March 5

It’s Just a Division of Labor

March 5, 2014

Marriage

Celine said, “Robbie and I have been involved with Real Love for a year now, but I’m discouraged. EVERY single time we have a conversation about anything important—our relationship, sex, money, the kids—I’m the one who has to bring up the subject. Every time, and then he usually has a reason why it’s not a good time to talk right then. So the bottom line is that we almost never talk about the important things, and the tension is building up between us.”

“Of the two of you,” I said, “who is the most emotionally or spiritually receptive? Who grows the most quickly?”

“I do.”

“I’ve known you both for a while, so I can say that you are the most emotionally receptive. That’s not a judgment of your worth. It’s just how it is. The problem is, you don’t see it simply as a statement of fact. You see it as an indicator of worth.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You believe that Robbie SHOULD be faster in picking up on Real Love and in being able to initiate the difficult conversations between you.”

“Yes, I do. It’s our relationship. We should both be doing this.”

“Ideally, yes, it really would be nice if you were both working on your relationship equally, but that essentially never happens. It also turns out that Robbie is working on your relationship. I know him, so I can state that with a surety. But you believe the two of you should be relatively EQUAL in your relationship skills. How do I know? Because when his pace of growth is slower than yours, you’re disappointed. Your disappointment is absolute proof of your expectations.”

“I don’t see how it’s unreasonable to expect my partner to be a partner.”

I smiled. “Your problem is with your basic understanding of what a partnership is. A partnership is NOT where two people are equal in every respect. That will never happen, actually. A partnership is where two people combine or pool whatever they have for the greater happiness—much greater—of both.”

“That sounds really deep, but I’m not sure I’m getting it.”

“Who makes more money? You or Robbie?”

“He makes a lot more than I do.”

“So you two are not equal in that aspect of your relationship. In the area of finances, he brings MORE than you do. Who washes more dishes?”

“I do.”

“Who mows the lawn more?”

“He does.”

“And all that is good. Each of you does more of this, the other does more of that, and between you both, you get it all done. You each bring something different to your relationship. That’s a great collaborative effort. A pile of identical tires, for example, would be relatively useless. Tires are never truly useful—or fulfilled, for that matter—until they’re connected to wheels, an engine, a transmission, and more, to create a vehicle. All the parts are needed. You wouldn’t want just a pile of tires, would you?”

“I guess not.”

“Which of you is more skilled at initiating conversations about emotional, sensitive subjects?”

“I am.”

“Then you’re BOTH fortunate that you’re there to make that contribution.”

“But shouldn’t he become involved eventually?”

“Oh, if you continue to fill your role well, he’ll almost certainly get better at it, but by that time you’ll be better too, so it’s likely that you’ll always be better at it. So you’ll be the one initiating most conversations like that. You’re focused on achieving EQUALITY, but it’s much more productive to focus on what WORKS—for both of you. It’s not about both partners becoming more like the other. It’s about achieving the most productive division of labor. The real question is, what can you each do to contribute to the whole?”

“But even if I agree to be the one who initiates the difficult conversations, he tries to put them off.”

“I believe you. When Robbie is making decisions at work, do you call and interfere? Do you keep him from doing what he does best?”

“No.”

“You just let him do it, and he doesn’t resent it. Now you can focus on what YOU do best, and don’t resent him for not trying to take your job. This allows both of you to make your greatest contribution.”

“I don’t quite get it yet.”

“Talk to Robbie and explain that no longer will you nag him about doing more of what he doesn’t enjoy. Tell him that you want to be a real partner with him, which means letting him do what he does best, and also means his allowing you to do what you do best. Teach him what I’m teaching you now. You don’t expect him to initiate difficult conversations, but once a time is scheduled to talk, you DO expect that he will show up and participate. Expectations are usually disastrous, but in this case he’s AGREEING to meet with you—it’s a contract—and he is expected to show up and participate just as he would be expected to show up and participate in a meeting at work.”

We are so consumed with what we want for ourselves that we forget about truly becoming partners with other people, so that together we become far more than each of us could be individually. That works best when we freely give what we can, rather than insisting that others give more. Sure, another person might consistently refuse to contribute at all, and then we might consider not being in a partnership with that person. Mostly, however, it’s far more useful to focus on what we can bring to the partnership, thereby blessing our partner, ourselves, and our relationship.

 

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