At the risk of compartmentalizing something as fluid and irrational as love into something as potentially dry and cold as a business contract, I am going to tell you story that has a great deal of relevance to the growth and survival of your relationship over time. It’s the story of 51%.
Every good business is built upon a solid business plan and enough resources (and capital) to make it not only work, but to make sure it has what it needs to grow. In order to grow a business, you need to have someone who makes decisions. Good decisions. Decisions that benefit more than the decision maker. Decisions that are focused on the health, prosperity and mission of the company and all of the stakeholders and supporters (including employees and clients). It is a daunting task to be that decision maker as the decisions to be made are not always easy. Okay, they are rarely easy. Are they ever easy?
The Decision Maker
Being a decision maker means you are willing to be vulnerable. You are willing to take risk; and your are willing to consider points of view that do not belong to you, consider all options, and understand the possible consequences of decisions prior to making them. You also don’t have your whole life to make those decisions; you have to be able to do all of this in fairly short order and decide to take action or not on a regular basis. The success or failure of the overall venture often rides upon your shoulders. If you do a poor job, your company doesn’t do well and if you have shareholders, they can oust you. You can be fired from your own company by shareholders. Why? Because they own the majority of the company. They have the 51% to your 49%. (the ratio of course is not always exactly that, but anytime you are looking for investors to provide you with the funding you need to grow, they will ask for a minimum of 51%. They hold the final decision making power to keep you or not.
So. Let’s take a look at this and apply it to the most important contract you ever sign; your relationship commitment. This can be a marital contract or just a verbal agreement between the two of you to be committed to each other. Either one works.
Both agreements work in a lot of the same ways with a few very important differences. You both bring resources to the agreement. You both agree on how much you are willing to put in. You both have the option to cancel the contract (this comes with a penalty whether you are a business or this is a personal contract). And, in a growing personal relationship you also have someone who ends up having final say on big decisions. The difference is, that each decision can have a final decision maker and that might switch back and forth between you, or maybe it doesn’t. This is something you two get to decide.
I am a business owner. I do not have investors. I have 100% ownership in my company. I am the final decision maker. This is how I get to run my business. It does not come with a safety net. It does not come with someone else to help me with the harder stuff. I win or I lose.
My partner is an executive with a large corporation. He runs his own division and he has 49% decision making power there. His boss has 51%. What this means is that as long as things are running smoothly, he gets to operate according to his best judgment and he makes decisions. If he makes a decision that his boss doesn’t agree with, his boss has the option to institute his majority vote and force a decision to override my partner. This is their agreement.
Single people own 100% of their relationship.
Coupled people are more like corporations or businesses with shareholders. No one person has 100% authority.
A few months ago, this became crystal clear in our household. There was a major decision being made that both my partner and I had strong feelings about. It was a decision that involved one of my children from my previous marriage (blended families have special challenges). The decision being made would greatly affect both my partner and I, and we were not in agreement. We decided to hold a family meeting and talk it all out with a clear agenda and some basic communication ground rules (highly recommended – don’t come in hot to this kind of meeting!).
During the family meeting, my husband clearly stated his feelings and his disagreement with my position. Then he said something that changed everything. This is what he said: “This decision is centered on the household and on the important relationship of a mother and son. In this domain, the mother has 51%. This decision is being made and I am agreeing to accept it because she holds 51%. We will all agree on our boundaries, goals and consequences if the goals are not met, but her decision stands. In this decision, she holds 51%.”
I was honored. It wasn’t a concession of power on his part, it was an acknowledgement that sometimes we have to allow our partners to be the 51%. There is not a big difference between 49% and 51% – but there is just enough to make a decision and break a stalemate.
How does it work at your house? In what areas do you both agree that you have 51% and in what other areas does your partner hold 51%? A respectful balance of power is crucial to growing, healthy, loving relationship.