There is no shortage of information and advice on relationships.  What it takes to make them work, fix them when they’re broken, build them, nurture them, leverage them. Counselors, coaches, philosophers, and theologians, all have devoted volumes to the subject.

Seldom will anyone whisper, let alone proclaim the truth: relationships don’t work.

I know — the initial reaction is to vehemently deny this, and label the idea as the voice of pessimism, if not sheer heresy. This was certainly the response I clung to when first presented with compelling evidence to the contrary. But consider the evidence for a moment. Pick the arena — from the closest of personal, to casual or social, to the heart of the professional marketplace — relationships call for an unselfish perspective.

And how’s that worked for most of us? We are, across the spectrum, most often “in it to win.” The idea of being unselfish seems counter to everything that matters. Oh sure, best intentions define the early stages of the relationships we deem important — at the personal and business level. But, when in the course of normal events, competing interests surface — ah, there is the rub!

Of course, some of these “competing” instances are little more than trivial bouts born of (to be charitable) unique perspectives. If the relationship is important enough, at least one party finds a way to defer. But when these interests are seeded in a value system, or — often more devastating — a profit margin — compromise, let alone deference becomes exponentially more difficult.

In these moments, whether with a significant other, a once-valued business partner, or a former key client, the instinct to win…to protect position…to self preserve takes over. And relationships tear. Or break. Or shatter.

Wow! That is gloom and doom…right?

Not so fast. What if a relationship constitutes the ultimate counter-intuitive? What if the foundation for a successful relationship is in knowing that, left to the normal course of things, relationships don’t work?

This, of course, is not a new idea. “For it is in giving that we receive.”

When marketers and strategists tap into this dynamic, the market tends to change. This is, after all, the principle at the heart of all the talk about listening, dialogue, and (we need a new term for this) customer satisfaction. This is not to imply that business relationships or the nurture of personal networks is ever easy, or that there exists a quick fix; but watch what happens when enterprise seeks a way to give something back…even in the smallest of increments.

At the personal level, all I know is that the most cherished relationships I have are the byproducts of forgiveness, charity and immeasurable unselfishness on the part of others. For these, I am most thankful.

And on a day when many celebrate a new beginning, whatever your faith, and however you choose to view the tremendous possibility, I am grateful that the impossible is possible. Relationships can — indeed, do work.