In Part 1, I mentioned that in every relationship, there are three things supporting it. If I talk about relationships as a three-legged stool, then each support is a leg of the stool. The first leg of the stool is you. The second leg of the stool is the other person. The third leg of the stool is the relationship that you have.

The way that psychologists talk about building relationships is to have you work on the first leg of the stool. It is a valid idea to the extent that everyone needs to work on themselves, but it still ignores the third leg.

The way that many married people approach building relationships to is try to work on the second leg. In other words, they can see what is wrong with their spouse, and they try to offer helpful suggestions for the other person to work on themselves. Focusing on the second leg is usually counterproductive and it also ignores the third leg.

I believe that the first leg and the second leg of every stool are good enough as they are. The focus of your relationships should be on the third leg. In fact, by maintaining a positive focus on the third leg, you indirectly provide a positive motivation for you and your partner to work on the first and second legs independently, which is an appropriate individual focus for each of you.

For example, image that you are operating a clothing store. Think of a customer walking into the store to purchase an outfit. What is your relationship with them? Salesperson and customer, right? How do you interact with them?

Do you worry about your breath or what you are wearing? No. If you are a good sales person, you have already taken care of yourself. Now is the moment for you to make a sale, not the time to work on yourself.

Do you start critiquing their personality? No. That would be unthinkable for a salesperson. The customer did not enter the clothing store to look for counseling.

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Do you welcome them to the store, ask them what they would like, and try to help? Yes, you would do something like that. Your focus would be on the reason that the two of you were in the store interacting. You are there to sell, and they are there to purchase. By facilitating that process, you both generate a mutually satisfactory result.

What if you don't have the clothes that the customer wants? What if the clothing is priced too high? Do you insult the customer's taste or tell them that they need to make more money before they enter your store again? No! If you are a good salesperson, you let them look around, so that they will feel comfortable returning to do business with you another day (and to preserve your reputation).

One way that building the third leg of a relationship can work is if we follow the "Commerce Model." Both parties recognize a reason WHY they are there, and an exchange takes place. It can be an exchange of ideas, and exchange of goods and services for payment, a friendly exchange, and so forth.

The "Commerce Model" is just one of several patterns that we see in relationships. I mainly wanted to illustrate that in a good relationship, people focus on why they are in the relationship. Their actions reflect their reason for the relationship. That focus on the third leg, rather than the first or the second leg, is what allows them to build the appropriate relationship.

In Part 3 of the Three-legged Stool analogy, I will give you some ideas about where we can go from here. Relationships have a simple structure, but they are at the center of everything that we do.

Read Part 3