To Improve Your Relationships, Don't Meet Halfway
Some of the most fundamental ideas you and I were “taught” are C-R-A-Z-Y and cause us to make a real mess of things – in this case eroding our most important relationships.
I’ve put “taught” in quotes because it wasn’t like our teachers or parents formally taught us these ideas. It’s more like our minds were infiltrated with ideas so obvious, so popular, so prevalent in our culture that it would be almost impossible to think anything different.
Indeed, when I stated to my mother-in-law the core premise of the video below – that “expecting relationships to be 50-50 is totally insane” – my mother-in-law looked at me like I was the complete lunatic.
She looked at me that way because the idea of 50-50 is universally accepted. And, of course, there is much value in it. 50-50 is fairness. And fairness is something we were taught to revere from our first days.
Fairness is something Aristotle and Solomon and Rawls and every Supreme Court justice has thought about deeply. Fairness is the focus of presidential and school board races.
Who can argue against fairness?
We fight for fairness in marriage, we quit marriage when it’s not fair, and in divorce people fight to near-death for what they think is the 50-50 they deserve to take out of the failed partnership.
Maybe that level of pain, resentment, and mutual accusation should be a hint that something’s wrong with the obsession with fairness.
By contrast, consider my Aunt Jacquie and Uncle Ron. This past Saturday Ron died -- a week short of their 60th wedding anniversary.
Their last years were anything but 50-50. Ron had been victimized by Alzheimer’s, and so Jacquie covered 55 percent, 60 percent, 80 percent, and in the end 100 percent of the field of their relationship. In love – we do that.
Alzheimer’s marks the extreme case, but it also reveals the key notion: thinking you can meet at the 50 yard line on the field of relationship is a prescription for disaster. There must be cushion in any relationship – business and especially personal.
At any given moment, or day, or week, or even more, one of you needs the other to come more than halfway: She gets sick, her job demands that she stay late, the kids are demanding more emotionally, your parents demand that you give extra care, or one of you needs to go back to school.
If you expect 50-50 consistently, you’re set up for a fall.
What we should teach our kids and re-program ourselves is not to look for fairness and 50-50, but to offer 60-40 as our rule, guided by both generosity and prudence.
If we each commit to that principle, the likelihood is that over time we’ll end up right around the 50 yard line.
Join the conversation: I’d love to hear your thoughts on the video above. What would you add, offer, question, modify from your perspective and experience? As you:
Lead with your best self.
Dan Mulhern is an expert on leadership and organizational development. He currently teaches courses in business and law at UC Berkeley. Mulhern is the author of two leadership books, Everyday Leadership: Getting Results in Business, Politics and Life and Be Real: Inspiring Stories For Leading At Home And Work and is the co-author of the bestselling political book, A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future. He is married to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who served two terms as the governor of Michigan. They have three children.