I get a great many questions from couples who endure and even nurture varying degrees of contention. When doing a task together, for example, they argue over who is doing the most work, and whose work is the most important, or noticed, or rewarded. They argue over the division of labor. They argue about what is fair. They complain, compete, and compare.
Each of these arguments causes wounds that are painful, deep, and often long lasting. What can we think and do to minimize or—infinitely preferable—eliminate these conflicts? Let me suggest a practical metaphor.
I love to split wood. Here are the general steps involved:
- I bend over, pick up a log, and put it on the chopping block.
- I split the log. To do this, I throw the head of the maul up in the air with my right hand, while hanging on to the handle with my left. Then I shift my right hand down the handle to touch my left hand, and with both hands and considerable exertion, I pull the head of the maul as rapidly as possible down onto the wood.
- I drop the maul on the ground.
- I bend over and pick up the smaller piece I have split off the log.
- I throw the small piece into the trailer, later to be hauled to one of several woodpiles.
- I bend over, pick up the larger remaining piece, and put it on the chopping block.
- I pick up the maul.
Then I repeat steps 2-7, over and over.
I enjoy every bit of this: the physical exertion, the explosion of the log when it’s hit just right, wood flying through the air, the judgment about where exactly to hit the log so it will split, the accuracy required to swing a heavy maul to hit a precise spot, the satisfying crunch of a log when I hit the sweet spot for splitting it, the smell of the wood and the outdoors, and more.
The other day I had two of my sons, Jeff and Joseph, helping me as I split wood. Their help changed the process considerably. Instead of all the steps I usually require when working alone, my sons did all the bending, putting the logs on the block, throwing the pieces in the trailer, and so on. That freed me up to just keep swinging and splitting. It became like an assembly line, and I computed that with two helpers I was able to split wood about five times faster than I could have by myself.
How did I accomplish this marvelous feat? I didn’t. I had two men who chose to be my partners. We did different jobs, and we did them in a way that created a much greater result than the three of us could have done individually.
Which of us did the most important job? Who worked harder? Whose job was most difficult? Was the division of labor fair? In real partnerships—cutting wood or being emotional partners in life—those questions make no sense. After years of practice, I’m good at swinging a maul, so I did that part of the job. The others willingly did jobs that greatly facilitated the efficiency and speed of the whole task. And we had a great deal of fun working together. I know, work and fun in the same sentence? Yes, we enjoyed the job and each other a lot.
Couples would rarely experience contention if they understood just that one word: partnership. Partners share everything. They work together for the benefit of BOTH people in the partnership, as well as for the partnership itself. They withhold nothing. They never compare or count the value of what each individual does.
In short, a partnership exists where two people bring everything they are individually to the relationship, and the sum is far greater than the parts. One person brings all the blue they can to the relationship, and the other brings all the yellow they can, and the result is green. Then each partner works continuously to make their color as pure and abundant as possible, so the end product is a glorious green of greater purity and abundance.
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