When we interact with someone, we often operate under the unspoken 50/50 rule: “I’ll do my part, and you do your part.” Which is also sometimes known as under the name of “It Takes Two To Tango.”
Which is great, right? I mean, clearly there are (at least) two parties involved, so each should be doing their bit for things to work out. Except – and you knew this was coming – there’s this thing we do. Well, a couple of things, but the biggest of them to speak of tonight is the “integrity baseline syndrome.” Which is fancy name for the effect where we start off in a relationship at 50/50… but then you don’t do/be/handle/etc this thing that I think you should have, so now I’m going to pull back a bit, so we’re at 45/50… which of course means then that you notice I’m not doing/being/handling/etc as much as I should, so you pull back, 45/40, so then I say you’re not efforting enough and pull back to 38/40, and then you… and I… and you… and I… and before you know it we’re both pretty much being 0% responsible for the way the relationship goes. It’s all eggshells and accusations.
(Of course, not all or even most relationships go that way, but they likely end up with each of us cycling around 25% to 35% or so… which feels fine, normal, and even right because it’s what we’re used to, it’s how relationships always have gone… but it isn’t where it could be.)
The extra kicker about the IBS, which you may have already noticed, is that many of the “you didn’ts” are unspoken by us. They are never communicated, created, nor checked in on. So, the transgressions we use to cut our percentage are often involuntary, unexpected, and even unseen. There’s no explanation for why the other person suddenly seems less invested or active or engaged. Which both hurts, and then prompts the further pullback, leading to the downward spiral.
The hilarious* thing is that many of these standards and ideals are amazingly arbitrary and trivial. No, this isn’t about if the person abuses or controls or takes advantage of you, but rather the expectations of what a “person with whom I’m in this kind of relationship with should do” kind of way. Does it involve gifts? A certain way they listen to you? Scheduling? Activities? Certain statements they should reiterate with a particular frequency? There are hundreds of these, and so many of these are deeply individual; we created the expectation of what’s right and proper based on what we saw modelled growing up, both live and in fiction. We decided it all.
Turns out, the other person may not have decided the same things. And they have equally weird and specific metrics they’re applying to you!
So here’s the crux: It’s best to enter into and maintain relationships where each person takes on 100% ownership of how it goes.** And since you can’t act for another person, it means taking on being 100% responsible for how all of the relationships in your life go.
There’s great joy and power in this. Extra joy, really, for what’s available in a high-ownership relationship is amazing and so much above what we’re used to as we dabbled around our 25%ness. And given that forming connections is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling things there are for us human beings, this is super important.
An acquaintance once shared a story about their first Christmas with their, at the time, new boyfriend. Starting in October they had been going out seeking the most amazing gifts they could think of and discover. It was great, and they were super excited, hiding the gifts all over their shared place, all ready to surprise come the day of unwrapping. Until they had a thought. “Wait, if I’m using all the good hiding spots, where are they hiding their gifts?” So they, as casually as they could, asked, “Hey, how is your Christmas shopping going?” “Oh, I don’t buy things.” And like that, an explosion. Storming around the house, yelling “you’ve ruined our Christmas,” ready to throw them out, and lots of crying, especially from the boyfriend who wasn’t even sure where this was coming from.
Fortunately, mindfulness was present and so before too long my acquaintance caught then excused themselves for a moment as an interrupt, regained their centre, and returned to conversation. Through talking, they learned that gift giving just wasn’t part of the boyfriend’s upbringing, both because they never had much money and moreover it wasn’t how they showed love to each other. It wasn’t part of their world. “I honestly don’t know how to do it,” he said. “Would you like to learn?” A pause to consider. “Yes. I would.”
That Christmas was wonderful. And in a delightful “be careful what you wish for” twist to the story, that boyfriend ended up being a MASTER at gift buying, so much so that my acquaintance’s mother prefers the gifts that the boyfriend buys to those from her own child.
100% ownership for how things go. Disasters avoided, great enlivening relationships available, and the chance for things to be wondrously amazing.
* Hilarious in the “man aren’t we humans ever fascinating!” kind of way…
** Again, this is not control; see this post.***
*** Because if it doesn’t go as you’d like it to in order to maintain the relationship, you have the say in how it ends as well, whether it ends or not and whether it ends gracefully or in a train wreck.