Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

Cooperation, Not Compromise, Builds Relationships

Building balanced relationships

Compromise, within the context of relationships, is troublesome because it implies that someone is giving something up. Cooperation, on the other hand, strengthens the underlying fabric of relationship through balanced interchange, open communication and mutual understanding. Here are some tips, tools and takeaways to help prompt the process.

The very first thing that we bring to the table of relationship is ourselves, and along with that comes our ego. With our ego in play we tend to protect our own interests, often forestalling those of our partner. This is not out of some misguided bit of narcissism, as it might first appear. Rather, our fundamental survival instinct keeps us bound to our self interest, and appropriately so. The bent toward narcissism comes out of the interjection of socialization, acculturation, ethnic trajectory and a host of other factors. This transforms what is a natural, and somewhat predictable, tendency into something a bit more toxic.

Say the words, ask the question -- One of the keys to developing a cooperative relationship is communication. We always hear about how the lack of communication in relationship makes for difficult going, and there are more than enough folks fostering advice about how to better that communication. What we tend not to look at is why that communication falters in the first place.

It falters, in part, because we tell ourselves stories based on our assumptions, expectations and ideas about the way the world works. These assumptions, expectations and ideas form our model of the world. That model gives us our own unique and, not unpredictably selfish, perspective. This perspective is selfishness in its purest form; it stifles our ability to see things from another person's point of view, and almost demands the imposition of ego that can become so toxic.

Making clear, authentic statements about how we feel, what we're thinking or what we think you heard someone else say can help us get in front of that self-defeating storytelling. The same can be said for asking clear, authentic questions. If you know, you don't have to guess and you can more easily avoid the needless creation of chaos, internal or external.

Transparency - If you are prepared to say the words and ask the questions, you also need to be prepared to answer them. Cooperation conveys a level playing field, and that means no hidden agendas, no little deceptions, no little white lies and no sins of omission. Clarity is crucial because even the most subtle shift can quickly turn a playing field into a battlefield.

Taking the other person's perspective - Stepping away from our model of the world allows us to take our ego out of play. This transforms our interactions into transactions, bringing us to a place where both partners are involved in the give and take.

Taking another person's perspective also deflects many issues around power and control, which are often central to the kind of competitive relationship prompted by compromise and fostered by a lack of cooperation.

Tolerances - Another of the less than desirable elements associated with compromise is putting up with our partner's foibles and fragilities. On the one hand, that's simple compassion, or holding space. But letting things go in alleged service of maintaining the fabric of relationship often points more toward a distortion of self than to healthy self-care.

It's important to stay clear on what you can accept, and remain firm on what you can't. This goes back to saying the words, asking the questions and being transparent in doing so.

Your best life partner is your best friend -- Our partnerships should be based, first and foremost, upon a friendship. And that friendship should be a "best" friendship -- one that strives to be deep and abiding, resting upon transparency, trust and the type of intimacy that makes communication, both verbal and non-verbal, seamless.

For that level of intimacy to be present, the friendship that underlies the partnership needs to be well-founded and well-grounded. For the first to effectively support the second, a partnership needs to be approached as something organic that grows out of friendship, rather than something apart from it.

We strive to survive, but playing "one-up" or "one-down" in our partnerships derails the very thing that is supposed to be feeding and supporting us. Making an agreement to cooperate with our partner, rather than compromise or compete, can lead us to a whole new level of connection and communication.

© 2011 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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