Defining the Relationship

I have often said that being married is nothing like living together. I have literally never heard another person who agrees with me so I’m not surprised when people hear that and respond with a confused, ‘why?’ My answer is always the same, the fights are better when you’re married (and I don’t mean the making up, although that can be pretty good too). I mean the fights we have as a married couple are more intense and focused on the right things.

Let me back this up a little bit. When our relationship started I had had some experience in long-term relationships but had always (and was starting in this one) tried to be perfect for the other person. I learned what they wanted out of relationship or out of a girl friend and I became as close to that as possible. The ability to be flexible was great and a skill I still utilize however when you’re trying to fill a gap for someone or be perfect for them a few things will happen. It will greatly strain you personally creating all sorts of stress. They will rely on you as a crutch. You will grow to resent it or them.

Falling back into those old habits, I would find myself in arguments with my now husband where I couldn’t articulate well what I needed. He was confused, of course, because I had spent so much time trying to be exactly what he needed until I got mad because he assumed I would be, or do, exactly what he needed. This lead to passive aggression and resentment (solid foundation for a life long commitment no doubt). I wanted everything to be perfect but it needed to be perfect for him and for me and that didn’t seem to be working.

When we got married it started to improve. There was a new found confidence in the relationship. It was as though we were tied together in the best possible way. Said bluntly, I could say whatever I wanted in the fight because he wasn’t going anywhere. It isn’t as though either one of us took advantage of that in a negative way but it gave us the freedom to express ourselves without fear of the end result.

As time went on, we used that freedom and progressed in the relationship. It became less about what he needs and what I need, and more about what we need as a couple. The relationship started developing as a life of its own. We began, slowly, realizing that we weren’t advancing ourselves and our own agenda but what the relationship needed. Now obviously it is, was, will always be, comprised of the two of us but focusing less on what either individual needed and instead on what would be best for the couple changed our perspective. It allowed us to better focus on joint goals and rely on each other to support them. It also gave us new perspective on how individual goals impact us as a couple either positively or negatively. If one of us is better able to carry a certain load in the relationship or if one needs more margin or time to recharge to benefit it, we can see it more clearly. Conversely, if one of us is being selfish it is evident how that doesn’t serve the other person or us as a couple. Having the double whammy makes it stand out more so it happens less often.

This even impacted our ability to dream. We had always day dreamed about what we would do or want if we had all the money and all the time but they were separate things that mostly fit together in the same picture. Now, as we’ve progressed through the years, the dreams flow together like water colors on a page. You can see the distinction of what came from which color pallet but you can’t really define the edge of where one flows into the other. (Admittedly a little squishier than I normally get but I think it gets the point across.)

Did you forget which blog you’re reading yet?

This is all true of your relationships in your business as well. All too often people approach work relationships with their teammates, leaders or reports, and company as a whole the way I was approaching relationships in my early years. We come in pretending to be exactly what is needed and trying to fill every gap. Eventually the interview and honeymoon period wear off and we’re left frustrated. We may land in the world of resentment and passive aggression because we don’t feel the relationship is being reciprocated the way we expect. We may end up stressed because we’re over working ourselves trying to be “perfect” and becoming the crutch.

Consider for yourself how things would be different if your work relationships looked less like the dating pitfalls of the past and more like a mature marriage? How would it change your ability to make progress in your organization if you felt the same sort of commitment, freedom, focus, clarity, and shared vision that I described above? Now I’m obviously not suggesting that your work relationships are life long commitments the way a marriage is. However they can be treated with the same respect, maturity, and honesty and they’d be the most rewarding if they were.

Think about one of the most critical relationships you are a part of in your organization. It could be your boss, a teammate, strong ally from another department, etcetera. Now consider if the two of you were committed to each other and the success of the organization. There were no politics, egos, or concerns about credit or blame. How would that change things just in that very small circle? You could share work and cover each other’s backs. You could be honest with each other when one started to veer off course to hold yourselves accountable. Think about what it would do to your ability to advance the mission if you were committed enough, respectful enough, confident enough in your work relationships. Now imagine if you were the leader in this situation. This could mean the difference between management and leadership with your people. Having this type of relationship will make those around you want to follow, want to work together toward the goal, and that is the definition of leadership.

The question then becomes well how do you do it, right? It starts squarely with you. (I know, I hate it when that’s the answer too.) You only get out of it what you put in. You can gain so much fulfillment and value from your work but it isn’t going to be delivered to you in the interoffice mail bin. I would consider a few things right off the bat:
Am I being authentic? To contrast, are you like me and putting up a façade of who you think you should be? Or maybe your personal brand is to build a wall or clam up.
Am I stepping out in trust? Maybe you’re like me and are waiting for a “vow” from the other side. Sad to say you aren’t getting one. That doesn’t mean that you can’t build trust with that person. It starts with you taking the first step in vulnerability.
Am I letting go of my ego? I don’t know why but this one is the hardest for me. I want the credit. I want the acknowledgement for the work I’ve done. I want to be right for goodness sakes. The truth is, if you drop your ego at the door you’ll make so much more progress.

Next, it really takes time. I run through these questions regularly as I cultivate my relationships. I especially run through them for myself when I feel as though others fell short. I can’t change their actions or motives but I can assess mine and continuously progress. It does take continuous work, just like in a marriage, and there will be days where you fail miserably, just like in marriage. If you deliberately and consistently work at it though all of the fruits of the labor, more focus, more progress toward goals, mutual support, work that best suits abilities and talents, and clarity on a shared vision of the future, can be achieved in work, just like in marriage.

Things I’m reminding myself of

Prioritize the people. I do not have the bandwidth to have this type of relationship with everyone I work with. That would just be silly and I would be exhausted and fail. I am deliberate in who I choose to put this amount of work in with. I base that on proximity and impact. Proximity simply refers to the people I am working with every day that I will need to be in the strongest community with. Impact refers to where I believe we’ll see the biggest growth in the fruits of our labor. We’ll have the most benefit to the team or organization if I put the work into that. Let’s be honest, there is one more filter; who will be easier to see results with. If I know that I work with the person daily, there would be a good impact, but it would be like pulling teeth to develop trust or get past egos or whatever, I’m probably leaving that one lie, again, bandwidth.

Don’t be afraid of the friction. There will be frustration, disagreements, misunderstandings, and potentially a couple true fights along the way. First and foremost fight yourself to show respect, love, and trust to the other person. Second fight for the facts, even if you’re wrong. The end result, so long as the fights are constructive and you are reflecting on them to improve for the future, is positive even when it doesn’t feel like it. Be present through the pain and if it feels like you’re going through a particularly difficult season, its often a slingshot propelling you to the next level.

Don’t silo your life. Find connections from work to family, to friends, to church, to hobbies, to pets, to whatever else is in your life. You are very likely consistent in your actions and perspectives across them. Applying what you’ve learned in one area another will allow you to grow exponentially in each area.

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