Getting it together

Gary Lester

Once upon a time, there was this couple. She was an accomplished accountant. She just got certified as a financial planner, too, and was about to be named partner in a prestigious firm. She is driven by success and accomplishment. She is married to a high-wire electrician; one of those guys who works on six-story towers and responds to disaster-related outages all over the country. He works at a demanding, dangerous, job so he can have freedom and fun.

She pays the bills, maintains a college fund for their two little kids, and manages a healthy retirement fund for herself and her husband. He is a great husband and father and boy, does he like to go fishing!

One day he bursts into the house with a magazine and opens it to the center-fold. No, not that magazine, it was “Outdoor Life.” And there it was, the Tracker ProTeam 195 TXW complete with a 115HP outboard and a trailer, all for only $25,695. (That’s a class-A bass boat, for the uninitiated.)

“Let’s get this!” He says. And guess what she says. (When I use this story in presentations, all the women always get it right.) She says: “No.” He says: “Come on, I know you have lots of cash in retirement and college funds. We’re not retiring for 30 years and I don’t think the kids are smart enough to go to college, so let’s get the boat!” Do you think this is the first time they’ve had this kind of conversation? Probably not. And they’ll no doubt have it again and again.

As he sulks out of the room, he says: “We could all have fun with that boat. I could take the kids fishing, we could water ski, we could camp around the lake….” This struck a chord with her. She’d been working her butt off for the last two years and deep down inside felt she needed some freedom and fun. She wasn’t about to give in totally, though, since he needed to have a sense of the family’s financial needs. “We did have a good year in the market,” she said, “I could free up 10 grand. Could you do something with that?” He was surprised and delighted. He got $1000 for his old boat, found a great used boat, traded up, and they lived happily ever after.

What was going on? How did they do that? The first thing that comes to mind is “compromise.” But how do people get to a point where they can do that?

I’ve studied relationships a great deal. Unfortunately, a lot of that study was with about-to-fail or on-the-rocks relationships, but I’ve also studied successful ones and I think I have an idea about how they work. I think there are two levels.

Level one I call “collaboration”. This is where people get to know each other and slowly find common interests. Their relationships start and grow based on these things. Maybe they like the same kind of music so they listen to it when they’re together, then they go to concerts, then they go to festivals…. Maybe they like kayaking. They go to a local lake, then a river trip, then a vacation on a wild and scenic river. This is how we develop close relationships. And they can be between and among guys and gals in any combination. These friendships can be extremely valuable. But they tend to reach a plateau and often stay at some level that works perfectly for all concerned.

Level two I call “complimentary.” When this one kicks in, the relationship soars to new levels and often solidifies into a great, long-lasting one. In these relationships, the participants consciously or even subconsciously feel a need within themselves. Something is lacking and the other person fills that void. That’s what happened in the first illustration. The workaholic gal connected with a high fun/freedom needs guy. She felt a need to play and he was right there to fill it for her. In a perfect world, he’d realize what a gem he had regarding family finances and would thank her regularly. But we’re talking about a guy here so that probably remains at the subconscious level.

So, to find and keep a great relationship, look for the collaboration and let it grow as far as it can and you enjoy each other’s company. But always be aware of the possibility of complimentary growth. See if the people around you can fill needs you have to become the person you want to be. And see if they have needs you can fill.

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.