Updated on 03.21.11

It’s Not About Having the Right Partner. It’s About Being the Right Partner.

Trent Hamm

I stumbled across the above quote (which I’ve been unable to source) a few weeks ago. Since then, the idea has been running through my mind as I realized how often the idea behind the quote comes up in our day-to-day lives, personally, professionally, financially, and otherwise.

Simply put, none of us live in a bubble. We’re constantly interacting with others – our friends, our spouse, our children, our boss, our coworkers, our pharmacist, our doctor – the list goes on and on.

Most of those interactions are one-on-one. Yes, sometimes we are in a group environment, but many of the interactions people have are one-on-one with other individuals. It’s just you and your doctor. It’s just you and your spouse. It’s just you and your boss. It’s just you and your child.

Most of those interactions, if they go well, benefit both of you. If you can communicate clearly with your doctor, (s)he can offer a good treatment plan for you. You get better and your doctor is successful in their career’s mission. If you can communicate a societal standard to your child, then your child will adapt to society better and you’ll have an easier time managing that child’s public behavior. If you can suggest a great alternate plan to your boss, you both succeed. If you can relate good personal finance concepts to your partner, you’ll both end up in a better financial state.

In essence, these interactions are pieces of partnerships, particularly if they are with individuals that you’ll interact with again and again. A partnership is just that – a series of interactions with someone else. Ideally, most of these interactions are beneficial for both of you, and the overall pattern certainly should be one of benefit for both parties.

The best thing you can do to make sure that any partnership in your life goes well is to simply focus on being the best partner you can be.

Here are just a few pointers on being a good partner in every aspect of your life.

Being a good partner doesn’t mean being a doormat. If you are a doormat, then every partnership you’re involved with is not ending with the best possible outcome. It’s ending with the outcome where the other person gets what they want, but it doesn’t end with you getting anything that you want. That’s never the best outcome for a partnership, especially over a longer period.

Being a good partner does mean being a good communicator. If you want something out of a partnership or an interaction, be up front about it. Make it clear what you want out of this set of interactions and what you think you can both get out of it. At the very least, do this as a thought exercise: what’s the best possible outcome for all involved from this partnership?

Being a good partner doesn’t mean assigning blame. Sometimes things go wrong in partnerships. It’s very easy to just blame your partner for the problems. The doctor didn’t diagnose me correctly. My wife doesn’t listen to me. My boss doesn’t care about any of us. Instead, ask yourself what you can do to improve this situation.

I do this quite a lot, particularly with Sarah. It is very easy for me to blame her for things like the dishes not being done or something. When I step back, though, and ask myself why the dishes haven’t been done, I see that the real reason is that we’ve both been really busy with lots of things. Maybe I’m the one that has more free time to actually do the dishes right now.

Being a good partner does mean figuring out what you can bring to the table. What can you do to make the partnership succeed as a whole? Don’t focus on what your partner needs to do or should do. What can you do?

In the example above with the dishes, I might just do them myself. Alternately, I might take a serious look at my own schedule and see if there’s a way for me to fit in the time to take charge of the dishwashing.

If my wife and I are having money problems, perhaps I can look at what I can change or implement to reduce the impact of our spending issues. Maybe I can go ahead and implement some automatic transfers to a savings account.

Yet another example: if I’m feeling like my boss doesn’t understand my situation and I’m prone to ranting about it, I could just spend some time writing out the details of the situation myself and look for what aspects of a solution to the work problem I can implement myself.

Being a good partner doesn’t mean focusing only on what you get out of things. Every good partnership has outcomes that are beneficial to both sides. The best outcome is almost always the one that generates the most positives for everyone involved, not just yourself. One good way to address a partnership challenge is to simply look at the options you have before you, then look at all of the benefits each choice provides for the partnership as a whole.

What are you doing to be a good partner today? Almost every professional, personal, financial, and social element of your life is inherently tied to the partnerships you have with people around you. Your success hinges on good outcomes from all of these partnerships – or as many as you can possibly generate.

What are you doing right now to be a good partner with your spouse? Your boss? Your kids? Your coworkers?

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  1. Joanna says:

    Love the post and the quote, Trent. It’s timely for me as I was just communicating this to my 5-year old Sunday School class yesterday. We had a lot of tattling going on which brought us to a discussion about forgiveness and focusing on how my friend can be a better friend to me. Easy concept, but important to keep top of mind as it’s challenging even for us adults.

  2. Shane says:

    Great post and some fantastic advice there.

    It can be frustrating when others cannot understand these kind of principles (or just choose not to!) but I think perserverance is the key. Treat people with respect and most folks will come around eventually.

  3. Sara says:

    I’m 21 years old and it’s been in the last year that I’ve realized I can’t affect how other people act towards me, I can only affect how I act towards other people. It’s been a huge attitude change that’s made serious difference in my general happiness level. Realizing it now makes me feel old beyond my years, because I know people older than me who don’t seem to understand this concept – and that makes me kind of sad. I shared this on Facebook in the hopes that some of my friends will read it and consider what you have to say.

  4. ChrisD says:

    I find a good trick to stop yourself blaming someone is to ask yourself, ‘what SHOULD that person have done/said’. This will clarify the situation and make you think more about the other person, making it clear that they couldn’t really have done any different (when that is the case, obviously if they are genuinely in the wrong then you will have to move over to forgiveness, or stick with blame).

  5. KC says:

    I play a lot of tennis and this really applies to the sports world as well. It applies to so many aspects of life.

  6. MattJ says:

    The title would be better written as “It’s as much about being the right partner as it is about having the right partner”.

    If you’ve got the wrong partner, then trying to be a good partner to them is nothing but wasted effort.

  7. Brittany says:

    Agreed, Matt. Even not being a doormat, I’ve found “being the right partner” to someone who is the wrong partner had led to a lot of emotionally unhealthy situations in my life. (And who wants a doctor who constantly diagnoses him with the wrong thing? If I present my symptoms, whose fault is it if my medical professional with years of training makes a mistake in the diagnosis?)

    You can’t control other people, yes. You can only control how you act around them, yes. But sometimes that means stopping being “the right partner.” Partnership is just a traditional game theory prisoner’s dilemma. We we both cooperate, we get a high payoff. If we both defect, we get the same lower payoff. But if I (unable to control your actions) cooperate while you defect, you get a very high pay-off on my good graces and I get stuck with the sucker payoff.

    It’s have both having the right partner AND being the right partner.

  8. Emma says:

    Matt and Brittany – I agree with you 100% if we’re talking about a life partner.

    But, there are many cases where we can’t pick our partners: our bosses, our coworkers, our family members…. in this case, the only thing to do is to be the best partner *you* can be, and don’t worry about trying to change the other person.

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