Who’s Got Your Back and Why it Matters So Much
There are moments in life that leave vivid imprints in our minds and hearts. The reality that we don’t do, in fact cannot do, life alone is usually part of those moments. And the relationships we choose powerfully affect our future as well as our present.
As social animals, the mere presence of others makes it all too easy to diminish the contribution we make to each others lives. But recognizing those contributions is critical. Our lives are not represented by only the positive integers on the number line. There are negative influences, also, as we all know.
So what are the elements of a relationship in which the combined whole is greater than the sum of the parts?
Having a Partner Mindset
We call them friends, associates, spouses, and a host of other labels. In each of these, there is the implied element of partnership. We’re engaged with them in some significant piece of our life. So what exactly is a partner supposed to be? How are partnership relationships defined?
Personally, I don’t like the way any of the official sources define it. Perhaps the best is at thefreedictionary.com, which says
1. One that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or a sphere of common interest
That seems to contain all the important pieces of what’s important to healthy, co-beneficial relationships. We’re united. We share a common interest or activity. We’re striving towards the same goal, and we’ve committed to see that we both, or all, attain it. We stand together, united.
Humility is one of those funny words. It can have religious overtones. And it can suggest that you’re putting your own needs below that of others. Really, though, it’s not either of those. C.S. Lewis said it very well:
The kind of relationships we all seek are ones in which we feel assured that the other or others put neither themselves nor us on a higher level of importance. We are truly of equal importance. Yes, we may bring different things to the relationship, but by joining together we decided that all that was important was the bigger picture of “us.” A relationship in which me is replaced by we.
Have you ever watched professional dancers? It’s amazing how they seem to anticipate and respond to each other through the performance. Even if there’s a misstep by one, the other knows exactly how to respond and elegantly recover. They’ve rehearsed and practiced clearly communicating each others strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires. There’s no guessing.
The “dance” of a relationship is the same. If there’s a moment of “I thought you meant,” it’s a signal that there wasn’t clarity. Being able to anticipate the next move, the needs, the things that make your partners tick, is the juice that electrifies a brilliant performance. That comes from a place of clarity.
It would be nice if we lived in a perfect world and nothing ever went wrong. But we all make mistakes. And we’ve all heard that it’s not the mistake but how you recover from it that matters. That’s only part of the story.
I’ve always believed that no matter how little resemblance what we say has to the truth, inside ourselves we know. To the extent that we’re willing to share that truth, we’re truly accountable. When we own our results, or our full contribution to what went wrong, something surprising happens. Rather than weaken the relationship, it strengthens it. Trust and confidence in us from the others is increased.
Choose Relationships Based on Value
We’re all selling, all the time. In spite of the fact that if you ask most people if they consider themselves a salesperson, they’ll quickly answer “no.” Sales involves giving and receiving something of value. What is it you bring to the relationship? What do you expect from your relationships?
Naturally, all that implies that each party to the relationship actually wants what the other is offering. That’s why we choose to pass on certain relationships. The other party has nothing in which we have any interest. Let go of any notion that this is somehow selfish or judgmental. It’s not. It’s simply acknowledging that not everyone could be or should be an other in your life.
Your dance through life will be more rewarding and less stressful when the others in your performance are as committed as are you to the whole of your relationship. And that’s when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
For a much more in depth look at the importance of the others in your life, you may want to consider Dr. Henry Cloud’s newest, The Power of Other. “The Startling Effect Other People Have On You, From the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond – And What to do About it.”