Success In The Tit For Tat Relationship Game
Bill Cottringer

Success in relationships is based on accurate information used in the basic cooperation vs. antagonism tit for tat game we all play. The tit for tat game typically goes like this. If I choose to do this then I expect you to do this and if I do that I expect you to do that; but if I do this and you do that, then the ripple effect is a series of cross-fires of endless this vs. that actions and reactions and everyone eventually loses when the game was actually designed to make everyone win. All the interpersonal relationship failures start occurring when the original tit for tat is not reciprocated and both people stop cooperating..

The purpose of relationships, at least the way I see them, is to afford people a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and improve their interpersonal skills and reap the immense satisfaction from doing just that. Long ago in the mid-seventies interpersonal growth counseling days, there was a useful instrument called the Johari window worth resurrecting to understand the futility of the tit for tat game in relationships.

There are four quadrants of knowing something in the Johari window:

1. What we all know to be so.
2. What I know and you don’t know to be so.
3. What you know and I don’t know to be so.
4. What none of us know to be so.

Obviously the growth here starts with acknowledging and being aware of the view through number one window accurately and completely and then expanding numbers 2 and 3 to start seeing something through the last window, or the truths and realities none of us currently know. Stop a moment and take inventory of what you really do know about what someone else thinks they know about you in the present tit for tat game you are playing. If you are any where normal, then it is probably not very much and windows number 3 & 4 are really very foggy and number 4 isn’t at all accessible.

Now I ask an honest, non-sarcastic question—How can you possibly succeed in playing this tit for tat game in relationships, without accurate information about somebody else and what you think about what they think they know about you and your moves? Even if you devote your whole life to trying to find out what is behind all four windows, it won’t do much good in the tit for tat game. So there really is no good answer to this question of being able to accurately predict the next person’s move in the tit for tat game. You have free will to choose to do what ever you choose and can expect either this or that and so do they.

It takes awhile to see the futility of this game and the insight that there is but one way out—not to play the game by sticking with your right drive to cooperate. You simply learn to do either this or that based on what feels right to you in the ongoing process of shaping your good character and allow the other person to react the same way, not having any expectations one way or the other and proceeding to continue acting in your original chosen way without reacting to continue the never-ending uncooperative game.

For some reason or another we tend to think we really understand the motives of other people for their choices of acting or reacting with either this or that choices. But we can’t even understand our own motivations most of the time, so how can we know what is behind any of the windows in regards to other people? In reality we can’t, so why even bother engaging in the tit for tat game? There is no good reason unless you are bored to tears and just want more tears.

The way out of this game is to take your focus away from how you think the other person will react with either of their this or that moves to the this or that pre-moves you will do in anticipation, and the ones you will react with, and focus on yourself making the right first move based on what you think is right for you and stick with it.

If you aren’t lost yet, try these three questions:

1. Does it feel better to act the way you want to or to be manipulated into reacting the way someone else wants putting future reactions even further out of your control?

2. How much do you really know about why someone may not be acting or reacting to you in the expected ways?

3. Even if you luck out now and then and win the tit for tat game with carefully thought-out strategies, does that really feel good?

Forget about playing and winning the tit for tat game in relationships, and use your energy to make the right first choices between this or that for you and let the consequences be what they may and don’t give up because you are right.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or