. I have observed that it can be difficult for us men to pursue relationships. Romantic relationships can be difficult enough, but even in our culture, it seems it is sometimes ‘unmanly’ to pursue a friendship with another man that goes deeper than the latest NFL game. It also takes risk to pursue a friendship with another man that will hold you accountable and build you both up spiritually. The staircase is a great way to think about this.

    • Anthony Hilder

      Thank you for your thoughts and comment. I agree; this applies to all kinds of interpersonal relationships, not just with the opposite sex.

  • Travis Domingo

    Wow, great and insightful article. I personally have not been the best person in relationships, especially when it comes to the intentions part and to the commitment part. A lot of us as young men miss the point that relationships are work; that there is so much more that needs to be done once the “courting” is done. Maintaining relationships aren’t easy, because like anything in life, once we forget about them and don’t maintain them, they fall apart and break. I myself have made this mistake, under the false impression that relationships are supposed to just happen. The staircase analogy works perfectly in this case, and never thought about it as that. Thanks for the wisdom!

    • Anthony Hilder

      No problem, thank you for the encouragement!