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Quid Pro Quo: The Terms of Marriage and Relationship

Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, BCC, NGHC

Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo means “this for that” in Latin. In American law, it refers to the exchange of something of value between parties engaging in a contract. One person or group agrees to give another person or group something in exchange for what they need or desire. Marriages and relationships are agreements based on quid pro quo. They may or may not be legal and binding, but they are all based on some idea of give-and-take.

What Do You Want?
A primary problem with couples can be that many people are so focused on what they want from a relationship that they forget all else. Here are some things that people have told me that they want from their marriage or relationship: emotional support, financial security, romance, sex, intimacy, companionship, and someone with whom to co-parent the next generation.

What Can You Give?
While it is important to know what you want in a relationship, it is equally important to know what you have to give to the other person. If each person goes into the relationship with only thoughts of getting their needs met, arguments may start before the honeymoon is over. If the terms of a relationship are unclear, there is a strong possibility that needs will not be met and that mutual disappointment will lead to conflict and even rupture.

Making Lists

One of the things that couples can do before tying the knot is to make two lists: 1) What I want from a marriage/relationship and 2) What I am willing and able to give my partner.

If this sound materialistic, let me tell you about one of my favorite cartoons:

A bride and groom are standing before a minister or priest. Dots connect each of their heads to the bubbles that show what they are thinking. The groom is thinking, “In just a few minutes, I am going to be able to have sex anytime I want it for the rest of my life.” The bride is thinking, “In just a few minutes, I am never going to have to have sex again for as long as I live.”

Do you think that this cartoon couple is headed for trouble? I do.

Along the same lines, what if one partner likes to spend money and the other likes to save it? Could disagreements about money weaken the ties that bind? What if one partner thinks that the ideal vacation is ten days in Europe touring museums and the other wants to hike the Appalachian Trail? What if one person needs intimacy and the other can only give financial security? Before moving in together, a couple should discuss all these things – and so many more.

False Advertising
Sometimes in our haste to attract a partner, we think in terms of securing a commitment and not in terms of spending a lifetime together. Fairy tales encourage this; they always end with marriage. There is never a fairy tale about Cinderella and her Prince ten years after settling down together. Did that marriage even last????

Similarly, American advertising promotes only the beginning of relationship by telling us what products and activities (dress, cosmetics, toothpaste, workout classes and equipment, perfume etc.) will enable us to attract a mate. It does not tell us how to be happy with that person for a long time.

The Creation of Balance
If you want to have a long and happy relationship, do the ground work. Tell your prospective partner what you absolutely must have in order to be happy. Tell them also what you would like to have. Ask them about their needs and wants. If their list of needs and wants does not resemble, in any way, what you think you can give, think about it.

If you are having trouble thinking about it, please come and see one of us. Passionate attraction can become indifference or worse when the terms of a relationship are not discussed in advance.

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