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The Curious Qualities of Balance (And Some Practical Advice)

What does 'balance' mean in a relationship? How do you maintain it, and what are some of the obstacles?

What makes a balanced relationship?

Perhaps when you think of 'balance' you think of 'equality'? But since people are actually not equal in all things, a more specific idea of equality (and balance) is called for.

The kind of equality that leads to a balanced, healthy, loving relationship is the valuing of someone else's needs as equal alongside our own. This kind of equality naturally embraces people's differences, and helps there to be mutual respect - a key aspect of a healthy balance.

Balance is uneven and asymmetrical. Consider an apple and a cherry. Often thought to go well together, yet in order to balance them they would need to be combined differently. In a drink you would use more apple than cherry to balance the flavours. If you were balancing them literally then the cherry would need to be a greater distance from the fulcrum than the heavier apple. The idea is that two different things can go well together when combined in certain ways that account for those differences - and any similarities.

What this means is that very different characters, interests, or skill sets can sometimes fit well together, even though it might appear that there is a lack of balance, in terms of who is doing or saying what in a relationship.

The above leads to the realization that there is also equilibrium in balance - there is the evenness of being well matched. If two people fit together in a way that helps them both to express and satisfy their feelings and needs, whether their's are the same or differ, then they are well matched, and well balanced.

How is balance developed and maintained?

It's easier to find balance with someone else, if you can balance on your own.

This is both literally and figuratively a true statement. If you've done much partner dancing, particularly tango, you'll know it's hard work finding balance in an embrace if your partner struggles to balance on their own. If your own balance is strong, maybe you can make the dance work, but it soon gets tiring. If both you and your partner have poor balance then it can happen that you manage to balance each other, but it's a very lucky event (until you've both had more learning experience). However, if you and your partner have really worked on your own balance, then sharing balance together, even from the moment you meet, becomes so much easier and more enjoyable. It's the same in life as with tango.

Being balanced in yourself is a lot to do with taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs - while still allowing close connections and mutual support with other people.

Related to the subject of responsibility is assertiveness. It would be lovely if everyone grew up valuing everyone else's needs as equal to their own (practically heaven on earth). But for various reasons, it often doesn't work out that way. That's why, if you'd like to build a balanced relationship, it's crucial to be assertive about your own needs.

Being assertive is not about being aggressive. It's about taking full control of yourself (not giving it to anyone else) - not trying to control others - and feeling confident about sharing what's important for you.

Learning to be assertive in that way helps people find and maintain that space where everyone's needs are understood and valued equally, and there is a balance of give and take. Assertiveness is valuable in relationships for other reasons too, since it generally feels good to be around confident, clear minded (yet respectful) people.

To maintain that balance of give and take in any kind of long-term partnership, flexibility and a willingness to compromise sometimes is also essential. Within the context of a balanced relationship, being willing to compromise sometimes is part of what strengthens bonds between people. (On the other hand, if you've already been neglecting your needs, then continuing to bend over backwards is unlikely to help.)

Of course a balance of give and take does not mean keeping a balance-sheet of who's turn it is to do what. It's hard for trust and warmth to develop, when the process of being flexible, helping out, or compromising becomes like book-keeping. But if that trust and warmth is really nurtured from both sides an overall balance is naturally maintained.

So, to recap, the qualities of balance and how to build it identified here are:

  • At the heart of a balanced, healthy, loving relationship is valuing the other person's needs as equal to your own.
  • Balance is different from 'equality in all things' - there is value in differences as well as similarities.
  • Sometimes what might appear like an uneven relationship is actually well balanced - opposites, or big differences in character, interests or skills are sometimes very complementary.
  • Finding balance with someone else is far easier and more likely if you have found and maintain balance in yourself.
  • Assertiveness is a key tool in finding and maintaining a balance of give and take, and helping mutual understanding and respect.
  • To keep balance in a long-term relationship, compromise is sometimes required.

Looking at that list, it's clear what a skill relationships are. The ideas are quite natural and simple (and everyone can learn). It's just the kind of thing you need to practice regularly to do well.

As for practical advice, if you think your balance in a relationship could be improved, what item(s) from the above list most resonate with you? Consider how you could bring that particular dimension of balance into your relationship(s) more. What is the first step to making that a reality? Think of something actionable, that you can do today.

Reader Resources: 
References to the book, to help you go deeper into the above content.
  • Sub-section: "A balance of give and take"   Discusses how the way we view relationships and the attitudes we take into them affect the balance we find.
  • Section: "Responsibility"   A key concept in finding balance without yourself, and therefore having a much greater chance of finding balance within a relationship.
  • Section: "The five keys"   Shows how embracing both the differences and the similarities you have with others can enrich your relationships and lead for a greater and deeper balance.
  • Sub-section: "Assertiveness"   What does it really mean to be 'assertive' and how can you develop this invaluable skill?
  • Sub-section: "To compromise or not to compromise"   How to compromise the smart way, and what it means to over-compromise
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