More than anything I see expressed is that relationships are like two-way streets. Basically, the idea is that it takes two to…. Tango. In this expression, individuals hold that each partner in the relationship has certain obligations. Otherwise, they are to be held in contempt for relationship crimes.
How exactly does this play out in well-established relationships? The timeless example is of the sex-starved husband that is constantly rebutted, in his attempts at romancing his wife. When he is rejected, he is left feeling unappreciated and unloved. As such, he pulls back and turns the other way. Depending on the amount of time this has persisted for, he will make an attempt to talk to her about it, making sure she knows that he needs sex, and she isn’t putting out enough.
“I go to work so that there is food on the table and a roof over our family’s head. What don’t I do for you, honey? I do everything a husband needs to do and more, and we can’t even make love.”
“All you care about is sex,” she mutters. “What about the pile of your underwear over there?” “What about all of the sports games I have to take the kids to? I do everything around here, and you just sit there on the sofa.”
What follows is a paradigm of thought, and one that can be known to be correct, but felt to be so wrong. I use simple arithmetic to illuminate the disparity between individuals in a relational conflict. The truth that is exposed can be used for one’s benefit, or it can be ignored, with consequences to be faced.
I often say that 2+2=4. I use it in many analogies to express that something just is the way it is. If we were to say 2+_=4, we could only surmise one answer. Of course, we could insist that there must be other answers, as one might have placed a 3 in there. The answer “needs” to be a 3, as one needs to score highly on this test, for example. Well, that just isn’t the way the world works.
Relationships work in the same way. We have to follow very clear relational laws, or we face the consequences. We don’t always notice the consequences until it is far too late. We win each successive battle, not realizing that we have lost the war (of roses).
In a relationship, the right side of the equation must always equal 4. _+_=4. If it doesn’t, then we are no longer talking about a romantic relationship, but of something else. When we say this, we are indicating that the left side of the equation may fluctuate, so that the long-term trend of the relationship remains intact. In what we call a healthy relationship, it might look like 2+2=4, representing a very equal distribution of input and load, between partners. What most don’t realize is that the relationship will certainly go through changes in context, requiring the left side of the equation to shift. If true unconditional love exists, then partners should be able to see through temporary challenges. When they don’t, we get the scenario that I explained in the article’s opening, which is by far the norm in modern relationships.
The roommate relationship, characteristic of husband and wife having very little romantic intimacy, and often sleeping in separate rooms.
This equation might represent a relationship that is working through a pregnancy, inclusive of a very helpful and involved husband, with a physiologically compromised wife.
This equation might represent a separated relationship, in which one partner is doing what is necessary to appropriately work to re-establish the relational connection. With appropriate skills in reconnection (it is an art!), the chances are good for the relationship to be rekindled.
As you might wonder, I have not once mentioned the issue of fairness. I do now because I have to. I have found fairness to probably be the biggest cause of relational strife. Luckily, this relationship math concept works well to explain the challenge of fairness.
Let’s go back to that example of the wife turning down the husband for sex. Suppose that the relationship looked like this 2+2=4, and upon turning him down, it became 2+1, as she turned away from him. He will instantly experience a negative emotional reaction, giving him two choices: to do the same, or reach out with compassion. It can hurt to give more than one receives, especially for extended periods of time. Additionally, it can hurt tremendously more when a gift of love is refused. The thing is that the minute he turns away, he confirms that the relationship takes a new path, 1+1=2. Were he to push forward with compassion, the relationship would stay on course, 3+1=4, and eventually return to health 2+2=4.
This is an admittedly brief introduction to this concept, but it does illuminate some obvious realities. We can fight with all of our might to demand equality in the relationship, imposing conditions and punishments on one another, but we will only guarantee that the long-term health of the relationship deteriorates. The majority of couples operate in this mindset, acting out of righteous indignation, at times, giving up the long-term health, because it requires periods of unfairness.
We didn’t marry fairness, we married and promised unconditional love to another human being.