(Originally posted December 23, 2009)
One of the things that is taught in screenwriting is to LEARN and KNOW the structure of the standard screenplay so that you can alter it when you want to–but to be aware that you are altering it, and therefore you will have some industry “readers” who will immediately toss it. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino (you ROCK, brotha’!), alternate structured screenplays are not so easily discounted anymore. This has opened up the film industry to a much more rich and diverse set of movie offerings in the last 10-15 years.
You might be thinking “what does this have to do with relationships?” (Or, for Tarantino fans, you might be thinking “what the f*&k does this f*%$ing s#!t have to do with anything???”)
The answer is that, like screenplays, relationships have a “standard” structure as well, in terms of the power dynamic. And once you know how that works, you are free to either keep it or alter it. And I have learned that altering it, in the way I will describe here, brings a much more rich and diverse relationship than staying within the standard power dynamic. Here’s how that standard dynamic operates, and you’ll see right away that it’s generally a paradox and a losing proposition for one of the persons in the relationship: the person who wants the relationship the LEAST holds the power. Almost every “standard” relationship hold some form of this dynamic. If it’s a long-term relationship, it takes the form of a never-ending uneasy truce, with the one most invested in the relationship tending to “walk on eggshells” much of the time, while the partner “in power” wields it to often get what they want, only to feel a sense of guilt during times of self-reflection. Again, like much of the scenarios I talk about in this blog, this can still be a “just fine” situation for both parties (they are, after all, BOTH agreeing to upholding this dynamic), but it will NOT lead to an off-the-charts GREAT relationship. Why not? Because BOTH parties are SETTLING! You might agree right off the bat that the person “not in power” is settling, after all it’s easy to see that walking on eggshells and losing out on most of the decisions made in the relationship is not going to produce a super-happy existence, but how could the partner “in power” be settling??? They are getting their way all the time! If you think for a moment, you can probably figure it out. Remember how this dynamic is set up in the first place? The person who wants the relationship the least is the one in power. So they are inherently getting LESS than they want in a relationship! That’s the definition of settling.
So how do you get around this? Someone is ALWAYS going to want the relationship more or less than the other person…right? Nope! If you are TRULY resolved to having a GREAT relationship and NOT SETTLING, then you will simply keep looking until you find someone who is the perfect fit for your wants list, AND for whom YOU are the perfect fit for THEIR wants list! A great relationship is about knowing how the power structure dynamic is created…and then altering it by seeking to NOT hold power. Mary and I both clearly know how this works, but both of us seek to not wield that power over the other. That’s a LOSE-LOSE scenario. Now there are going to be times when both of us want different things–how is this handled? A simple example is being at the movieplex and deciding which movie to see. I’m in the mood for one, and she for a different one. In situations like these, we are SO comfortable with each other and open, authentic, and NOT worrying about upsetting the other person, that the solution comes rather easily. We KNOW that our enjoyment of each other is a greater HAPPINESS GENERATOR than anything we might do, buy, or want. So we just throw our wants out there and one or the other CHOOSES to do what the other wants in this case, noting that the next time they get the extra weight for their choice. For relationships that are not to the stage we are yet, this is a perfect place to use and PRACTICE (that will lead to perfecting) what Bears (Barry Neil Kaufman of The Option Institute (www.option.org ) calls “happy negotiation”. It may seem cumbersome or time-consuming at first, but the more you use this, the more it will become easy and effortless. The way it works is this. One person wants something and the other person doesn’t (or they want to do something else). You start a negotiation by first really LOVING the other person and putting that first. Then you work on finding who wants this thing more than the other (the power dynamic is now temporarily in place). The person who wants it more then negotiates the terms of getting what they want by GIVING something that the other person wants.
Example: I really want to be able to watch football on Sundays. Mary ain’t really into that, but she puts our happiness first (as I do) and she knows how happy I make myself immersing in my beloved football on Sundays, so she negotiates “okay lover, if you want to watch your crazy football all day on Sunday, I want you to just be around me, next to me, snuggling with me when you’re doing it!” Since that’s agreeable to me (hahaha, who am I kidding, I LOVE that!), then it’s a done deal. If the trade off is not acceptable, if it doesn’t balance between both parties, you keep negotiating until both sides are in agreement that they are getting what they want out of the deal. No animosity, no arguing, just negotiating from a happy, loving space until the agreement is reached. It’s a really great way of working out roadblocks when both partners want something different in a given instance. (For more information on this, The Option Institute has a couple of GREAT resources: the Couples Course CD set, which you can find here http://www.option.org/custom:cds-and-dvds,single,407 and where you can also listen to a sample from the CD, or the ACTUAL Couple Course itself, which you can read more about here http://www.option.org/programs:couples-course,7 ).
So now it’s time for you to try this out! Use the techniques the next time you come into a situation where you both want different things and see how it goes. I would love to hear from you about how it worked out! Were you successful? If not, let me know where you got stuck or feel free to ask a question to clarify by using your real-life example. Like I said, this is really easy and effortless for Mary and I, so I would love to get the chance to help you work through situations like this that come up in your relationship.