70 Plus 70 Equals 100

The idea that a relationship between two people is a 50-50 proposition seems both obvious and fair.  If both people pull their fair share, the partnership will stay balanced and healthy, right? It seems only logical that to achieve a fulfilling relationship both parties must uphold their half of the bargain. But relationships are too important to "meet in the middle".

When I am counseling a couple to improve some troubling aspect of their life together, sometimes it is very easy to determine who owns most of the responsibility for change.  For example, if one person has an affair it's not appropriate to say that his or her partner is somehow "to blame" for the infidelity.  There are better ways than infidelity to handle dissatisfaction.

But many types of relationship difficulties don't provide a clear-cut case of someone being at "fault".  The issue often has more to do with how each person handles whatever issue is confronting the relationship.  In situations where it seems like both parties just need to find a way to work together, I'm likely to point to each person and say "I recommend that you consider yourself to be 70% of the problem."

Of course, two people can't both be more than half of the problem, can they?  My response is that they better be.  When people try to move toward each other on a 50-50 basis the likelihood is that each will underestimate the amount of movement this requires.  The result is that each person thinks the other has shortchanged the deal.

But if both people take more than 50% of the responsibility for the problem, they are each more likely to engage in sufficient enough change to make a real difference.  It's often better to go a little too far than not far enough.

Obviously there is no way to truly measure the percentage of responsibility each person shares in many situations that arise in a relationship.  When I tell two person to each accept 70% of the burden of fixing a conflict between them, both usually understand the point that mutually accepting the lion's share of responsibility is better than expecting the other person to be the one to do most of the work.  If two people are moving a 100 pound sofa, it's helpful if each of them are capable of lifting more than 50 pounds apiece.  It's often a bad outcome when one person expects the other to carry most of the weight.

So this 50-50 business makes sense in a lot of situations, but for healthy long-term relationships that math doesn't work: it often takes 70-70 to reach 100.


Bill Herring is an experienced counselor, psychotherapist and life coach in Atlanta (available worldwide online) who treats a broac range of life issues. He is also a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT) who helps people assess their situation when sex or pornography problems interfere with happy and healthy lives.

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