Relationships, from time immemorial, have been the motor that has kept the wheel of life revolving. It is through interaction that in biblical times, man endeavoured to build the enormous tower of Babel; It is through the concept of relations that our Zimbabwean forefathers united and fought against the ills of white oppression. However, the institution of relationships is also changing in the process of modernisation. The gruesome tug of war between modernisation and adhering to traditional methods spared no social, economic, or political system. Literally, everything around the globe has, to a certain extent, been impacted, in a way or another, and thus the associations of relationships are included. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term relationship as the state of being related or interrelated. It is how two or more people or things are connected. In the context of humankind, relationships are how we are intertwined in the society and how we interact with each other. A concept as complex and dynamic as relationships can never be wholly deciphered, but we can trace its fundamentals out.

Types of relationships

Relationships can either be good or bad. In the light of sound relationships, we can either be connected as a family, as general friends, as romantic intimates, or the likes. Families are our primary source of relationships; we are connected to them by birth, heredity, or anything that can satisfy an idea of kinship. General friends are the people we interact with mostly by choice, they share a greater part of our likes; they provide us with companionship, a sense of belonging. Romantic relationships, perhaps the most famous and most sought, are the intimate relationships between two people, most conventionally of the opposite sex. This type includes a sense of attraction between two parties and is the closest form of relationships. These types of relationships are changing with time. The transition to modernisation has come under fire with orthodox groups and critics, and with pragmatic organisations, like churches and old societies, who are against the repercussions caused by the radical change brought by modernisation. However, albeit having novel dynamics, the major components of relationships have stood the test of time, though sometimes distorted. Essential components such as trust, honestness, and empathy, have maintained their place within relationships. Arguably all the stated components may round up to one fundamental component which is Love. 

 Majour types of love according to the Greek

The limitations of many languages sometimes make it hard to define love. It is sometimes viewed as an object which can be distributed in the same way, which is not the case because one cannot love a friend the same way they love their partner/lover. The Greek words for love distribute love accordingly within the relevant context. Though seemingly trivial, these words of love make relationships much easier to navigate and leaves little or no room for confusion, especially for modern relationships. In the Greek language there are four words for love: Agape, which is unconditional “God” love; Storge, which is an empathy bond, existing mostly in people of the same kindred family members; Philia is a friend bond which is love between friends, bond existing between people who share similar personal interests and values; Eros is romantic love for another person, especially one whom the person wants to spend their lives with.

Traditional relationships

The traditional family system, especially in African and Asian societies, was clearly cut. The parents played rigidly the roles of being parents while the children adhered to their duties and roles promptly without question. Usually, the parents had a huge role to play in what the children would be in life and how they would behave themselves. The relationship of parent to child, in the context of love, which is Storge, was tough-love in nature. Our parents nowadays tell tales of how they were whipped for mischief by their own parents, and how it helped them stay out of trouble and moulded them to become better people in society. Back then, the mantra was strictly not to spare the rod and spoil the child. The parent showed their love by disciplining their children in a way which would help them be better people in the future. Also, it helped the child in lessening the load of having to make critical decisions on their own. The parent’s empathy ensured they chose the best for their own. The relationship was in a way that the voice of the parent was final and the child had no right to object to whatever decision the parent made about their lives, whether good or bad. This left the traditional relationship between child and parent with loopholes, which would lead to ruthless exploitation. For instance, the parent could use their children for their own selfish gains, or the relationship could progress to hatred with time. Many parents clouded by the idea of ‘knowing best’ for their kids would lead them to devastating circumstances. It is the same traditional parent who gave less attention to the girl child, regarding her as inferior to the boy child. Because of the one-sidedness of the relationship, the girl child had no freedom of expression in a way. The traditional relationship in families was very effective but had its fair share of disadvantages.

Modern relationships

In the modern family system, roles in the family are now changing and so are the ideas. The modern parents have developed unique relationships with their children. Modern parents developed a sort of friendship with their children. Modern children can confide their secrets to their parents compared to the traditional case where they had to reach out to their aunties and uncles instead. With the disruption of the social strata, in which everyone is busy, children are now left with no choice but to confide to their parents in sensitive matters where friends cannot assist. This has the advantage of keeping the parent abreast of their children’s lives. Also, with the emphasis on human rights and campaigns against child abuse and girl child abuse, children now have, to a certain extent, a say on their own lives and can be the masters of their own fate. Children now have the freedom to choose who they want to become in the future. This reflects the emphasis of the Storge principle within the family, especially with parenting. However, with great liberation comes responsibility. 

The eased relationship between parents has seen many children misusing this privilege and going haywire. An unprecedented level of immorality has risen, especially amongst the youth, from wild parties to unprotected sex, unhealthy drinking habits, unruly behaviour, to name but a few. Nowadays, children fear no sort of punishment whatsoever from their parents, because they hold on to the leverage that their parents cannot punish them in any way other than a scold or rebuke which will in no uncertain terms fall on deaf ears. It is also appalling how children nowadays have the audacity to even insult their own parents, some even daring to fight back if threatened with hiding. Notwithstanding, modern relationships between parents and children and inside families are to a great extent very effective for the paradigm-shifting world but however, some methods of traditional parenting need to be employed to prevent children from veering off course.

In the traditional system, friendship was a precious relationship. Sometimes, friendship was rigid without the liberty of expression. Also, there was a limit to the number of friends one could have. Nowadays, although not much has changed, a friend is someone you can tell the truth without fear of losing them. The word Philia, emphasises friendship based on mutual feelings and honesty. There has been a rise in the authoring of self-help books that emphasise the essence of friendship. Modern friendships now permit that a man can also be friends with a woman, a girl with a boy alike, with nothing romantic being consummated. A more profound sense of friendship and sense of belonging has developed because of the modern type of friendship. However, as the saying goes, “the bonds of chains are strong but the chain is only as strong as the weakest link,” so is the case with modern friendship. It is easy to make an excellent friend and also as easy to lose one. The shortage of certain barriers within friendship means that things can easily go wrong, and with such volatility in friendship, friends can easily become enemies.

Perhaps the most exciting of relationships are romantic relationships, which deserve to be dealt with more thoroughly. It is the one topic upon its mention, that causes a surge of dopamine, the one which sends us blushing when discussed because in a way it is the most essential. Tales are told of how dating was done back in the 80s, the 90s, the early 20s, or any time back in history. History paints an articulate picture of romance as something which was treated with caution, and one which was regarded as somewhat sacred. Before courtship a suitor’s patience was tested, this was a sign to show commitment, the readiness and the willingness of the suitor to marry a certain girl. The suitor would face immense rejection by the girl, and it usually took months before the girl could finally say the well expected ‘yes’. After the girl’s agreement, the period of courtship was longer. Back then, they used letters for communication and letters made love more tangible. The general purpose of courtship was marriage. It was easier to appreciate a girl’s character based on her background, how she carried herself around and how she did her duties. The rate of divorce was lower and the idea was working on relationships. However, duties were divided strictly across gender and this was a source of gender discrimination and at the same time, gender-based violence.

Modern-day relationships have devaluated the sacredness of marriage. Never in the history of man has it been ever known that marital virtues have been so inflated. We have cast away the fundamental principles that govern this field. Starting with the period at which it takes for one to have their proposal accepted. The emergence of social media platforms has made it very easy for a certain individual to profess love to another individual through the phone. It is also easier for the other party to reply. The main ill with this is that relationships of romance are now baseless and superficial. One cannot claim to be actually in love with someone whom they only met on social media. In contrast with traditional relationships where it took more time to have their proposals accepted, modern relationships have no time to assess and reflect on their own emotions and weigh whether it is actually love or baseless infatuation. One American writer, Susan Jeffers, in her book, ‘Feel The Fear Guide to Love’, states that there is a stage of infatuation, which is not actually loving, but a stage of enchantment. The relationship between lovers is non-other than just for erotic satisfaction, other than for emotional companionship.

The hysteria in modern-day relationships has many components. There is a very low level of commitment because the relationships have ceased to be institutions of love, defying the term Eros. One factor is that there are no distinctions in friendship and dating between individuals of the opposite sex. A woman can date a man, whilst having numerous relationships with men on her phone. This blurs one’s focus. There are now uncouth practices, like friends with benefits. All of this confusion has resulted in high levels of infidelity and the aftermath being pillage of broken hearts.

Another plunder to modern relationships is the rise in the importance of money. It does not even require prowess in financial understanding to comprehend that nowadays, if one date, the wallet’s value diminishes at supersonic rates. People get engaged into relationships base on material things, rather than love. Without money, there is nothing tangible about the relationship. 

In the traditional standards, sex before marriage was highly prohibited, and most women would enter marriage having merely touched their partners. In modern relationships, there is no love without sex. Instead of love, this is in fact raw sexuality. The Greek word for romantic love is Eros but for sexuality, it is Venus. In marriages, the relationship between husbands and wives has also dramatically deteriorated; In Zimbabwe, in the year 2019, 2600 couples filed for divorce, statistics 49% higher than two years earlier. Communication problems, infidelity, and financial problems are the major assassins of love. However, though marred by unspeakable and uncountable problems, modern relationships have the advantage that people can now easily move on from toxic relationships, as there are fewer factors that would bind them. While in the traditional view, leaving a relationship was an abomination. Also, women now have the freedom of expression in the relationships with their partners.

In conclusion, the institution of relationships which is changing drastically has a very large impact on our lives. Traditional marriages were more stable because of cultural norms, but at the expense of women and child rights because of patriarchy. Modern relationships seem to be more flexible and gender-balanced, but with a very high risk of going out of hand. For example, the simplicity of terminating a marriage relationship has a devastating impact on the upbringing of children. So in a nutshell, the attributes of modern relationships are a blessing in one way and curse in the other, depending on the angle at which we evaluate them.