Quid Pro Quo

In Latin, Quid Pro Quo means, “something for something.”  You scratch my back; I scratch yours.  Tit for tat.  It’s how the world runs.

Or is it?

In the business world, this often works.  Social psychology calls it “reciprocity.”  In relationships, well, this is where it gets fuzzy.  Relationships require sacrifice regularly; they require that you stick around, presuming it’s reasonable to do so.  In business, if someone doesn’t offer you a good deal, you can move on.  If you keep doing this with relationships, you will bankrupt your heart and anyone close to you quicker than ever thought possible.  Relationships involve the molding and holding of hearts.  Business involves the flow of money.

I have no beef against business and am personally very entrepreneurial.  However, I want to call to the table that many principles that work for business DON’T in relationships, which is partly why someone can be extraordinarily successful in the business world but trade in relationships as often as changing underwear.  The concept of reciprocity is fascinating, and I regularly utilize it in respectful ways when I consider how to build my practice, such as when I “add value” to interactions with businessmen and women by offering helpful counseling materials.  This, in turn, increases my odds of getting a favorable response.  Nothing wrong with it.  I attempt to not do it ONLY for this reason.  However, when I expect a certain response- demand it, even- I am not respecting a person’s freedom, uniqueness, or spontaneity.  And this is precisely the problem when quid pro quo is present in relationships.

Everyone from Hendrix to Gottman to Eggerichs (see references below) point out the necessity of proactive initiative in love- an active, intentional doing what’s best for another, choosing love over “balancing the budget.”  In fact, the eminent researcher John Gottman states the myth of quid pro quo in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2002): “But it’s really the unhappy marriage where this quid pro quo operates, where each feels the need to keep a running tally of who has done what for whom” (p. 15).

Isn’t this the definition of selfishness?  And it tears relationships apart.  I don’t know of anyone who says, “Yes, being completely selfish is good; I want to live by the principles of selfishness and teach my kids to do the same.”  No one really debates this.  How quickly this happens, though!  My role as counselor isn’t to point a finger; it’s to help uncover what’s holding clients back.  Consider how you might be “losing while winning,” holding grudges, keeping a record of wrongs.  These things are the opposite of contentment- and love.

Don’t wait for a person to do good to you.  That’s the whole importance of the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment.  If you wait around for the other person to “play by the rules” in loving you, prepare to be unsatisfied.  There will come a time (in EVERY relationship) when loving another becomes hard- when the brain-chemical high of newness wears off, when the attractiveness of another becomes the norm, when that little quirk that you thought was wonderful turns out to annoy the heck out of you.  If it’s left up to reciprocity, we’re screwed.

Disclaimer: I want to be very clear.  I am NOT suggesting anyone becomes a “doormat,” pushover, or passive.  I am not saying that you do not focus at all on yourself.  (Consider how eating food may be the most self-focused thing we do, but it is clear that if we don’t care for ourselves in that way, there might be a problem!  Self-care is important.)  Hopefully the heart of what I am passing on is clear: If a relationship fundamentally relies on quid pro quo, it will prove an unhappy ending.  Find out how to love others despite what they bring to the table, and reap the overflowing results.  If one person brings a feast to the table, not having the other person bring a feast doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yours.

References (the first two describe reciprocity):
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Business Networking that Works: It’s Called Quid Pro Quo by Forbes
Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman


Ways to Be Miserable In Your Marriage

No relationship is the same.  People are extremely complex- a marriage multiplies that intricacy.  How can a marriage work?  Amazingly, we really know a lot about what makes marriages function on all cylinders.  But there is a gap between knowing and doing, and this is in large part what I work with in counseling.

Instead of recreating the wheel, I am reproducing word-for-word here the “Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage.”  With wit, wisdom, and brevity, Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix offer a tongue-in-cheek way to keep a marriage strong.  I want to express my thanks to them for the incredible contribution they have made to marriage counseling.

The Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage

by Dr. Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix

1. Be as critical as you can! All criticism, including constructive
criticism, is an ideal way to keep your partner’s
defences on high alert. Being judgmental will ensure that
you don’t get what you really want from your partner.
And disparaging words when angry or frustrated will
stimulate their fight or flight response. If you ritually
play the “blame and shame game,” your marriage will be
safe from the anxiety of being happy.

2. Expect your partner to be just like you. You and your
partner should have the same needs, wants, likes, and
dislikes. You should have the same perceptions, feelings,
and experiences. When your partner wants something
different from you, be swift to show them how being like
you is the only way to be. Absolute compatibility is the
key to a boring marriage, and insisting on it will bring
you unbearable despair.

3. Avoid intimacy as much as possible by engaging in
exits. Engage in activities that help you escape from the
day-to-day intimacy of your relationship. Engage in any
activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids
emotional or physical involvement with your partner.
Increase functional exits (car-pooling, work, taking care
of kids), motivated behaviors (watching TV, reading,
sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic actions (emotional
or physical affairs, addictions, threats of divorce). This
will help magnify the distance between you and your

4. When upset, use “You” language as much as possible.
Avoid saying “I feel” and express instead what your partner
is doing that frustrates you. Engage in language such
as, “You always…” and “You never…” to insure that your
partner remains defensive and reciprocates with rolling
eyes, deep sighs, and reciprocal speech. Remember: your
goal is to keep the power struggle active and your intimacy
level comfortably low!

5. Give conditionally and receive cautiously. Bargaining
is the process to ensure minimal growth in your relationship
and keeping score will help maximize your
frustration level. Make sure you only do things for your
partner if s/he will promise to give in exchange. But be
wary when your partner comes through with a gift—
follow the string and see where it leads. Cut the string if
necessary and refuse the gift.

6. Be unintentional about romance. Inevitably, the joy
that came easy in your romantic days disappears. At all
costs, don’t try to make sense of this since you risk moving
through the stage to a deeper experience of love.
Avoid committing to fun activities on a regular basis and
embrace the emptiness as proof you are probably married
to the wrong person.

7. Amplify the negative in your relationship. When you
are away from your partner, think about how s/he has
changed (for the worse) since you first met. Focus on
what is going wrong in your relationship and all the
things your partner is not doing for you. It’s not only the
words you use, but your thoughts, tones and actions that
will help keep you despondent. Live by the motto:
“Negativity breeds contempt.”

8. Avoid learning new communication skills. Basically,
keep doing what you are doing and engage in a one-way
monologue. Talk to your partner as if all s/he has to do is
to listen to you. Make no attempt to listen to your partner.
That will make your partner feel invisible and maintain
the set point of misery you need to regulate your
anxiety about closeness. Insist that the two of you are
ONE and that you are the ONE. There just isn’t room for
two in a dismal marriage.

9. Be sure not tell your partner what you need or want.
After all, s/he should know by now. Never, ever, tell your
partner what you really need or want. Do not drop hints
about things that truly touch your heart. Saying what
you need could tempt your partner to give you what you
actually asked for and then you will have to reject their
offering because you had to tell them. By deflecting as
much love as possible, you can maintain your narrative
of deprivation. Re-read #5 as a review.

10. Expect your relationship to be a fairytale romance.
Live in the illusion that romantic attraction should be
forever. Once the illusion breaks down and your partner
is no longer spiking your highs, demand s/he return to
your dream (and ignore their reciprocal requests). When
s/he fails miserably in sacrificing her/his authentic self
for your insatiable longings, you will realize the dream
has become a nightmare. Congratulations! You have
reached your destination.


P.S. For Ten Commandments to a Happy Marriage,
reverse all of the above.