Part II: Binding and Bonding Factors. On this great tilt’o whirl of life, we need the second half of the JB Weld of relationships. This is the special part of the glue that holds us together with a depth that allows for joy. Let’s dive into Bonding Factors. Bonding factors are the fun JB Weld factors, that help us, not only stick together but also find happiness in our relationships. And, while you don’t need to have every one of them, you will need an imbalance towards more of them, as opposed to less. One, in particular, is mandatory for healthy relationships… I will let you guess which one I think that is.

Bonding Factors are so much more than a simple ingredient to our glue, these factors are the things that enliven us. These factors deepen our desire to be in a relationship with people. The support and the connection with people we really like. We know them because we’re really enjoying ourselves when enough of these bonding elements are present.

Remember: Binding + Bonding = Level of satisfaction

There are nine common bonding factors that I’ve seen in relationships and in the work that I’ve done with people. This idea is based on my loose research of 25 years; working with couples and relationships.

  • Trust and Safety
  • Open/Agile Mindset
  • Positive Regard
  • Shared Goals
  • Shared Values
  • Being a Good Team
  • Quality Communication
  • Shared Exploration/Adventure
  • Sexual Connectedness

Let’s Begin with Trust and Safety

This factor is the beginning and probably also the ending factor. It is an elemental bonding factor because it impacts and is impacted by all the other factors. Trust and safety govern our ability to be vulnerable and show up fully. When we feel trust and safety, we feel good.

Here is a new equation: Safety + Vulnerability = Intimacy

Imagine you decide to go camping. Because it’s all you have, you put up your pup tent. You go off and have fun, clomping through the woods. That night you crawl into your little pup tent. It’s open on both ends… because it’s a pup tent. Somewhere during the night, a big storm shows up. And this storm is whipping the wind, rain is flying everywhere, and the lightning and thunder are crashing around you. You’re getting wet, you’re cold, and you’re not having fun, right? In fact, you probably run to your car or wish you could run to your vehicle, depending. Basically, you’re not feeling safe in the storm.

Now let’s say, you’re in your house, in your nice warm bed, cuddled up with covers all over you, the same storm is occurring. Yet you have a very different response to the storm. You may even say, “I love the sound of the rain hitting the windows. Wow. Can you hear that wind? Look at that lightning, how many seconds to the boom?” All these things might feel okay, in the safety of your house. Whereas in the pup tent, not so great, not so great at all.

Trust and safety are so vital to how we experience a situation. It is the linchpin for joy in any long-term relationship. Be it an intimate relationship, a friendship, your family relationships, or work relationships. Trust and safety are pivotal because without trust and safety we can’t be vulnerable. When we can’t be vulnerable we never really show up fully. Therefore there’s not the intimacy that most people are seeking in relationships.

I honestly can’t overstate the importance of trust and safety. Trust and safety are important because they show up in all the other bonding factors that I will discuss. Can you guess now which one I think is mandatory?

Open/Agile Mindset

There are people who have very strong, rigid, solid, hard beliefs about things and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you have deal breaker beliefs, finding someone who shares them is essential. Yet, open and agile mindsets leave us willing to have conversations, even when we don’t entirely agree. The willingness to hear someone out, to listen to their points, to see value in the perspectives, creates a feeling of being seen. And, being in agreement is not necessary for us to hear and understand where another person is coming from. 

Life also requires us to be able to pivot and be agile, to navigate plot twists that come up. With openness and flexibility, navigating the plot twists becomes easier. And, life will always give us unexpected situations that require us to be creative in finding solutions.

Consider you are in a relationship with someone, and they rigidly hold onto being right. It makes it very difficult to have conversations, feel in partnership, feel appreciated, feel acknowledged, or feel trust and safety. Because as soon as we have a disagreement, if I’m wrong, trust and safety start to erode our positive regard for each other. We are much happier in relationships when we can disagree or have our own spin on things. We thrive when there is a space that allows us to be ourselves. 

Another aspect of an open and agile mindset is that we don’t feel the need to personalize everything that disagrees with our perspective. When I was younger, I was easily offended by things, my feelings got hurt if someone I liked didn’t like me back or disagreed with a powerful belief that I held. This was exhausting, I am sure I wore out a few people along the way. One of the secrets to happiness in my relationships is that I can have a powerful belief, and still give space for you to have your own powerful belief. 

Positive Regard

Which is a nice segue into this next element of the bonding factors. First, I don’t mean unconditional positive regard, where whatever you do is fine, and I will accept it. That rarely exists in real life. When I say, positive regard, I mean the way we view another person. How we talk about them to others. The sense that they are someone we like.

When I leave the house, and I talk about my husband, I think I’m so lucky. I feel like I really found the right person for me. He’s not a perfect human being, and I’m certainly not a perfect human being, but we are perfect together.

And that sense of positive regard and how much I like this person shines through. And the same is true for him. It was funny, we were having a conversation, and he said, you know, everybody I talk to, knows that I’m married to you and how lucky I feel like I am. I laughed and said, the same is true for the people that I talk to about you.

I feel like I’m very blessed to have met Michael. I feel fortunate that we met each other when we did, and that it has worked out so well. But having this sense of positive regard also makes us feel safe in our relationship. Very few things can affair proof a relationship like when one person is talking about how great their partner is. This positive regard also allows for more vulnerability between people. It increases intimacy and as a result of that, a deepening of friendship. All of which up your level of satisfaction and happiness.

Shared Goals and Values

The next two Bonding Factors are very connected to each other. So, let’s explore them together.

Now I may have some personal goals that are different than what Michael has. And Michael may have some personal goals that are different than what I have. But as a couple, we have shared goals that resonate for both of us about how we want to live our lives together. I would say that we both share the goal of wanting our relationship to work, so we act in ways that manifest this goal.

We have lots of goals. They might be about what we want to accomplish individually and collectively as a couple. And these goals really become a huge part of what connects us. We can talk about these goals, we have ways of supporting each other to be successful in the direction of these goals. And the way we navigate this support and conversation bonds us through friendship.

Shared values are very much the same thing. If I have a shared value with Michael, let’s say to have a happy life together, and he has the same value, then we’re much more likely to both behave in ways that support that shared value. This shared value then supports other values, like being willing to listen to each other. There’s this flexibility of thinking, where we might say, “Wow, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Talk to me more about what you mean.” And same with him. As a result, we can have a conversation through even a very difficult thing, where we’re just being curious with each other because we share this value that’s really important.

The value could be anything. It could be around communication, or to have a family, how we parent together, how we like to spend time together. I mean it could be anything. What is important is that we have these shared values. That we recognize that they are part of our glue.

These values are deep core values. They are about how we show up as human beings in the world. Those are the values that are important that we share. When these values are in alignment, values like honesty, respect, appreciation, acknowledgment of one another ,whether we feel controlled or not controlled, our alignment over what these ideas and values mean to us, increase our sense of connection. We have a sense of being a good team. If you’ve ever been on a poorly functioning team anywhere, you know how important that is to your feeling of satisfaction.

Being a Good Team

Have you ever been in a relationship where it feels like your partner is sabotaging you? Maybe they agree to do something and don’t follow through? Or, they forget? Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t feel like you could count on somebody to show up, or to pull their weight? If you answered yes to any of these, then you know what I’m talking about. Ask yourself, do these things make me want to open up or stay? Do they make you feel happy to be in a relationship with this person?

Again, this all rolls back to trust and safety. Because if I’m in a relationship with somebody, whether it’s my best friend, my husband, a coworker, a client, we are in this experience of being in a partnership. And when there’s a feeling of good teamwork, I need to notice that. Do we work well together? Can we have disagreements? Do we have each other’s best interest at heart? Is there transparency and are we standing on a solid foundation?

This is important because when we do have this feeling of being a good team, we can actually accomplish more. We don’t feel alone and we have the ability to show up more fully. Having the connection of going through life with people who we can count on is one of the most extraordinary experiences and the qualities of teamwork apply to intimate as well as collegial relationships.

Let’s Talk About it

Quality communication is crucial for successful long term relationships. When I was dating, one young man said something to me that was really interesting. He said, “I never trust anybody until I had an argument with them.” At first, I didn’t get it. But, the more I considered his perspective, the more that made sense to me.

For many of us, as long as we’re in agreement, we’re fine. You like XYZ, I like XYZ. “Isn’t that awesome? Oh yes! It’s great, you’re great. It’s just the greatest thing ever.” Right? And, we are in total sync, so it’s easy to get along.

It’s as soon as something comes up where we disagree, that’s where the rubber meets the road. In any long-term relationship, what will really bond us together is our ability to navigate these difficult conversations when they show up. And they always, eventually show up.


Communicating through Disagreements

Having the ability to communicate through disagreements, not only improves the quality of our communication, but it also allows us to share ideas, grow together, and surprise ourselves.

We can take a conversation, that might be very difficult and end up feeling more deeply connected. I have had that experience with friends, with several bosses, with employees, and with Michael. We have been able to turn a problematic conversation into deeper trust. 

I’ve had several conversations in the past 21 years, where Michael and I were not in agreement. Something had come up that was a big deal, and we were upset with each other. Yet our ability to talk through the disagreement respectfully, willingness to sit with each other and be curious, suspending our need to defend ourselves, and listen to each other was crucial. Even through intense emotions, we were still able to navigate through the conversation. And at the end of the conversation, we actually felt closer and better and stronger as a couple. We felt greater safety with each other. We learned that we could have a disagreement, and we would handle it well.

Honestly, you know this already. Disagreements come up in every relationship. It’s also amazing how quickly our heads can go to some crazy places like, “Oh my God, what am I doing here?” “And, how the hell do I get out of this? Because I don’t want to be here anymore.”

And if it’s too easy to cut and run, we might. Which is why some of those other binding factors are really useful. They slow us down, so we don’t just run out of the house screaming. Instead, we go, “Okay, we’re going to try and figure out a way to work through this.” If this is done well, it bonds us even more powerfully together.

Shared Exploration/Adventure

There is a fascinating study that was done with couples and teams. What they discovered was that people who share novel and exciting experiences together bond together. I don’t mean a mundane everyday kind of experience, like doing laundry together, though that’s great for being a good team.

I’m really talking about experiences that are the get your blood pumping and heart pounding. Where there is a shared exhilaration. If you take a team of bankers and you put them in a cooking class, and they have this shared experience of making, I don’t know, pasta, it creates this shared experience. It’s out of their comfort zone, it’s novel. As a couple, it could look like trying new restaurants or going on a rollercoaster ride or to a scary movie.

The ideas are limitless on what we choose to do. What is essential, is that the experience is exciting and more significant than usual. These experiences bond us.

I remember talking to a friend who said, “You know, I think one of the problems in my marriage, that impacted us and led to us divorcing, was we weren’t doing anything fun together. It was all work, all the time. We weren’t creating memories together.”

I think that’s a big part of liking each other. That you’re doing things that are memorable with each other, whether it’s the spontaneous road trip, or solving a puzzle together. These adventures get you out of the rut of doing the same old thing over and over and over again. While a daily routine is a beautiful thing, it is also kind of mind-numbing after a while. So, creating these new experiences feeds the adventure and excitement that we long for in life.

Finally, Let’s Talk about Sex

This last bonding factor is a unique category that’s really only for intimate relationships. It’s the special sauce that differentiates friendship; platonic versus romantic. Having a healthy sexual and physical connection is important to bonding as a couple. First off, great sex is well… great. When we have an orgasm while looking into the eyes of another person, we feel physically and emotionally connected. Orgasms release Oxytocin, and Oxytocin is a bonding chemical.

Where sex can confuse things is when we have only sex bonding us together. Because sex alone is not usually enough to hold a longterm relationship together. You need multiple of these bonding factors to feel happy and satisfied in a relationship. Still without physical intimacy, in whatever way works for you and your partner, our relationships loose a little sizzle and spark. As we age, sex may change, it may become the daily cuddles and the brain sex of an amazing conversation. Physical intimacy may morph into new ways of being deeply connected to one another. And, remember, you want an imbalance towards more of these bonding factors. Building trust and safety through each element.

Summing it Up

Both binding and bonding factors help us in staying together. And, as mentioned, trust and safety are the magic secret sauce to having fun and fantastic longterm connections. The binding factors may keep us in the relationship, but it is the bonding factors that make our relationships come alive with joy. Just think of your best friend, the rolling on the floor laughter of shared hilarity, or the safety to share who you are at a deep level. That’s intimacy. 

Safety and trust allow us to show up fully. These factors give us the ability to laugh, to take ourselves less seriously, to be open to hearing divergent perspectives, to give the benefit of the doubt, to assume best intentions, to be vulnerable and develop intimacy. They also allow us to explore and grow in relationships. This is true for every relationship you have, with your family, friends, co-workers, and lovers.

I hope in sharing these factors with you, you see what is occurring in your relationships. Acknowledging and recognizing how the binding factors support you working through difficulties. And, that you might invite into your significant relationships, more of the bonding factors. Increasing your joy and satisfaction with all your important connections.

Share with me – What do you do currently to spark joy in your relationships?