Negotiate “Nothing” in Your Relationship

Tuesday, Dec. 28th 2010 10:43 PM

There are a few really effective ways to manipulate your mate. One of the best is to “sacrifice;” or “invest” more than you believe your partner is investing so that he/she owes you something in the future. Then you can frame your needs and pain as more important than your partner’s (bonus points if you yell, scream and/or cry). You’ll get serious mileage out of these tactics if you can make your mate feel guilty enough. If this sounds appealing to you, stop reading now. This blog isn’t for you. If you prefer to co-exist in relationships where both individuals are willing and happy participants, avoid manipulation like the plague.

The best way to keep manipulation out of your partnership is to negotiate your “nothing” point up front. This is the state of your relationship where you could both walk away without feeling that you invested more than the other. In essence, it’s how your union can function where neither of you feels as though your partner owes you anything. It should be noted that I believe no one actually owes you anything … ever. But some people feel this way, so it’s important to be clear in the beginning about any debt that you feel is accruing in your relationship.

For example, I knew of this guy in college who wanted to move in with his girlfriend. She agreed it would be nice to get an apartment together, but she didn’t have any money or a job. Instead, her cousin was giving her free room-and-board so she could focus on her studies. But the boyfriend really wanted this, so he agreed to sign a one-year lease with her and to foot the bills. Quietly, he believed they had a significant future together and that his investment would pay off when she became a successful business leader. But as fate sometimes has it, a year later, she was ready to move on.

He was devastated. Having invested what he considered “so much” time and money into their relationship, he felt that she betrayed him by walking away when she owed him something. Meanwhile, she never felt he was doing her a favor, because she didn’t need him to support her financially. She chose to live with him because she enjoyed his company at that time, but she didn’t agree to the terms of any debt. And I bet she could come up with a list of reasons he “owed” her – perhaps for housework or running his errands, for her support during a stressful time in his life or just for the privilege of being her mate. When you approach a relationship like a balance sheet, both parties will usually come to the table with a list of ways they contributed more.

If this couple had negotiated their “nothing” point in the beginning, she would have been clear about the investment he felt he was making and the return he expected (i.e., a future together or back payment for rent). That would have given her the opportunity to agree to those terms, or to explain that she would prefer a rent-free/debt-free living situation, whether it was with him or with her cousin.

To allow another person to enter into a debt to you without understanding or agreeing to the terms is manipulation, even if that is not your intention. That would be like a person (or a company) giving you something you didn’t ask for and then expecting you to pay for it. Instead of making assumptions that allow you to feel you have scored more points in a game your partner doesn’t know is happening, keep the score even (nothing to nothing) through conversation and negotiation. You both deserve the opportunity to agree or disagree to any debt … up front. Anything else is a gift – or a sneaky trick.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

10 Comments on “Negotiate “Nothing” in Your Relationship”

  1. David O. Saénz, PhD, EdM, LLC Says:

    As always, a tantalizing topic heading and an the ability to back it up. Good job!

    I remember co-leading a group and at one point the issue of what makes a true friend entered the discussion. The discussion was open, honest and compassionate given that so many members had felt betrayed in the past. The members, one by one, highlighted how a friend is someone who gives you the shirt off their back, others stressed that a friend stays when others leave you, and still others insisted always has your back.

    A quiet group member, one who seldom ever spoke or reacted, spoke out, stating that: “A friend is someone who warmly and willingly participates in your life… if friends are judged by whether they give us something (shirt off their back), or have have our back, that’s not a friendship, it’s an economic relationship!”

    There was a stunned silence, this was hardly what any of us would expect from someone diagnosed with Schizophrenia, disorganized type, and in an inpatient setting.

    Most who I’ve had the humble pleasure of working with have taught me much.

    Thanks for this great piece and for all that you write.

  2. sherry Says:

    This makes total sense, I always have worked and supported myself since 16 and now that i am 37 and havent worked for 3 yrs. me and my husband agreed till each of our 3 kids were around 4 or 5 that i would stay home and take care of them, at first i was find with that, untill now i feel like i have lost a part of me , not that i didnt so wonderfully love my time with my baby’s but i feel like my husband thinks i owe him or that he dont need to help me much at all around the house or with the kids which is not much but now i found i need to get a job and finish my 15 classes left of college so i can get my business associates degree, and that will help me find my time to figure out who i am again, and make my husband treat me as an equal again, and maybe he wont put me down when i dont get to something in his timing and say i am lazy , maybe he will feel its time for him to equally do housework,kids,bills,appts, and every other daily chore a at home mother does, but for now i am going crazy cause i am use to having a job that i take pride in no matter the position, and not use to my husband treating me bad

  3. Kwesi Says:

    This is a good topic of discussion. However, I feel you only touched the surface. I really think everything you need to know about a relationship can be gleamed in the first few months. When do people walk away? When do they become true to yourself and your happiness. It certainly get complicated fast, children, debt, etc. Sometimes it might be easier to have a nothing point but would you ever hook up with a women who had “nothing” to offer you other than sex.

  4. Allan Rudesill Says:

    That was very insightful and I thank you for your input. It seems as if you voiced something very important and also needed.

  5. Massander Says:

    I like the quote from David Saénz: “A friend is someone who warmly and willingly participates in your life.”

    I think it’s interesting to approach a relationship with inspiring, though modest hopes and without demands or expectations… Looking forward to having more of these discussions with you and other friends.

  6. rakhem seku Says:

    Great post! I agree with your original statement that no one ever owes us anything regardless of what they may think. Metaphysically, its impossible for someone to truly be in debt to you.

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