Jul 14 2009

Mutuality – A Red Herring?

Published by at 6:27 am under Relationship Advice

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Thanks to Denise for inspiring this post – which is actually a promoted comment response to her thoughtful comment on Embracing Double Standards.

I don’t think I mean to talk about “control” – although I do believe that true control is the giving up of control. I love stories of prisoners who while in prison finally became free – because they accepted their surroundings for the first time in their lives. And yes, it’s worth another reiteration that I’m not talking about bad, controlling behavior.

When JoAnn says “You’re not allowed to yell at me” what she’s really saying is something along the spectrum of “It’s hard for me to handle your disapproval” to “I can’t handle expressions of anger pointed at me from the person I love the most.” And if I do it enough, she won’t stick around for it. And, to be very clear, my “yelling” at JoAnn is raising my voice from a 3-out-of-10 to maybe a 5, and still communicating fairly responsibly.

On to mutuality.

I’m pretty clear that mutuality is a red herring at its best, and one of the most relationship-undermining concepts at its worst. First of all, there’s no way to tally what each partner in a relationship is doing for the other, or to keep track of it over time. Secondly, it maybe misses the point entirely. If I love the thrill I get when I bring JoAnn flowers and she squeals with delight… who is getting the gift here? If I bring her flowers every week and she never gives me flowers, does that mean we’re out of mutuality balance?*

If I love to hold the door for her, hold her chair, etc., and do all those gentlemanly things that can be fun for a person who likes to think of himself as a gentleman, am I to expect her to occasionally hold my chair? **

To each her own, of course. For example, there are people who love to be dominated (sexually and otherwise) and people who enjoy dominating. To them, mutuality is the dominator making demands and the submissive one filling them.

Of course, I believe in fairness. I just think we need to be careful where we look for that fairness. I mostly judge by my emotional bank account. If JoAnn’s making more deposits than withdrawals (and vice versa), we’re generally in great shape.

Contrast this with a prior, painful relationship. My (then) partner and I sapped each others energy; we were not loving, kind and generous with each other. With each of us constantly feeling emotionally overdrawn, things like who is doing more housework, bill paying, yard work, etc. became the only currency we had. And when we got to that low state of existence, “mutuality” (really, tit for tat) took center stage. And, from that state of mind, the other one always felt like s/he was getting the short end of the stick.

* The truth is that I don’t buy her cut flowers – hardly ever, but I would if she liked them!
** I wish I was more like the gentlemanly guy I’m describing. I’ll work on it.

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