Why do relationships, whether between individuals or groups, seem to fail so often? Surely there must be a commonality beneath our struggles to get along for any significant length of time. Many people decry the divorce rate without having the first clue what causes marriages to fail. Organizations come together with the best intentions of working together in common cause yet they break apart just as quickly. Is it that we are constitutionally incapable of coexisting for any length of time, or is something else at work?
I believe that the problem is best understood the difference between conquest and union. I believe that most individuals and organizations view relationship in terms of conquest and competition. In doing so, the essential question is, “What am I getting from this?” I become concerned about walking away from the relationship having gained more than I have given away. I evaluate the success of the relationship in terms of my victory over the other, which implies an adversarial relationship. Is it any wonder that relationships of all types are such a struggle?
On the other hand, union is a much more cooperative approach. With union, my focus is on what I can bring to the relationship and on how we can cooperate to our mutual advantage. That sounds really easy in theory, but in practice it is more difficult because it requires me to put aside my inherent narcissism for a while and consider your needs to be at least as important as mine. If you think that is easy, take a look at what happens in relationship.
Any time we enter into relationship (on any level) we raise concerns about our identity. Who will we be after we enter into this relationship? We act as if we will actually cease to exist once we are in relationship – largely because we view the whole thing as a conquest that must have a winner (who gets to retain his or her identity) and a loser (who loses his or her identity). Is it any wonder we struggle to coexist?
Imagine the possibilities if we were able to surrender our ego’s stranglehold on our identities. Imagine if we could enter into relationship without this irrational fear of losing ourselves and so focus our attention instead on how we might grow together into what we are about to become. That attitude would better reflect reality, and be a much more positive basis on which to build lasting relationships – between individuals and groups.