In It to Win/Win It

In It to Win/Win It

Your success is my success. If one partner wins at the other’s expense – then both partners lose.

Your success is my success. There are certain codes, creeds, maxims, and attitudes that serve, solidify, and support the foundation of long lasting loving relationships. One particular principle that research shows to clearly be beneficial is, in the spirit of deep mutuality, to adopt an agreement to negotiate win/win outcomes with your partner. Simply put, a belief by both partners that “if it’s not good for you, then it can’t be good for me,” serves a bigger thing than one’s individual life – it serves the relationship.

If one partner wins at the other’s expense – then both partners lose. Think of an intimate relationship as a boat a couple sets sail in. Is it sound, secure, seaworthy, and able to take the couple on exceptional voyages? The partner that gains at their partner’s expense in a way that does not predict, consider, or plan for their partner essentially shoots a hole in the boat they both travel in.

The very nature of agreeing to create ‘win/wins’ advocates for the success, longevity, and security of a relationship. It supports an attitude that sends a constant message of trust and commitment, and communicates, “I’ve got your back, you are my responsibility, and in my care.”

The nearly four decades of relationship research Dr. John Gottman has conducted present trust and commitment as fundamental components of healthy relationships, noting “trust is the state that occurs when a person knows his or her partner acts and thinks to maximize that person’s best interests and benefits, not just the partner’s own interests and benefits,” and “commitment means believing (and acting on the belief) that your relationship with this person is completely your lifelong journey, for better or for worse (meaning that if it gets worse you will both work to improve it).”

The Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) developed by Dr. Stan Tatkin uses principles based on the latest science and suggests building a “couple bubble” wherein each partner is the most important person in the other’s life and whom each can always count on. Dr. Tatkin notes, “partners can make love and avoid war when the security-seeking parts of the brain are put at ease.” One part of the brain responsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergency events is the amygdala, which constantly scans for dangerous faces, sounds, movements, gestures, and contexts. Actions and declarations communicating trust, commitment, and the intention of a win/win can successfully disarm the amygdala.

Individuals sometimes mistakenly think this type of win/win giving is solely for the other person, and somehow they will end up losing, but it is really for the giver, as they gain honorable power by giving. In these instances partners can convert the fear of losing into something noble that serves the relationship and not just the “self”.

Couples do best when they have ideas about why they are together and mutually agreed upon principles and rules of conduct. These principles protect the integrity of the relationship in times of “for better” and “for worse”. A clear agreement about what “holds their boat together” will keep couples afloat, especially when feelings are hurt and energy is low.

One ‘win/win’ associated principle Dr. Tatkin notes is, “partners should prevent each other from being a third wheel when relating to outsiders.” Outsiders can be anything from work, pets, hobbies, family, addictions, friends, screen time, etc. When one partner is sidelined or treated as a third wheel, the place each partner holds in the relationship is devalued and – they both lose. Successful secure couples don’t let their partner come in second or lose to outsiders. They understand they are tethered together – “where you go, I go.” The relationship becomes ‘home’ for the couple, and a place no one – especially outsiders and losing outcomes – get to undermine or cause harm to.

There are “pro-self” and “pro-relationship” stances. Dr. Gottman explains if you’ve built good “love maps” – a guide to one’s history, worries, stresses, joys and hopes – then you know the inner workings of your partner and can therefore care for the relationship through caring for your partner. A core therapeutic goal in PACT therapy is to know who your partner is and how they operate in the world, essentially developing an “owner’s manual” for one another. This meaningful type of knowledge makes clear what will shore up the security of the relationship and what types of acting autonomously will sideline their partner and hurt the bond between them.

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The litmus test to run these types of decisions through is to ask yourself, “can I argue for what I want on behalf of my partner?” (and vice versa). If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s not a win/win and therefore presents an opportunity to protect the boat you travel in together called a relationship.