“We often like different kinds of television shows,” Mark said. “So I tell Kelly that I’ll watch one of her shows if later she’ll watch one of mine with me.”
I laughed. “So you’re proposing a trade with your partner,” I said.
“But if both of us are aware it’s a trade,” he said, “isn’t that all right?”
“It could be, but trading is a slippery slope that quickly leads to conditional love and disasters in relationships.”
“So what can we do?”
“You both offer what you’re willing to offer freely and unconditionally, and you keep talking until you’re both happy with the result. You don’t undertake any joint effort until you’re both happy—happy, not just barely satisfied, which easily turns into resentment.”
“I don’t see another way in this situation,” he said.
Because Mark and Kelly had only seen couples trade conditional love, he really did not see alternatives here. This is a good place not to tell him what to do but to provide additional choices that he could never see because of simple inexperience. I suggested some of the following:
- If you like a show she can’t tolerate, you could watch it when she’s not home.
- If you like a show she can’t tolerate, you could watch it while she’s watching something else in the next room.
- If you are willing—but not excited—to watch a show she enjoys, you could watch it with her while simultaneously doing something on your computer.
- If you are willing—but not excited—to watch a show she enjoys, you could watch it while going in and out of the room to do things elsewhere in the house that you’d prefer to do.
“The point,” I said, “is not which of these options you choose—if any. What matters is that you both discuss what you’re going to do as a couple, and until you both agree, you do nothing. Keep in mind that one of your options is never, ever to force your partner to like something you enjoy. You can agree on what you DO, but you can’t make your partner LIKE something that you like.
In a loving relationship, never trade. Give freely. Accept freely. Enjoy your choices and your relationship. It’s a great way to live.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
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