Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Supporters vs. Partners

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I just returned from a trip to Boulder, CO. My wife and I spent over 24 hours in the car together. This was time spent engaged in (captive) conversation. Surprisingly, after 10 years of marriage we can still talk for that many hours. Even more surprising is that I’m still caught off guard by how different our ideas and perceptions are.

This trip enlightened both of us in a way that will have long-standing improvements to our relationship. It was all about supporting each other and being a partner, which are entirely separate concepts. But it seems so simple, except we realized we missed the mark and never thought about it.

Supporters vs. Partners

At the crux of our conversation, and our different perspectives, were about being a supporter or a partner. I desperately wanted to be a Partner in an activity she was undertaking, but she was only allowing me to be a supporter. I felt this and the barrier, but I didn’t know why. She didn’t know either.

Without clearly defining, and articulating, the differences between these it can be frustrating on both sides. It’s a transparent wall that separates us, creating different emotions than what would otherwise exist. It’s confusing, and in times of confusion we speculate and are almost always incorrect.

This finally gave us the time, space and an example to discuss and inspect.

The obstacles between supporters and partners.

What prevents people from elevating a supporter to a partner? There are a lot of reasons for my wife and I. There is the shame of simply having bad habits. The desire to not feel vulnerable, and then dealing with the emotions while working through a weakness.

But to be honest, in this case, I was a supporter because I am not a good partner. I’m a very Answer First type of person. Have a question? I’ll give you an answer. You don’t need to show your work! You have me! This, I have learned is the easiest way of getting people to never ask you anything.

Working with bad partners

Once I can openly and honestly acknowledge I was a bad partner in her efforts, my wife became my partner as I seek improvement. Before this she was, in the best moments, barely a supporter. She would politely tell me I wasn’t effective, but move on.

But as a partner, she is deeply involved and emotionally attached in the progress I (hopefully) make. She is holding me accountable, but not judging me. This makes it easy to express how difficult it is for me to move away from my destructive habits towards constructive relationship building. What’s more, as a partner to me she hears how I think, and learns more about me.

With her working to make me a better partner, I get more opportunities to be a partner for her and her projects. Now I’m not just a supporter, which is more tiring and less energizing. She tells me I am a wonderful supporter and a terrible partner. I do not disagree, and it’s hard to accept your weaknesses.

Embracing Vulnerability

It’s very easy to become defensive, but with a true partner it serves no purpose. When I think of the times I’ve been a true partner to someone, I’ve never judged them or faulted them for mistakes. In fact, I’ve been impressed by their courage to persevere in times of uncertainty and doubt.

Some of the best moments have been when they admitted they didn’t know what to do, or were scared or simply frustrated. It let me leap into action, embracing the moment and feeling more effective. The worst moments are when they, or myself, feign invincibility. I’m not deluding anybody, even myself.

So here I am, improving myself with the encouragement of an amazing partner. And in exchange, I can be a better partner to her and everybody else I work with in some capacity.