Nominalizations, Groupthink and PossessionThe first thing I can say about the word "relationship" is that it's a 'nominalization', that is a verb which has been converted into a noun, and thus objectified. There are many words like this; "relationship" (to relate), "government" (to govern), marriage (to marry), etc.
Some of these words also objectify a group as an independent thing that can think, decide, etc, which is not true. Every group is made of individuals each having individual thoughts, making individual actions, and so on. When the capacity to think is attributed to a group, bad things happen. Words like "couple" and "government" exemplify this. Even the simple word "we" can lead you down a slippery slope.
Finally, when it comes to relationships, there is a tendency to cling to the illusion of posession. "My" boyfriend/girlfriend, "my" husband/wife, "my" country, etc. In every case, some exclusion is claimed in general by external coercion. You serve one country, one significant other, one God, etc. to the exclusion of all others, and to do otherwise is a betrayal. It is by this means that everyone is converted into a slave, to their job, their spouse, their country and so on. This is based on a fundamental distrust, and creates a lot of resentment which is ignored until things start to break at the seams.
To RelateTo understand how a 'relationship' works and what makes it good or bad, you have to start with what actually makes it up; actions. The words you say, the gestures, touches, the jokes, laughing, provocations, teasing, activities you do together, and so on. What each person does and how they do it speaks volumes for the nature of a relationship. I should note that 'to love' is also a verb, although it can be strange to consider feelings as actions.
The most important thing is what it is you're actually interacting with. Most people are unable to see the person/people in front of them. All they can see is their own hopes and fears, or else the hopes and fears of others. Unable to see both at the same time, they can't make an intelligent compromise between their own wants and those of others, so they try to manipulate the situation to get what they want.
To ConsiderThe theme of "being considerate" has come up a lot for me lately, but it hadn't really occurred to me just what it means to consider. To consider what? Well obviously, the other person's feelings. Stereotypically this is something women complain about to men, although the reverse also happens.
To be considerate is a very difficult thing to do no matter what's between your legs. Not only do you need to be able to consider the other person's feelings and context, but you also have to respect your own and strike a fair deal between them. Even if you're willing to do that, figuring out a person's feelings and what's important in their context is not a simple task. That's the kind of stuff psychologists have been arguing about for more than 100 years now. It occurs to me that it's not really so complicated, it's just that they try to stick really complicated names on things that are absurdly ordinary. This is also where the depth is at, and what gives relationships the potential to be great.
To PresentIf consideration is the depth, to be present is what brings the depths to the surface. What is it that you present when you're "being present"? No less than your awareness, attention and influence (which are also nominalizations; to be aware, to attend, and to influence). Usually these are preoccupied in thoughts; hopes, fears etc. There is an entire class of meditations (focus meditations) which focuses (facepalm here) on developing presence. This requires a practice of developing flexibility and depth of focus, shifting from the big picture to various levels of details, and expanding your senses as far as they will go, then extending your influence through your awareness. Usually people do the opposite: they look at reality, then at their desires, and try to manipulate reality to get their desires, only looking later to see if they got what they wanted.
Deeper MeaningThis has been the topic of a few arguments I've had recently. How do you know what relationships are worth pursuing? Is it better to have just one romantic relationship or many? Where do you draw the line?
I think there are really two important points here. The first is that, in order for a relationship to be functional, it must be fair. If one partner gives everything and gets nothing back, then it isn't much of a relationship. This doesn't just mean in terms of physical things or favors, either, but also in terms of being considerate and emotional closeness. This requires that both people can see and work out a fair deal, otherwise you get dependency or co-dependency, or one person or both are getting used.
The second is that it is best to maintain only relationships which are truly awesome and which you would keep up with forever. Meaningless self-gratification is an avoidant behavior, a symptom of some imbalance in your life. Time spent satiating that instead of dealing with it is time wasted. It takes time to accumulate worthwhile relationships, but always time well spent. I think it's worth mentioning that there ought to be at least some common interests in such a relationship, although a perfect clone of yourself is obviously not reasonable to expect.