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Marriage Is Not a 50-50 Proposition

A personal relationship is so much more than its transactional aspects. And we are wise when we put that part of the relationship in its place, relegating it to a lower level of significance. We can instead work to cultivate a more mutual generosity and trust.
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The Conversion from Me-ish to We-ish

Mira: In the beginning of our relationship I was a very efficient scorekeeper and kept careful track of who did what for whom. Fairness has always been a big deal for me. My stance was, "If you give me this, I'll give you that." It drove Joel nuts.

Joel: I let Mira know, in no uncertain terms, how offensive this was to me.

Mira: At first I was put off by Joel's unwillingness to play by my rules. I began to mistrust his motivations. But he persisted and I did come around. It wasn't easy to break the scorekeeping habit. At first I felt anxious and fearful. But as I continued my practice of not conducting relationship as business, things really improved a lot.

Joel: Mira began to more fully tune into my needs and desire system, and became more interested in what made me happy, not what she felt I deserved. The shift was gradual, but very powerful and wonderful. It took several months, but good will began to grow, and so did trust.

Mira: My fear was that if I stopped keeping score, our relationship would become horribly lopsided, and I would be exploited and taken advantage of. But the result turned out to be the opposite of what I had feared: Joe became even more generous than he had previously been.

Joel: Each of us began to be filled with so much gratitude that we both started knocking ourselves out trying to find ways to make the other person happy.

Mira: At first it felt like a huge risk, but the outcome was infinitely better than what I had feared it might be.

Marriage isn't a fifty-fifty proposition. Conducting a relationship as a business deal will get you in a lot of trouble. Living in a competitive culture, as we do, can promote a commercial orientation, prompting us toward seeing things as quid pro quo or tit for tat rather than giving more freely and less conditionally. Instead of real giving, we often invest, expecting a return, and often feel resentful if our expectation isn't met. Although it may be reasonable to expect fairness and reciprocity in our relationships, running our relationship like an accountant is likely to engender tension, mistrust, and suspicion.

Committed relationships, of course, are partnerships and as such, they do require mutuality, reciprocity, and trust. But keeping careful track of each other's contributions doesn't strengthen trust. We may choose to have agreements about economics related to who will earn how much to make our system go, who will pitch in what money for what bills, and whose life energy will accomplish what tasks. We may also make agreements about other aspects of the relationship. Such agreements are normal and natural, and have their place in every relationship. But when a relationship is predominantly carried on like a series of business transactions, there can be a tendency to withhold or to feel controlled. When the flow of giving stops, both people suffer. Out of the feelings of hurt and deprivation, complaints, criticism, and demands begin. The climate of the relationship deteriorates, and a downward spiral can spin out of control.

A personal relationship is so much more than its transactional aspects. And we are wise when we put that part of the relationship in its place, relegating it to a lower level of significance. We can instead work to cultivate a more mutual generosity and trust. When couples are in the rhythm of giving to each other, they are sensitive to each other's needs, and get great pleasure from bringing happiness to each other. There are a great many forms that these practices of devotion can take, including loving touch, gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Our greatest joy begins to come not from getting what we want, but from seeing the delight in our partner's eyes when they receive our offerings.

When our generosity comes from a pure heart, both giver and receiver are beneficiaries. This is the essence of what is referred to as enlightened self-interest. It often does take a leap of faith to give up the score keeping and become less conditional in our giving. And while there are no guarantees regarding the outcome, to say that it's worth the risk is a monumental understatement.

Why not just go for the gold?

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