You deserve to get as much as you give in any relationship.
Why would you want to date someone who doesn’t return your love?
Sexual relations should obviously be consensual. If they aren’t it is called rape. And if either party in a relationship wants to call it quits, they have that right. Only abusive partners would respond violently or threaten the other to make them stay.
And business interactions should involve an equal trade. Otherwise, we call it fraud, theft, or charity.
We recognize the need for freedom in a healthy love life. But why don’t we translate this same ideal over to all human interactions?
And we recognize the need for mutual benefit in business transactions. But it feels cold applying this same standard of trade for romantic relationships.
Maximum individual freedom will always lead to better interactions, in whatever type of relationship.
I have a habit of reading a couple books at once. Usually, they will be on different subject matters, and I’ll choose which one to pick up based on my mood. Right now I am working my way through a list of books recommended by fellow attendees and instructors at an entrepreneurship retreat I attended this summer.
Alongside each other, I ended up reading How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne, and Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find–and Keep–Love, by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.
I assumed the two books would have little in common. One was about individual freedom and the other about healthy relationships. But as I alternated between the books, I found striking parallels in their recommendations for the best ways to interact with people.
Exercising your freedom to do what is in your own best interest is the key to healthy relationships in business and love, friendship and finances.
Both books dispel the myth that you should sacrifice for others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sacrifice in one area in order to gain in another area. In fact, that is the whole point of economic transactions. You sacrifice money in order to gain a good that is worth more to you than the money. The other person sacrifices the good in order to gain the money, which at that point is worth more to them. Everyone wins.
It is the same for relationships. If you do have to give anything up it should be in exchange for something you value more. And that means it is truly a trade, not a sacrifice.
People often feel uncomfortable talking about relationships as a transaction. They are supposed to be based on emotion, unconditional love, and the heart, not the mind. But this only leads to confusion at best, and at worst, one party getting a bad deal.
For instance, you can’t pay someone $100 per sale if the sale only brings in $50. And if you are always there for your partner, but he is absent, physically or emotionally when you need him, you’re running a commitment deficit.
Are being exploited?
How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World says that in voluntary interactions, you can really only exploit yourself. If you have the freedom to walk away, then it is on you if you put up with a bad deal, in business or in love.
It helps to understand that not everybody thinks like you. This actually helps commerce work. Since everyone has different skills, desires, and values, people can specialize and trade in a way that is best for them.
People place different individual values on goods, services, and lifestyles which enables them to trade in a way that benefits both parties.
But if you don’t recognize these differences, you won’t know how to deal with people properly. If you treat everyone like they have the same motivations and desires as you, you may miss opportunities, and misread a relationship.
Understand what the other party is capable of doing and willing to give. And be clear about what you expect to provide in exchange.
Attached identifies three main attachment styles for lovers: secure, anxious, and avoidant. An anxious person might want to get multiple texts a day from their partner. But if their partner is avoidant, they shouldn’t assume the lack of text means their partner has lost interest. Avoidants value their independence, and those who are anxious need constant reassurance.
But just by being clear on the terms, you can avoid most conflicts. Your partner can decide if they are willing to go out of their way to text you, or you can decide if you are willing to go without texts in exchange for the benefits you get out of the larger relationship.
As always, there is a time to walk away. If you aren’t happy with the terms, and the other person is not budging, it is probably best to go your separate ways.
Honest Advertising for What You Want, and What You Can Give
Both books say that when you present an honest image or yourself, you are more likely to get what you really want.
For relationships, if you present a false image, you will attract someone who wants what you are falsely putting out. Unless you want to live that lie forever, you should act like your true self. This may mean someone you wish was attracted to you is not. But in the end, you will find someone that is a better fit for a relationship.
In the same way, why try to be a salesman if you hate every second of selling? Why drive a fancy car to impress coworkers if you truly value having no financial liabilities?
You wouldn’t advertise that your car dealership can find customers the best rental properties. So why advertise that you like clubbing when you’d rather be watching a movie?
In all interactions, avoid the “identity trap” of pretending you are interested in something because it is expected of you. This will impose obligations that you cannot or don’t want to, fulfill.
All human Interaction Should be Based on Consent
Every transaction should be mutually beneficial. If someone doesn’t think they are getting a good deal, they should be able to withdraw.
This is true when it comes to working arrangements. If you think you are worth a higher hourly rate, you should look for a better fit job that recognizes the worthy skill. If you think an employee costs more than he is worth, you should fire him. If you think a business is charging too much, you should look for the same service elsewhere.
You could certainly talk to the other party first, and try to negotiate. In doing so you should remember that not everyone thinks as you do. You should appeal to their self-interest. What is in it for them if they agree to the new terms you would like?
But if you try to change any of these things by appealing to emotion, or by saying it isn’t fair, or by trying to play hardball, you are likely to wind up frustrated, without having gained anything.
And in a relationship, don’t try to change someone. Either accept them the way they are or realize that they are not a good fit for you. Of course first, you could try changing your own behavior to see if that produces the desired change on the other end.
For instance, Attached says that people with anxious attachment needs will often act passive aggressively when they don’t like the way their partner has behaved. Instead, they should try simply being honest and upfront with what is bothering them.
One possibility is finding out that the partner is wrong for them because they refuse to address the concern. Another possibility is that the partner didn’t realize the issue, and addresses it. Either way, it is a win. They either improve their relationship or move on to a better one.
The Bottom Line in Both Books
If you want to be happy, you have to do what is best for you. You should not place your own happiness at the mercy of others. You should not decide to suffer so that others can take advantage of your sacrifice.
Be honest and upfront about what you want, and what you can provide, and all future interactions will go smoothly.
You should be self-interested in your relationships. But that doesn’t mean taking the other person for all they are worth. It means demanding an equal trade. In business, it is making sure you are getting value for your money, or the proper reward for your work. The best way to do that is to actually provide what the other party needs. If you are needed and beneficial to the other, they will respond to your needs, or lose a valuable partner.
And it may sound insensitive or cold, but it is equally important to be self-interested in matters of love. In such a vital area of life, you should not have to be a martyr, suffering for the benefit of someone who is not just as dedicated to your needs. You don’t need an accountant to keep a tally of how many shoulder cries one partner got, and how many times the other did the dishes. It should be very clear up front what one expects of the other. By making the terms clear, you avoid misery. You can each serve the needs of the other and get what you feel you deserve in return.
And that after all is the point of every human interaction. We should always walk away with more value than we had before. We should only make trades that make each person happier than previously. Because of the diversity of individuals’ wants, goals, skills, and desires, it is always possible to find the right partner to fulfill your needs.