DISCLAIMER – Before you read any of this, please be be clear that it is of zero value. It is complete and utter rubbish. I am (historically) the worst person I know at relationships so the idea that I could give any advice at all to anyone is laughable. Don’t read this and get all angry with me because I’m giving bad advice. I’m telling you now – it is bad advice, but that’s all I know. And it’s not very funny either, in fact it’s not funny at all. And to be honest I don’t even think it’s interesting, or saying anything you don’t already know. But I’ve written it now and it’s taken me an age to write so I’m going to post it anyway. If you still want to read on, you do so at your own risk…
Last year, I put together a little diagram to illustrate a point I was trying to make about how to develop magazine apps (I know, riveting), and, thanks to some mild praise it received at the time, I’ve been trotting it out ever since, firmly believing that I hit upon something truly revelatory (I know, deluded). Anyway, after I showed it to Chantal the other day, she wisely suggested that it might in fact help describe something far less prosaic than app development, and could even, at a push, model how two people in a relationship interact with one another.
So I played around with it a little and presented it with great fanfare to Zoe and James from the office who promptly laughed at me and called me a tit. Undeterred and with great resolve I carried on tweaking and caressing it until I had what I am about to share with you here. I don’t have a name for it yet (suggestions welcome), but, give or take, I think it pretty much describes the universal model of relationships. Not at all ambitious then.
This is how it works:
It’s presented from the perspective of one person in a relationship with another. I expect it probably works with friendships and familial or professional relationships, but I’ve focused my attention right now on good old fashioned relationships of the romantic kind.
The circles a, b and c represent what your partner wants, what they actually need, and what you give them, respectively. Please understand that this is not about material things – it’s about everything: love, attention, romance, time, sex, food, support, space, kids, head, a home and anything else that they might need and you might provide.
As the circles intersect, you can see the likely outcome of each of the situations brought about by the various combinations of needs, wants and gives. None of these are mutually exclusive, in fact every relationship will hopefully contain a healthy mix of all the areas within this diagram – the trick is to maximise the positive ones and minimise the negative ones.
And so, starting from the centre, this is how it works:
The ones to work on:
1. Long term contentment: The simple one – they want it, they need it, and you give it to them. This is where expectations are met and the outcome provides for stability and longevity. The person on the receiving end knows what they need (if you’re lucky they might even articulate it to you), and you provide it to them. There are no surprises here. It’s safe but it’s good stuff.
2. Delight: You give your partner something that they didn’t ask for and that they didn’t even know they needed, but when you give it to them, they realise that they can’t live without it. This is where expectations are truly exceeded and with this comes delight. It’s what Apple did years ago with iPods and iPhones: we didn’t know we needed them when they launched, but once we had them in our hands we became almost addicted to them. In fact that’s the thing about this area – once you have provided this illusive gift, your partner soon realises that they do in fact need it and so you quickly move into the centre circle where the delight is replaced by contentment (which is just fine – don’t fight it). In any case, while you’re in here, this is a really good place to be – the problem is that you have to keep coming up with new stuff if you want to stay. High effort, high reward.
3. Short term happiness: Your partner desires something even though they don’t need it and you give it to them. This is good short term fodder for your relationship – it’s often (but not always) romantic. It’s the cream on top. It’s the little details and it’s the grand gestures. None of them are actually needed individually, but that’s ok – it’s still good stuff and should be celebrated. And while the individual things you’re providing in here are not necessary, the area as a whole is an important one if you want to avoid relationship stagnation. Equally though, if you want more than a string of fun dates with someone, then you’ve got to start to operate in the other areas too.
The ones to avoid:
4. Immediate unhappiness: Bit of an obvious one, as your partner knows they need something (and hopefully, they are telling you about it) and yet you still fail to provide it. Best to be avoided if you can. And if you do find yourself in here, then you’re either not listening or you’re being a bit of a shit.
5. Long term unhappiness: This one is more illusive both to identify and to avoid. Neither of you know that your partner needs it but it turns out they do need it and you are not providing it. The long term result of being in this place is a slow but inevitable move into the unhappiness zone. On the upside, once they find out they need this, then they’ll want it too and it will move towards the want circle at which point they’ll hopefully let you know about it so that you can resurrect the situation – so perhaps not one to worry about too much. In fact come to think of it, don’t even spend a moment pondering over this one as there’s bugger all you can do about it in any case.
6. Wasted energy: There’s always that risk that you get a bit ahead of yourself and start throwing yourself at your partner, providing those things that are neither needed nor wanted. Bad idea. You’ll end up exhausting yourself, you’ll get little thanks (why should you?), you may start to feel resentful as a result, and you’ll certainly make your partner feel more than a little uncomfortable. Don’t confuse this with romance. It’s not romantic to give somebody something that they don’t want to have. There’s plenty of romance all over this little picture, but don’t kid yourself – it’s not in here.
7. Bruised ego: You’re entering the danger zone here – not giving someone the things that they want even though you know they don’t need them sounds totally reasonable, but it’s something you do at your peril. That said, unless you spend your life doing this on a regular basis, you’re unlikely to condemn your relationship to the dustbin. Either way I’d still keep my arse out of this little place as much as possible if I were you – here lies angst and bitterness.
Bringing the circles together:
While we would all love to be able to navigate each of these areas with the precision of a sun bleached sea salt, another way to minimise the risk of getting in the shit is to try and push the circles closer together. In fact the best possible version of this diagram is with all three circles totally superimposed, with complete alignment between what your partner wants and needs and what you provide – the perfect relationship. Sadly that’s totally unrealistic and would probably be bloody awful, but nevertheless, the closer we can get the circles aligned, the better we are going to be in our relationship. and there are a few forces (some of which we have no control over) that can work to this end:
Self sufficiency: If your partner is easy going, well balanced, independent and therefore needs very little from you, then your job in providing for those needs is going to be easier. The risk here of course, is that you end up being the needy one in the relationship. Oops.
Self awareness: By knowing what you each need, you and your partner are going to be better at understanding what you really want, thus bringing the wants circle closer to the needs circle.
Communication: Add to the above a healthy dose of talking about stuff and you will better understand exactly what those needs are, so that you can respond accordingly.
Generosity: Simply understanding someone’s needs isn’t enough – you have to want to respond to those needs, and it’s only through true generosity of spirit that you will be able to consistently do this. This is a tough one as generosity is innate and not something you have much control over, but it’s certainly worth remembering that you have to make an effort. It’s not always going to come naturally to you and if it feels like you’re sticking your neck out from time to time, that’s probably a good thing (you tight bastard).
Aligned goals: No matter how generous you are, if the needs of your partner are in conflict with yours, then things can become very difficult. It’s at this point that you need to decide how far your generosity should go – you can’t compromise your happiness for the sake of someone else’s, and generosity can go too far, to the point that it’s harming you – that’s the point at which it is no longer a good thing for either of you. On the other hand, if your goals are aligned, all of this becomes so much easier (I did warn you that all this was bloody obvious didn’t I?)
So what’s the point of all this?
I’m buggered if I know, but I had fun writing it. One important thing to leave you with: don’t forget that you play both roles in the diagram, you’re not just the provider, you’re also the needer and the wanter so remember that your responsibility isn’t to just give, it’s also to be self sufficient, to understand your own needs and to articulate them to your partner so that they can make some bloody sense of this too.
As I read this back something concerns me – it would make me sad to think that someone would manage their relationship in a methodical way such as this. this is simply a set of observations, it’s not in any way supposed to drive behaviour.
Just be you, and be considerate to the person who you’re with.
That’s all any of us can do isn’t it?
Good luck to us all. But well worth an honest attempt. A bit late for me though? Or is it that I started without having decided what I had to give and what I hoped to receive and certainly did not articulate, to use your word. I wonder if many of us actually think at all. That is why so many of us come unstuck.