A term I really like from the kink world is : Power Exchange, P/E.
I think it's an accurate way to look any any type of relationship actually, including friend and business relationships. Power is exchanged, willingly, whether consciously or not, for mutual benefit / enjoyment. In any relationship, we give some things up in order to get something else that we value more. When we aren't very conscious or self-aware, the good that we get often seems so good at the time, we tend to not even notice what we are giving up. We're flat out blind to it ... initially. What we give up, in worst cases scenarios, can be ... our self, who we are.
In a more mature approach we are conscious of what we are giving up and conscious of what we expect in return. We are also conscious of what the other is giving up, and what they expect in return.
In a healthy sustainable relationship, both people must be good stewards of the power they have been given by the other, which means they must accept and embrace not just the power they have been gifted by another, but also the inherent responsibility that comes with it. Newton's third law of physics applies to relations just as well as it does physics.
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."
This differs from a "tit-for-tat" or "strings attached" or a "score keeping" relationship in that all of this is out in the open, discussed and negotiated willingly, by both people, and for mutual benefit. It is a win-win relationship, which is the opposite of a zero-sum relationship.
In a zero-sum relationship, all desired things are of a finite quantity and in order to have nice things, such as any sort of power (there are many flavors of power), we must take it from the other person, so anything good gained by the other person, is by definition bad for us. Any power I extract from you increases my power. Any power I cede you, is a loss of my own power. This isn't a relationship, it's a competition. Sports are a great example of a zero-sum game. Any points scored by one team are bad for the other team, by the rules of the game. The object is to win and there must always been a winner and a loser.
At a higher level, there will be one team who is the overall winner, over all the other teams, the one and only SuperBowl champion. In a relational way, someone with this mindset will see each relationship as a game they desire to win. Once that relationship is "won", they will move on in search of a new game/relationship to win, trying to become the highly admired World Champions of life. This is a game of Narcissism. For a full blown Narcissist, they are incapable of playing any other game and incapable of seeing the world in any other way than zero-sum. To some extent this narcissistic mentality is a normal part of life as an adolescent and young adult. We are still trying to figure out who we are. Adults still playing this game aren't actually adults. They are overgrown adolescents, or they got issues, often both of those.
Zero-sum relationships are a losing game though. There is excellent research that proves, it will literally kill you, like actually dead. Even the "winner" loses too though because they are forever chasing something that can never be caught in this way, by conquering others, their own self-esteem and their own self-respect. Zero-sum is the dynamic that underlies all toxic relationships.
Givers attract takers in this game like a blood in the water for a shark. They can smell it from miles away. Zero-sum people have a sixth sense for sniffing them out, but they can never give enough to "win" because they don't realize that two separate games with two separate sets of rules are happening. No matter what they give, they will leave with their soul sucked dry, the victim of a vampire.
I should note that givers aren't always the innocent victims they seem to be. Sometimes givers themselves are playing a zero-sum long game, hoping to "win", to conquer the other. They hope to win by giving so much that they become indispensable. Once that state is achieved the tables are then turned. They now hold all the power and can begin taking for themselves, at will, whatever they want, which was their end goal, conscious or not. This is the proverbial "wolf in sheep's clothing."
The healthy alternative to this game of both the adolescent and personality disordered human, is as I see it, a conscious, open, Power Exchange P/E.
Some questions to ponder:
- What to you want?
- What are you willing to do to get it?
- What are you willing to give up to have it?
- Is there power, control and responsibility that you have in your life now that you would prefer to let go of?
- What new responsibilities are you willing to take on?
- Are there new or additional responsibilities you actually want to take on?
- What power do you wish you had but feel you do not?
- What fears do you have around giving up an element of your power?
- What would you need from the other person to feel safer doing so?
- What can you do for them?
- What can they do for you?
- Can you explore, discuss and negotiate this openly, in a way that you BOTH WIN, where you are mutually grateful for and empowered by each other?