Perhaps the biggest problem in most personal or business relationships?
The false belief that there’s a conflict of interest, when there isn’t.
When personal relationships degenerate into unhappiness, you’ll almost always find an adversarial mindset. Therapists who work with couples frequently end up saying, “Remember, you’re not adversaries here. You’re on the same team. You have the same interests. Right?”
It’s even worse when people start accusing the other of “selfishness.” You might as well be saying: “Our whole problem is the fact that you care about yourself.” Well, so what? The fact that you’re telling me not to care about myself means that you want me to care about you. Doesn’t that demand imply that you care about yourself?
When in conflict, don’t ever accuse the other of selfishness. It’s a road to nowhere.
So what are you supposed to do when you honestly feel that the other person is thinking only of his own needs, and not of yours?
First of all, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. People with whom you’ve had good or excellent relations in the past, or over a long period of time, probably deserve that benefit. It’s in your own self-interest to assume the best before you conclude the worst, assuming you eventually must do so.
One way to possibly defuse such situations is to say, “We don’t yet have a solution that works for both of us. I know what you’re proposing works for you. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t work for me, for reasons I will explain. Our challenge is to find something that works for both of us.”
This happens in business dealings all the time. The unspoken (or written and spoken) premise of any solid business relationship is: Let us both benefit. Marriages and personal relationships having difficulties? Not so much.
It’s called mutuality. It makes total sense to approach it this way with anyone who is not truly your enemy. If the person is your enemy, then there’s no point trying to negotiate. Instead, put your thought, time and mental energy into an exit strategy for the business relationship, friendship or marriage.
Good people sometimes cannot reconcile their differences. They each want valid, reasonable things; but those things contradict each other. In these cases, there really is a conflict of interest. One side or the other will have to sacrifice his or her happiness in order for the relationship to “work”. This is not a solution for either party. Going one’s separate ways, however hard it might be, is preferable to this. Make sure this is true before you conclude it; but once you conclude it, accept it.
Contradictions don’t work in theory, or in practice. If you insist on pursuing a personal or business relationship with someone who has goals or ideas fundamentally at odds with your own, then the only solution is to go your separate ways.
Demanding that the person “stop being selfish and think of me” is never the solution. It’s contradictory on its own terms, and you’re expecting the other party to be motivated by something — selflessness — that would never motivate you, if you’re honest about it. And if selflessness does motivate you, then why not let the other person have everything he or she wants, unconditionally? Be consistent.
When your friend or lover seems to have become an adversary, say the following: “I can see this isn’t working for you. I’m sad and disappointed about that. But let’s try to come up with something that works better for both of us.”
Whether it’s as simple an issue as where to eat dinner tonight or what movie to see; or as difficult a decision as whether to buy a house or have a child, mutuality is the only way any personal relationship or marriage will ever stand the test of time. Trust, fidelity, love respect … without mutuality, none of those things are present.
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