A few weeks ago, we discussed marriage as a partnership like you’d find in an adventure movie. Today, we need to look at partnership from a slightly different angle.
Yes, our differences can cause conflict or complementarity. They can push us apart or join us together. The reality, though, is this only works when both partners do three, specific things very consistently.
As a supervisor and coach in the software industry, I can confidently say one of the most common challenges people face is rooted in struggling with partnership. Making decent software requires making decisions from a bewildering number of options. Within reason, you could do anything. The only limitations are imagination and technical possibility, which provides quite a bit of latitude. We could do this, we could do that, or we could do this other thing. At some point, though, a decision must be made if you’re actually going to produce anything.
How are the best decisions made? With partnership.
I’ve seen intelligent, technical people cross their arms and wait for “management” to make a decision. I’ve seen extremely capable men and women put forward an idea and insist it be followed. Neither of these is partnership, neither is good for software development, and neither is any good for marriage.
Fiancés and spouses face countless decisions that they need to make together. What colors should we have at our wedding? Should we try to have a child? What house should we buy? What should we have for dinner?
Ok, fiancés probably don’t have to answer “all” of those questions, but you get the point!
Successful partners need to do three things: sincerely invest in the question at hand, not really care whose idea is whose, and be vulnerable enough to support a decision without perfect information.
Unfortunately, even though fiancés and spouses are called “partners”, it’s so easy to overlook one or more of these factors.
For example, in a bizarre display of hypocrisy, I can walk out of my home office after a long day of coaching others on collaboration, be asked by my wife what I’d like for supper, and shrug my shoulders as if my arms are made of rubber bands. I don’t care enough to engage, and my wife is left to figure it out alone. Sound like good partnership?
As we’ve met with engaged couples over the years, we’ve worked with plenty of men who really think they’re being generous, even helpful, by not having an opinion on wedding planning. They think they’re letting their fiancé have the wedding she dreamed of. In reality, they make her do all the hard work, they make her take all the risk of doing something wrong or overlooking a detail, and they come off as disinterested in a day that’s kind of a big deal.
We’ve seen the other extreme, too. We’ve seen the guy with the Type A personality or the Bridezilla who really isn’t interested in what their fiancé has to say. They have a vision of what must happen and loudly insist it comes to pass. Again, not partnership.
Finally, when Tara and I face big decisions, I tend to get paralyzed. I spend time rolling our options around in my head, I bring things up to Tara at the weirdest times, and basically drag my feet because I’m afraid to decide. Unless I can be assured that everything will work out, I’m terrified of acting.
I see what it does to my wife, and it doesn’t look like partnership.
In marriage, there’s no boss out there handing down assignments with clear directions and expectations. There’s no instruction manual. Can you afford that house? Should you take a different job? Should the toilet paper roll off the front or the back? Other than the last one, none of these has an objectively correct answer. This can be frightening, but it’s a lot less scary if you’re not alone.
Some of the moments I’ve felt the most in love with Tara are when we just had a very serious conversation about something important and neither of us had any idea what to do, but by the end of it we were shoulder-to-shoulder facing the world together.
Being a partner requires sincerely caring, looking for a solution instead of winning, and deciding, even if you aren’t sure what the future will hold. Where do you need to grow? Maybe you and your partner can work together there, too!