What Makes Partners Partners

What distinguishes partnership, whether intimate or business, from all other types of relationship is the declared commitment of each of the partners, “Your concerns are my concerns.” That means I will hold your concerns as important to be addressed as my own.  Concerns are not about wants.  They are expressions of needs.   Declaring YCAMC does NOT mean I will have the same concerns as you.  I don’t have to change my desires or what is important to me.  I don’t have to endorse your point of view.  I accept that you have different concerns and I will work to support you in getting satisfied; as you are committed to hold my concerns as your own. Having jointly made this declaration we promise we will not take action until we can find a way to both get satisfied.

So, for example, when planning a vacation and my husband wants city and history and I want beach and rest, we are committed to finding a destination that we can both be enthusiastic about.  More than “I pledge thee my troth” or other marriage vows, YCAMC is a declaration that produces one being out of two.

The words matter.  Saying them aloud amounts to taking a stand in the world.  But saying them is not a magic wand.  Living them requires dedication, honesty, and a capacity to generously listen, learn, and innovate.  These practices represent the primary work of building trust, demonstrating respect, and strengthening our union.  A strong union makes lighter work of all of life’s challenges.

Working as a relationship coach over the last 20 years, I have found that among thousands of couples, very few have ever specifically made this declaration.  When asked, people who call themselves partners often say, “Well, we haven’t said those exact words although we certainly want to live that way.”  But when the going gets tough, difference inevitably devolves into pushing, pulling, guilting, accounting, and/or convincing the other that they have the wrong concerns.

Without this foundation, couples are likely to find themselves in a similar situation as my friends, Sam and Toby.  They have been married for 18 years, with four kids, and have been challenged to maintain a loving, intimate relationship amidst the common tribulations of modern life.  They are two working parents, struggling to make ends meet without the support of extended family.  He was severed from long-term employment which caused them to make a major move from north to south for a new job.  They end each day exhausted from having to deal with adolescent hormones, learning disabilities, and carpooling.  No sex happening there.   One day recently Sam told me they had begun talking about divorce.

They were ready to throw it all away without ever having sought counseling or given themselves a chance to learn how to work through some of their difficulties.  I asked Sam if he ever inquired about why she didn’t want to have sex with him. No.  And when I asked if they ever committed to hold the other’s concerns as their own.  Another no. How about therapy?  He says she’s been unwilling.  I suggested he make an urgent last ditch effort to get her there.

I went through two divorces before I ever recognized partnership as a domain of learning, just like golf, violin, or mathematics.  Mastery in relationship requires the commitment to a rigorous program of learning.  Like the violin, you don’t master it by reading a book.  It may be too late for Sam and Toby.  In my view, the best possibility of saving their marriage is for each of them to commit to learning the dance of relationship together.

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