Part I: Binding and Bonding Factors

Have you ever been curious about the glue that holds us in relationships? In this blog, I am going to explore with you the JB Weld of how we stick. I have thought about this for a long time, and I conceptualize the glue as two factors. We mix them together, and they not only help us stick together, but they also determine if we are sticking happy, or sticking unhappy. For me, this is epically important for how I want to be connected in relationships. These two factors are what I call the Binding and Bonding factors of relationships. This blog is Part I of a two-part series.

Binding Factors + Bonding Factors = Level of Satisfaction

To be fair, I will be talking about both factors from the perspective of intimate relationships. That could be a romantic relationship, a friendship, or how we have relationships with our extended families. These factors also show up in work relationships, between employees and employers, with our peers, with our boss, even in the relationship we have with our organization at large. Yet, today I am going to focus on how the binding factors show up in your important close relationships.

These two factors bind and bond us together. Keeping us in relationships and not running for the hills at the first problem. What is important to understand, is that each of these factors plays a part in holding us together. They aren’t good or bad, yet the way that they glue us can have us feeling unhappy and stuck, or enlivened and joyful in the relationships that we find ourselves in. We are diving straight into the deep end, with binding factors.

Binding Factors

Binding factors are elements that may hold us in relationships, but they don’t typically relate to happiness. Yet, crucially, they show up in both, happy and unhappy relationships. Have you ever stayed in a relationship, way past the point that you wanted to be there? I’m guessing that one of the 6 Binding Factors might have been holding you in the relationship. 

Conversely, binding factors can help us not run for the hills with our hair on fire, every time we have a problematic situation show up in a relationship. They can serve to slow down our reactive self so that we might work through a difference, versus cut bait and run. So again, it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just a thing. And, for myself I know, there have been several times in my relationship, that these factors made me drive home and have a difficult conversation, that at the time, I would have preferred to drive past.

The six most common binding factors:

  • Money
  • Children
  • Time
  • Personal, cultural and religious beliefs
  • Not wanting to start over
  • Hope

Financial and Other Finite Resources

How many people do you know, who are still together because they can’t afford to be apart? I have certainly met people who are still together for a myriad of financial reasons. They can’t afford to live on their own, so the shared expenses hold them together. Or, the cost to divorce and the realities of splitting your resources keep you together.

From a business perspective, you might have started a business with somebody and as time goes on you would wish to move on. Yet, the cost of buying each other out may keep you together. Or, maybe you can’t sell the assets. So you end up staying in a relationship longer than you ever would have intended. The same thing applies in intimate relationships where people have gotten together, and as mentioned above, can’t afford to live separately, let alone, get divorced, navigate child support, mortgages, car notes, or whatever other sorts of financial things are going on in the relationship.

There are also the emotional, mental and physical costs to ending relationships. These are finite resources too, and they play a part in the choices we make, when assessing our relationships. It might feel too exhausting to change anything.

Children

We all know that it is hard on children when their parents get divorced or separated or end their relationship. Often couples will stay in relationships for the sake of the children. They may remain in the relationship until the children are in high school or ready to leave home. At which point couples may say, “Well, the kids are old enough, or out of the house… Now we can decide what our next step is going to be.” Maybe then we move along. Also, I have met very few people who wanted to have an every other week or weekend relationship with their kids.

And because children often hold a couple together, where people may not be happy with each other. It’s important to understand that while a divorce is hard on kids, so is witnessing parents fighting. What the research shows is that kids do better with parents who are respectful to each other. Fighting in divorce or fighting in marriage, all fighting impacts kids negatively. As each relationship is unique, only you can assess and navigate the cost/benefit for your family.

Time

I see time as important as financial elements because it is another finite resource. We are all given a certain amount of time. And, what I have seen, and also personally experienced, is that the more time I invest in something, a project, a relationship, a job, there is a related degree of not wanting to let go or give up on it. The more time I have put into the situation, the more likely I am to hold on. For many of us, “letting go” can feel like failure. Maybe you’ve experienced this too, but the more time I have invested in a  situation, I get attached to an outcome. I may tell myself stories, “If I just hold on one hour, if I just put in one more month, another year, etc., it will improve, get easier, whatever.”

Time is one of our most precious commodities, and no one wants to feel like they have wasted it. Fear of wasted time can bind us to situations, where we might typically have chosen to mosy on.

Cultural, Personal and Religious Beliefs

We all show up in adulthood with beliefs and values that were laid down through our lives. We get these beliefs from our families, our culture, and our interpretation of what’s right and wrong. Because these beliefs are so steeped in our experience, we rarely get curious about them.

I had a client who was in a destructive relationship. She was stressed and overwhelmed most of the time. And, when the idea of divorce entered her language, she was adamantly opposed to it. She wrestled with her thoughts of loyalty, her word as her bond, commitment to see it through, and a distaste of being the first person in her family to get a divorce. She stated, “I see it as a personal failure.” In her world view, her belief system said, you’ve committed to this for the rest of your life, so gut it out. Plus, depending on the situation may be your entire cultural support system, your family, everybody in your life says you need to make this work.

We get told in many ways that we need to stay in relationships, especially marriage. So there may be a lot going on internally as we wrangle with our internal and external experience. We may stay in relationships because we don’t want to step outside of these belief systems that are really important to us.

To Start or Not to Start Over

There are a lot of people who stay in relationships because they don’t want to start over. Dating often doesn’t feel like a lot of fun to people. And, in fact, it can feel like a lot of work. When we finally meet somebody who we like, there is the sweet relief. “Thank goodness I don’t have to be on the market anymore dating!” So, not wanting to start over is a real binding factor.

The same thing applies to jobs. What if I don’t want to go out there, update my resume, start the process of applying for new jobs, and go through interviews? Who enjoys waiting to see if someone wants you? Getting the callbacks, being in some unseen competition with people you don’t even know. Then the concerns about, once we get to the new landing spot, what if we don’t like it? We may decide just to stay put. “I’ve got a job, I’m okay.” And, we do this in many relationships. We adopt an attitude that sounds like, “I’ll just stay here. I may not be super excited about it, but it’s good enough.”

Hope Springs Eternal

The final binding factor that I see most often is hope. And hope is sort of a funny one because it’s a bet for a brighter future. The “wishfulness” that things will get better. “They just have to get better than this, we’ve got nowhere to go but up… right?” And so we put a lot of hope into what might happen. And hope, in all hopefulness, hopes for change. (Say that three times fast, LOL)

We all hope for a better future. And, because it’s not easy to just wave the magic wand and manifest a hopeful future, we stay. We hold on to where we are right now. In hopes that we can hold on long enough that things will improve and we will have a positive change. And so hope becomes a factor that glues us to a situation.

In Conclusion

These binding factors are not good or bad, they just are. They happen in every relationship, in some form or another. From intimate couples, friendships, expanding out all the way to business relationships. What binding factors don’t predict is how happy you will feel in the relationship. They are only half of the JB Weld that glues us together. Next week we will explore the Bonding Factors that are the second half of the equation. The factors that lead to sheer enjoyment.

Your Turn...

I would LOVE to hear from YOU!

  • How have Binding Factors shown up for you?
  • What is one take away from this article?
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