People are innocently very selfish in their relationships. They’ll say and believe that they give more than they get, but the truth is they really only account for their own giving and very little of their actual receiving. But it’s not who gives who how much that matters. What matters is if the giving is voluntary. Because that quality is what motivates the existence of the relationship. If the value of the other person’s presence exceeds the price of living in that presence, then the attraction will be natural.
It’s almost like calculating Lift for an airplane. If the pressure under the wing is higher than over it, then the plane flies. So it is in the case of relationships. If the Relationship’s Additions to your Happiness are greater than the Relationship’s subtractions from your Happiness then you are in a positive position where you are drawn toward each other. If the Relationship’s Cost to your Happiness is greater than the Relationship’s Addition to your Happiness, then you are repelled apart. It’s that simple:
r+H > r-H = Attraction
r-H > r+H = Repulsion
So how does this work in everyday life? For example, if a husband negatively comments on his wife’s weight either by teasing, suggestion, reference, or comparison, then that reduces the Happiness of his wife and it will contribute to greater Repulsion in the relationship. If the wife responds to that Repulsive Force by criticizing him back, (even if it was intended to show him how it felt to be talked about that way), the net effect is still a reduction in the husband’s Happiness and more Repulsion for the relationship overall. This is why tit for tat doesn’t work.
Likewise, if you’re kind and patient with someone, that increases their sense of trust and closeness, and that increases the value of their Happiness and therefore acts as an Attractive Force in the relationship. Equally, imagine a wife takes anger for her boss out on her husband. If he can recognize that her frustration are with her boss and not himself, then rather than having a personal negative Repulsive reaction, he can choose to react with compassion, possibly even to the point of taking responsibility that is not his. If the compassionate or sacrificial act increases his partner’s Happiness, then even in an argument the couple will have increased the Attractive Force between them.
The people we’re in love with were never supposed to act the way we want them to. They’re not letting us down. They’re just Being themselves and if we’re to be together we should have a natural attraction to that. All of it. Including the bits we find challenging. We’re like two planets in a dual orbit. We’re actually going entirely unique directions, but because of the natural attraction, we alter our paths to accommodate each other. As long as that attraction is natural—as long as we are doing things because we genuinely want to—then there is nothing to think about.
Everyone you’re involved with will bring challenges for your personality. They aren’t disrespecting you if they don’t follow the script you outline to “make things better.” They’re just being themselves and your job is to love them unconditionally, without all of those rules about what’s “acceptable.”
The next time you’re in an argument, instead of telling the other person what they could do to help, try actually dropping your angry thoughts in favour of compassionate ones. Forget about what you need from them and look for how they could benefit from something from you. Because that simple shift will soon add up to a huge and positive difference in any relationship.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non profit organizations around the world.