Cooperation: Thinking Like an Adult

By Michael Semon

September 1, 2015

adult, cooperation
Relationship success Successful Relationship


Let’s review for just a few minutes. From the framework of Compromise, your point of view is THE standard, fear that your partner won’t meet your wants and needs is the underlying motivation to use LEVERAGE as the method of change and relationships are thought of as a ZERO SUM game.

Using compromise, as an approach to having a relationship, couples function with two-year-old thinking. Meeting my wants and needs means you love me, therefore when you don’t meet my every want and need you must not love me. Living behind Door Number One you don’t accept “NO” as an answer or allow for differences in a relationship because it means your partner must not love you. Obviously, two-year-old thinking doesn’t work in an adult relationship. Fortunately, instead of compromise, cooperation works much better. Cooperation is defined as associating for mutual benefit; to act together; a social process in which mutual benefits outweigh disadvantages.

An elementary and simple understanding of relationships relies on compromise, but successful relationships graduate to cooperation. Using cooperation as an approach to having a relationship,

1) Justice is the standard,

2) Trust is the underlying motivation and Humility or self-regulation is the method of change,

3) The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Let’s walk through each of these characteristics of cooperation.


Justice begins with the recognition that the BOND that began with caring, appreciation, recognizing boundaries and accommodating each other has turned into a BIND of caring too much, working too hard to keep the relationship together, which results in not appreciating each other, emotionally reacting against each other and discouragement. To do justice, is to discern between what’s yours and what’s your partner’s and return what’s not yours. 

Justice implies the rightful ownership of thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions between two people in a relationship. When justice is the standard, you and your partner both assume responsibility for what’s yours and return what’s not yours. This requires knowing what you think and feel and assuming responsibility for your actions and reactions.

For example, when your partner tells you how you feel, what you’re thinking, why you did what you did or speculates on your intent or motives, to do justice is to give all that back to your partner. Now that was a mouth full. Let me say it a different way. Recognizing you are responsible for your thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions means you and your partner acknowledge you don’t know each other’s thoughts, feelings, motives or intent. So, to say, “You did this or that because… ” oversteps the boundary between you and your partner because you actually don’t know why your partner did this or that…

Again, “no two people are ever in the same relationship.” How your partner experiences you is completely different from how you experience your partner. For example, two people may laugh at the same joke, but be laughing for completely different reasons. When Justice is the standard both people are competent to share their thoughts openly, honestly and respectfully even when it means disagreeing or being different from each other. As you were growing up in your family, were you able to share you thoughts and feelings openly, honestly and respectfully and still be a good son or daughter? Yes or No? Now today, are you able to share your thoughts and feelings openly, honestly and respectfully and still be a good husband or wife; boyfriend or girlfriend? Clearly, to the extent that you were able to be different, disagree or be yourself in your family, that is the extent to which you are able to be different, disagree and be yourself in your marriage. The two go together.
Let me give you a few examples. If you feel like you were not heard as a child, you may insist on being heard or need to be validated as an adult today. Ever known someone who just couldn’t be quiet, it could have been they were never allowed to speak up as a child.

If you feel like you were not understood as a child, you may insist on being understood in your present day relationships. For example, a husband becomes enraged when his wife tells him why he did something, when his motive was completely different. His reaction to his wife comes from not being understood as a chid.

If you feel like you were responsible for conflict between your parents growing up, you may want to avoid conflict or keep the peace in your relationship today.
You give and receive from the framework of Fairness or Justice. With fairness as your standard, you ask the question, “What did I do to make you do this or that?” assuming your partner’s thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions are because of you when they may have very little if anything to do with you. With Justice as your standard, you ask the question,”What triggered such a response in you?” assuming your partners thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions are because of their history of experiences and are not about or because of you.

With Justice as your standard, you assume your partner’s emotional reactions occur because he or she cares too much rather than not enough. While using fairness as your standard, you assume your partner’s emotional reactions occur because he or she doesn’t care enough and should try harder to keep the relationship together. From the framework of Justice recognizes that each person brings their history into the relationship is trying to get something from their partner they didn’t get from growing-up relationships.

Fairness begins with the assumption that you deserve more than you’re getting from your partner based on all you’ve already done “for” your partner. For example, from fairness, your partner may be angry that you used a harsh tone of voice, thinking, I don’t deserve to be treated that way. While using justice, your partner gives the reasons for your tone of voice back to you, neither taking it personally nor reacting to you, thinking you must be upset about something.

Fairness diminishes differences while Justice values and recognizes differences between you and your partner. Relationships based on what you think is fair builds a case against your partner and fosters competition. Justice, on the other hand, releases any claim you might have against your partner and fosters humility, responsibility and cooperation.


Fairness measures success in terms of balancing the ledger between what you give and what you receive in return “for” your efforts, while Justice measures progress in terms of trusting that giving back what’s not yours… you will be OK because your security is not in your partner, but in your relationship with your Creator.

Fairness is the pathogen that never tells itself NO and doesn’t learn from it’s mistakes. Justice is the inoculation that creates antibodies of humility and responsibility. John was upset with Nancy because she had a strong emotional reaction just before he was to leave on a business trip. He left scratching his head thinking, “why in the world did she go off the deep end like that?” Thinking about her reaction, he realized how he’d not been as protective of her at a dinner party they’d attended the night before.

John called Nancy apologized for not being as protective of her as he should have been and told her that had he been more present for her the night before, that her reaction the next morning would never have happened. Nancy apologized to John for being so angry and reactive. She admitted her comments were wrong and she appreciated that he understood what she needed from him. John trusted that taking on full-responsibility for not protecting Nancy the night before, she would also take on full responsibility for her reaction to him.

Just as John gave Nancy’s emotional reaction back to her and took on the full weight of responsibility for his neglect, Nancy, was able to give John’s negligence back to him and assume responsibility for her emotional reactivity. John told Nancy that his love for her had grown because of their experience. Nancy said, she respected John for the strength he exhibited through his vulnerability.
Trusting each other took on a whole new meaning in their relationship because

Justice was their standard.



As adults we understand that parents meet their children’s wants and needs because they love them AND that mothers tell their children NO because they love them. Each person in a relationship meets their partner’s wants and needs because they love them AND each person in a relationship should be able to tell their partner NO because they love them.

Telling your partner NO can occur in all kinds of ways from not going to the grocery store to challenging your partner’s rationalizations about spending too much money. Take a minute and think about the last time you and your partner had a spat or argument. How did you react? Did you empty yourself of your agenda more than you thought you should have to?

Most of the time, emptying yourself of your agenda looks like being still and saying nothing in reply to your partner because most of the time, saying anything in those first few moments is going to be from a defensive or emotionally reactive stance. Often the person being told NO believes their partner is telling them NO because their partner does NOT love them. This can be two-year-old thinking. For relationships to work, adults must graduate from A two-year-old mentality to adult thinking …

DOOR NUMBER TWO Can be thought of as two sources of contentment. The first source of contentment occurs as your partner meets some of your wants and needs. This is placing your partner in your “B” position. I compare it to oil in an engine. If you don’t have enough oil in an engine the engine burns up. If you have too much oil in an engine the engine burns up. Just the right amount of oil in an engine or affection, time together, kind words, acts of service keeps a relationship running smoothly.

The second source of contentment can be compared to the power of an engine. This is the “C” position in your relationship. When your partner tells you “No” you react, get frustrated or angry … which is normal. Having the emotional maturity to be angry, and continue to humbly look at yourself is the key. What does this mean? Being angry, while uncomfortable is normal, but if you stay there and never empty yourself of your agenda to consider what your partner is saying, all you have are two angry people who end up in a counselor’s office claiming they can’t communicate. Moving beyond your initial anger, frustration or irritability and emptying yourself of your agenda more than you ever thought you should have to in order to hear and consider your partner’s comments begins the process of developing intimacy in your relationship.

The process works this way: Adversity or not getting what you want when you want it, results in perseverance, perseverance or stamina results in character or a stronger identity which leads to the hope that you are able to continue to grow individually and as a couple overcoming your differences one step at a time. Putting your pride aside and considering that your partner is telling you something you don’t want to hear because he or she loves you takes courage to allow your partner to speak into your life.

Focusing on the process of embracing adversity, enduring the struggle, developing character or integrity and experiencing the hope of intimacy leads to knowing your partner and being known by your partner.


1) How do you give without expecting or wanting something in return?

2) How is giving from the framework of fairness different from giving from a framework of justice?

3) How do you do justice if another person is operating from fairness?

4) Aren’t these just ideas rather than practical ways of having a relationship?

5) Is it possible to really change from a mentality of fairness to justice while in a relationship?

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