Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pontification #2: Relationships

In my post on Commitment I pointed out that it takes two to have a relationship, and that both partners must be committed and remain supportive. What I did not say was what kind of relationship. The reason for that was because I wanted to explore the subject later, which in part brings me to this posting.

Merriam-Webster has three definitions for the word, but my preferred one is “… the relation connecting or binding participants in a relationship.” It is circular in a way, but fits my current reasoning. I will take that to expose an underlying principle.

In any relationship there is tension, and a subsequent struggle to resolve the tension. One participant may be satisfied by the resolution, but the other may end up with more tension as a result. I could write a book about this, but would rather get to the point before I lose the readers’ interest.

The only way a resolution would satisfy both partners all of the time is if, on the dominance scale, one partner was one hundred percent and the other zero (100-0). The dominant would decide and all would be well. It turns out that humans are not that way, so we must compromise.

Why does any relationship work, even temporarily?

On the short term we don’t get too perturbed by things not turning out the way we expect. We keep hoping that they will be better and maybe try to do something to make it so. But if they keep going that way, after a while we have enough, and want to change.

On the long term, assuming that we got over the short term annoyances, we develop a working relationship: “you do this and that for me”, and in return “I do that and this for you.” As long as both comply with the assumed and developing rules of behavior, the relationship can last a long time. As mundane as this sounds, this covers all ranges of dominance and submission. The key issue here is that both participants get what they want out of the relationship. Neither is forced, either may quit, but they continue because generally they are both getting much of what they want. It is unlikely to be perfect, but it works.

I will take an example from my previous jobs to illustrate the point. A workplace is not a democracy. When I accept employment I am obligated to follow local rules and produce a product that my employer can use to make profit. Change any of this and either my employer or I are breaking the contract. In more simple terms, I do what I am told to do, otherwise I am out. If the employer is unethical or does not support my needs to produce, I find another job. Wow, that is some power exchange!

A marriage is somewhat like that, but has other layers of interdependence and complexity. There is love, lust, friendship, habit, mutual responsibility, etc. But the same rules apply as in any other relationship: both participants must get what they want, otherwise it does not work. Even strongly committed persons will give up if there are irreconcilable differences.

So how does a successful relationship work where others fail? I have heard of, read about, and seen in movies 50-50 marriages that supposedly worked. Marriage is a subset of a relationships, so all that applies to marriage does not apply to relationships in general. In this 50-50 marriage, fictional stories aside, both partners must be detached in order for the relationship to survive. This to me implies “impersonal”, “clinical”, “nothing but rational”, non-involved living and continual negotiations. It is fake, or the end of a formerly loving marriage. The union remains only for economical, financial, or some legal (having children in common) mutual obligation until such obligations are dissolved. Screw the 50-50 marriage. It is fake.

The following numbers are not based on scientific data. I am making them up only to illustrate my point. If a marriage does not have at least a 60-40 power balance, it is deathly dull. On the other hand, many marriages don’t survive a 60-40 or more diverse power balance. Either because the wrong person has the 60, or both want to have the 60 percent or more of power. Those that survive have figured out that one of the partners is more or less in charge, and the other complies. Hmm … What a novel idea! Too bad ideas cannot be patented.

In a Dominant/Submissive relationship the power exchange is more 80-20, or even 90-10. It is really never 100-0 for any length of time except maybe during a scene. But even then we don’t know for sure.

Female Led Relationship (FLR) is a subset of all relationships between a male and a female. In my next Pontification, if you are still around to read it, I will show you why FLR seems to work, and try to explode a related myth.

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