Pretty much everything we do in life, generally, will at some point involve interaction with somebody else, or many other people. These interactions can be transitory, or they can be longer lasting, and while long-lasting interaction tends to make the biggest impact on us, there are many times during which shorter-term interaction also becomes really important. And whatever interaction you do have, it will always go better if you have an understanding with the other person.
There are some people, we all know them, that do well in interaction with just about anybody. You know where they stand, and you have a pretty comfortable idea of where you stand with them. It doesn’t seem to matter who they are talking to or what situation they’re in – even situations that aren’t so good, with people that are rude, aggressive, or inconsiderate – they almost always seem to find a way to manage the interaction well.
Such people have good partnership skills. As in “good teammates in interaction.” Knowing how to be a good copilot, together with you, on this leg of your journey together.
One of the unfortunate things that people tend to think about partnership is that it only applies to a romantic partner. This is a deprived way of thinking! Truly, every relationship that we enter into and stay in for longer than a very short period of time should always have an element of partnership to it, whether it’s a friendship, romantic interest, sexual relationship, family member, coworker, activity buddy, or any other interaction that is in some way consistent. Why cultivate a relationship if it doesn’t give you some sort of a sense of connection that adds to your life?
When you interact with someone, particularly someone important to you (or when you work together on something important to you), they are your partner in this process. Imagine being in a boat, whitewater-rafting with someone – you’d want that person to be a good partner, right? Why not then strive to achieve that level of teamwork in any interaction?
The best, most efficient, least screwed-up interactions take place when both (or all) participants in the interaction feel this sense of partnership. Sometimes it seems like there are millions of ways that things can go wrong: misunderstandings, mismatched expectations, perceived obligations, different views of what is right and what is wrong, and so on – after a while, it’s easy for someone to wonder how it is that people even get along anymore. It feels like we put so much time in energy into adjusting for other people’s comfort, in addition to our own, that we have much less time than we should to think about other things besides “whether everybody is okay” and “if somebody is getting inconvenienced.” Once you establish that partnership in interaction, it becomes easier to trust more, which frees up time and energy to focus on other things besides the same old pesky insecurities.
One place where partnership is extremely valuable is when a relationship is undergoing changes. A work relationship turning into a friendship, a friendship acquiring a romantic/sexual dimension – or even a peaceful breakup or divorce that often leaves behind a still-healthy friendship. When the participants in the changing relationship both have a strong sense of partnership, this enables such changes to take place as smoothly as possible, minimizing misunderstandings and disappointments. Of course, mismatches and disagreements happen – no two people are always on the same wavelength all the time, no matter how alike they think.
In my life, wherever I go, I look for people that are open, willing, and desiring of such partnership in interaction with me. It doesn’t have to be a deep, drawn-out thing, either; it could just as well be a temporary alliance in something, whether it be sharing feelings, or working on a project together. But the key point in all this (as I have mentioned in another article) is one’s desire and ability to listen. Partnership is a conscious act. It is something that you decide to engage in with another person, not some random “groove” or “vibe” that you just “feel.” Partnership outlasts mere whims and fleeting feelings. When you have a partnership, you can deal with those unpleasant things that you don’t like to think about, but that you know need to be dealt with – together. Partnership is what allows a relationship to stay real and authentic, because it takes the pressure off of the people involved to try to smile and say everything is all right when there are underlying issues that need to be talked about. When you have a partnership, you can talk about these issues with the knowledge that the other person will stick around and be your partner in dealing with them, even if things get a bit ugly.
Sometimes, especially in areas of romantic dating or starting a new long term relationship with someone, there can be a lot of nervousness about what the future will bring: Will the relationship last? Where will it go? Will both partners stay satisfied with it? These questions very often do not get answered completely – because hey, were talking about the future! Even when people say things like “I’ll never let you go,” or “we will be together forever,” this does not guarantee in any way that such feelings won’t change later. For most of us, on some level, when these promises are made, either our bullshit detector goes off or, on some subconscious level, we accept that it is the spirit of such promises that matters more than the promise itself.
Rather than making far-off promises about an unguaranteed future, one can instead choose to focus on the partnership that can be guaranteed:
- To be honest and sincere;
- To always strive to listen;
- To always be as clear as possible about where you stand;
- To always try your best to understand where the other person is coming from – to empathize;
- When unable to do these things, to be clear about that; say so if it is impossible for you to be honest, or listen, or empathize – it happens! Make it clear that, for whatever reason, you are unable to offer that now. As long as you are clear and forthright about these inabilities, you are doing your part.
- To do your best. However that may vary from time to time.
Even when a partnership lies dormant for some time, with no interaction to speak of, its history lives on. If two people who have a strong partnership stop interacting (yes, in a partnership you can do this: voluntarily cease to interact if that is what’s best) and then, after a long time, come around to picking things up again, those good memories of the past form a wonderful foundation for the present. The memories of working together on a relationship show both sides that it is possible to continue in that tradition of actively working together, since it was done successfully before.
In love and friendship, there is no guarantee you won’t get hurt. But if you choose to develop your love and friendship among people that are sincere and mature enough to be able to see the shared value of your connection with you and manage it together with you, the amount of unnecessary hurt you feel will be greatly diminished; whatever hurt that you do feel will be cleaner, freer of regret, and clearer of “what ifs” so that you can more crisply grasp the lessons to be learned from such hurt and move forward, rather than feeling held back by it.
And … and this is the real no-brainer, in my opinion … somebody who understands the value of partnership is a lot less likely, at any particular point in their life, to ever feel inconsolably lonely for an extended period of time. People that make it a priority to be good partners to those they interact with tend to draw others close to them, rather than pushing people away – even when they are unable to offer much at all to those that seek them out. Sometimes this can be a bit strange to think about – but once you know the value of partnership, you also learn how to find those out there who are most readily able to embrace it with you, focus on those relationships, and reach a higher level of connectedness and intimacy. And everything else disappears.