PQ 13.1 — How do I encourage decision-making participation by all my partners? In what ways do I show my partners they are empowered?
You know. It’s funny. For the longest time, I really felt that it was possible to fix something — anything, really — if I only just worked hard enough.
Seriously. It didn’t matter what was going on in my life. Or what it was that needed fixing.
If something didn’t work out, I’d blame myself. And true sometimes, it was my fault, and this was the right takeaway. But not always. And it didn’t matter what the circumstances were, really. In the face of failure, I’d absorb the lesson that I’d failed somehow. Even if it didn’t really make sense to. I had a very internal locus of control.
Predictably, I carried this belief into relationships. It went with me everywhere, after all. So of course I took it into love. Where it really didn’t belong.
When the shit hit the fan, I would respond not by asking my partner to help me sort out our collective issues, but by doubling down on whatever work I was doing. I devoured self-help books, searching for the magic lesson that would enable me to single-handedly fix our relationship.
If only I could do enough soul-searching and read enough things, then we would be fine.
Interestingly, the self-help books started to direct me towards more cooperative patterns of problem-solving. So I sighed and gave it a try. I asked for help from my partner.
And wouldn’t you know? It backfired spectacularly. The request for assistance was met with outrage.
In hindsight, I suppose it makes sense. I’d spent nearly a decade with a person whose life had become progressively more and more comfortable. Emotionally, financially, and otherwise. Who was used to being with someone who never asked anything of them. Who would bend over backward to give them their slightest desire.
And now here I was, turning all of that on its head. I’d changed the terms of our relationship.
By attempting to start collaborating, I’d made yet another unilateral decision.
With such a bad start, I was tempted to quit this whole collaborative problem-solving business.
But I didn’t.
Interestingly, it was autonomy that taught me how to collaborate — to stop viewing life as a false dichotomy of dependent versus independent and instead exercise healthy interdependence:
It wasn’t until I experienced multi-commitment as a busy poly hinge and discovered my previous level of self-sacrifice was untenable that I started to figure autonomy out. What it meant to me. To tease apart complete dependence from complete independence and foster a sort of healthy interdependence in relationships.
Because while my normal instinct when monogamous had been to just go along with what my partner wanted, as a busy poly hinge, I couldn’t do that anymore. I ran into situations where I couldn’t say “yes” to everyone.
It was a radical shift. And not one easily unlearned.
I can’t imagine these days not encouraging a partner to participate in decision-making. My sense of autonomy was one of the best discoveries I made as an adult. Depriving someone else this — especially someone else that I love — well, it would seem downright unconscionable.
Granted, I still have the occasional time when I feel insecure about something. But I try not to limit my partners based on that. And it’s important to me that my partners feel empowered and in control of their own lives.
The last thing I want to be to them is for them to feel like I’m the Dark Overload of Joykilling. A strict parent. More a liability than a delight.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.