Be the emperor of your empire: Strategies for a thriving relationship
August 20, 2014
Last weekend, something beautiful and fantastic happened: two of my clients got married. Let's call them Rose and Jim.
I wish I could say that I set them up, but I didn't. Rose and Jim found each other on their own, and on their first date discovered that they had the same life coach!
Rose and Jim couldn't be a better match. I can vouch for that. As I watched Rose walk down the aisle, engulfed by the warm summer evening, I reflected on the journey of building a spectacular relationship.
I do believe that there is a lot to be said for picking the right person. But even with the right person, a truly great relationship takes work and conscious design. In my work coaching many couples over the past seven years, I have found that there really are a set of strategies that will help your relationship thrive.
And after Rose and Jim's wedding this weekend, I am inspired to blog about them!
Today's Strategy: Be the Emperor of your Empire
Part of having a strong partnership is trusting that you can count on the other person to take the lead on their share of the responsibilities. There are many different teamwork strategies that couples successfully use, and if you and your partner have figured out a system that works for you, keep doing it!
If, however, you feel like you can't completely rely on your partner, then it's time for a redesign. I have found that many of my clients have fallen into a dangerous pattern:
Step 1: You ask your partner to take care of a task, like paying the bills or feeding the kids.
Step 2: Your partner doesn't do it, or doesn't do it the way you would like them to.
Step 3: You nag them. They get annoyed. You get annoyed.
Step 4: They do it, but it has now become a source of contention.
Step 5: The next time this task comes up, you decide that it's easier for you to take care of it yourself.
Step 6: You resent that you now have to do "all the work" while they get to have fun.
Sound familiar? I find this pattern to be especially true of powerful women who like to be in control... but at the same time, feel overwhelmed with how much is on their plate and wish they could have more space. Can you relate?
There are a few dangerous habits inherent in the pattern I described above.
Habit 1: You have become their supervisor, not their peer.
Habit 2: You want them to do it your way, which strips them of any ownership of the role.
Habit 3: You go for the easy solution of taking it on yourself instead of the longer work of learning how to work together.
What this means is that you are doomed to be the nagging overlord, which is no fun for anyone.
What solution would I recommend? Build empires.
If all of the tasks and responsibilities in a partnership can be thought of as a continent, then you and your partner each need to build an empire on that continent that is yours.
You are the Emperor of Bills, Laundry, and Family Visits.
Your partner is the Emperor of Cooking, Car Maintenance, and Dog Care.
Each person gets to decide how their empire is run. Sure, you consult with your partner on important decisions, but you ultimately get to decide how things are done in your empire.
And it is also your responsibility, as Emperor, to make sure that your empire is thriving and taken care of. If it is a time of feasting, then you get the credit. If it is a time of famine, then it's your job to find a solution... and soon.
Now, of course you could and should get input and support from your partner in the governance of your empire. And you can always ask for help. But the central idea is that each person is ultimately responsible for the success of their own domain.
For many people, this can be a scary concept. What if you give up control and the task just doesn't get done? What if there are serious consequences?
But think about what this says about your opinion of your partner. Do you really think they are so indifferent to the plight of your family that they would put the family in danger? If this is the case, then your relationship needs deeper work. What is more likely is that you are simply not comfortable not being in control. I have found that once you are willing to let go of control, your partner will start to step up.
For this system to work, it requires that you:
Are open-minded to new ways of doing things.
Are willing to relinquish control of how and when things get done.
Cherish who your partner is, and love the culture of their Empire.
Value a thriving partnership over the daily details of life.
Are ready to cheer them on at whatever approach they choose for their Empire.
Are you ready?
Where do you and your partner need to do some empire building? What will be your turf? What will be theirs? And are you ready to let go of control?