Articles and books on relationships typically refer to a combination of characteristics as important factors in the success of a couple: communication, compromise, compatibility, collaboration, patience, understanding, tolerance, attention, focus, independence, interdependence, respect, care, trust, etc.
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The list is lengthy and exhaustive and is a testimony to the fact that many factors go into a good relationship. Perhaps it’s also testimony to the possibility that varying degrees of all these factors are required at different times to keep pace with the changing dynamics of human nature.
Relationships often defy definition, and so it is incumbent on us to maintain an open mind and open heart in terms of the contributions we make to the success or failure of a couple.
There is another characteristic, however, that rarely is mentioned and yet is likely as important, if not more, than all the ones listed above.
It is this: complicity.
If you look up the word in a dictionary you will find something like this: “the state of being involved with others in an illegal activity or wrongdoing.”
Clearly, according to that definition, complicity is not something we want to engage in if we want to maintain an unblemished reputation, or at least we don’t want to get caught as an accomplice to some illegal activity or wrongdoing.
But did you know that in French the word has a positive connotation in the context of relationships? Indeed, it is common for singles to state that they are searching for “complicity with their lover.”
An anonymous quote captures the positive side of complicity perfectly: “Let’s commit the perfect crime; I steal your heart and you steal mine.”
It is more than just communication, compromise, compatibility, collaboration, etc.
It’s about a ferocious desire to work together to make together work because that is what true love asks of the partners. It’s made up of a “couple instinct” that prompts the partners to default to the better interests of the relationship even when it might be easier to cater to self-interests.
As obvious as it may be to state, complicity requires two accomplices. A man was overheard saying the following to a woman in a couple’s workshop, “I can’t have a relationship with you by myself; you need to be complicit in having a relationship with me or this won’t work.”
Complicity implies that both individuals take full ownership of their respective contributions to the couple, which renders them equally responsible for the well-being of the union, with the understanding that all choices made individually or together have an impact on each other, for better or worse.
It entails standing by each other’s side on good days and standing even closer on bad days – never being absent when needed, no matter what the reasons or the circumstances – echoing the sentiment, “Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for their significant others.”
Complicity is the recognition that, as Robert Brault stipulated, “A situation arises when a man and woman realize that their separate schemes can be better achieved as a conspiracy.”
Complicity also denotes that the individuals involved engage themselves to be completely congruent with their responsibility towards each other because one’s commitment to a relationship is contingent on one’s commitment to self.
You cannot be fully present in a relationship unless you are fully engaged in your own life.
The gift of complicity is not real unless it is accompanied by the truth of who you are. An old saying stipulates, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.”
Likewise with relationships, “Complicity must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.” It furthermore must be done in such a way that it is an evident endeavor that is mutual and intentional – reflecting the sentiment “I am complicit with myself in my complicity with you.”
The notion of being accomplices in a relationship takes on added nuances when we also consider the dynamics of reciprocity.
To reciprocate in a positive sense in the context of a relationship implies “giving to your partner in the spirit of abundance as much as your partner gives to you,” such that a chronic imbalance is not created whereby one partner gives more while the other partner takes more.
Reciprocity exists when both partners give and take in a mutually fulfilling manner that is equilibrated over time and that responds to the needs and wants of both individuals respectively.
Reciprocity is a corollary of complicity and serves to strengthen and deepen the bond between partners.
Practiced over the course of months and years it adds a rainbow of colors to the harmonious blend of personalities that make up the couple.
Never be taken for granted, the partners rejoice in the offerings as a testimony of their growing love for each other.
Let’s also consider that complicity is not a stagnant thing; it evolves and changes as the partners evolve and change.
It’s through delicious complicity that a couple is able to generate more of the things they want and less of the things they don’t want.
In a sense, it’s like they can customize the relationship to become a reflection of who they are and how they respond to each other, working together to make it work together. It’s giving up on the notion of ever giving up on each other.
It’s in the integrity of the wholeness created in the bond, paradoxically comprised of the individual parts the partners bring into it, that the strands of their wishes weave the tapestry of their shared reality.
We can never discount the power of delicious complicity to embellish and enrich a relationship.
M Scott Peck said, “Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.” In the context of long-term romantic relationships, the “self-enlarging experience” is fueled by complicity, and it is the difference that makes the difference.