Towards the beginning of each semester, I lecture on the basics of the communication process (one semester I even did it with a go pro on my head). Each time I give this lecture I am reminded of a very basic communication principle – a principle that if followed, will do everything but ensure a successful long-term relationship.
Fine, there are no guarantees and perhaps that last sentence is a bit too “headliney” and advanced to sell papers, yet who would not like to hedge their long-term relational bets a bit in their favor?
The key is experience; as in, similar and shared experiences.
If you should drop me off in the middle of China and demand I communicate with someone, I would fail miserably. For starters, I do not speak the same language and, outside of the fact that we would both need to eat, drink, and defecate, there is very little else that I would share, experience-wise, with this other person.
It is no different with our relationships within our own culture. We may all share the same dominant culture experience (I am an ‘Merican), yet there are great experiential differences among all of us. For example, I may share the same denotative, linguistic language with another person in my ‘Merican culture yet that does not mean we share the connotative language. I may share the same grammatical principles with, say, an 18 year-old dude, yet that does not mean my utterance of the word “sick” means anything close to his definition –I use it to address an illness while he uses it to address something very cool and nice.
Language is just one small part of everything that constitutes our varying experiences, be it schools, religion, travel, family structure, or educational level -the list goes on.
Therefore, I have created my list for increasing your chances of long-term relational success, based off the principle of shared experience. Hence:
The 7 do’s and don’ts of long term relational success:
The 4 Do’s:
1. Do commit to someone close to your age. Yes, I have blogged in detail about this before, though allow me to summarize that blog right here and now: The further away you drift in age from a potential long-term partner, the less likely you will experience long-term success…and vice-versa: The closer you are in age with a significant other increases the chances of relational survival. Now, like with all the rest of my do’s and don’ts, I must qualify each one with the term, “probability.” Please do not tell me that you married someone your exact age and it failed, of course this can happen and often does. We are talking increasing chances of success, not guaranteeing it. Frankly, there are so many studies that support this “no brainer” suggestion that I do not know where to begin. How about here? Or here? The explanation is rather simple when viewed through the lens of shared common experience: Those of the same age simply share more of the same experiences together. I was alive for John F. Kennedy’s assassination (yes, I was 6 months old though you get the point), Richard Nixon’s impeachment, Jimmy Carter’s peanuts, Billy Beer (google it), John Lennon getting shot, and much, much more. My students today tell me they barely remember 9/11. Is it absolutely necessary to share the witnessing of all these events? No, though it certainly does increase our shared field of experience and decreases our chances of miscommunication, which is the budding seed of relational dissatisfaction.
2. Do commit to someone who grew up within 5 miles of your childhood house. Alright, perhaps in this transient age this may be next to impossible for many, yet I hope you get the idea. When you commit to someone who grew up within 5 miles of your house, or at least in a similar neighborhood to your own, you likely share the same schools/types of schools, perhaps many of the same friends, similar socioeconomic status, community values, and shared stories. Why 5 miles? In my hometown of Burbank, CA. we had two high schools; one was for the flatlanders, John Burroughs High, the Indians, and one was for rich kids in the hills of Burbank, Burbank High, the Bulldogs. Yes, we all grew up in the same city yet my group, the flatlanders, shared a far different socioeconomic experience than our hillside counterparts. We would work at the businesses the Burbank High kids’ families owned. The distance between John Burroughs and Burbank High Schools? About 5 miles, give or take. Am I suggesting a Burroughs High School person cannot have a long term relationship with a Burbank High snob? Of course not. I would bet my last bitcoin there are many inter-high school successful relationships. However, if you are a betting man? Take the Indian-Indian and Bulldog-Bulldog relationships over the Native American-Canine one.
3. Do commit to someone who shares your deepest philosophical views about life. The key word here? Deepest. Life has a strange and mysterious way of making unspoken beliefs and issues surface into the forefront sooner or later…and it is usually later. For example, the fact you may be a hardcore atheist while your significant other is a moderately strong believer in a higher power may not mean a whole hell of a lot in the early and mid-stages of a relationship, yet eventually these fundamental differences are going to meet and collide head on. Another example of deeper, stronger views individuals typically held (yet usually do not realize it till a child comes along) concerns parenting styles. Now this may not mean a lot during courting and the early stages of relationships, but can be complete deal breakers once the little ones are conceived. When it comes to parenting, most of us resort back to the dreaded, “That is the way I was raised and look at me, I’m fine,” bullshit philosophy that assumes that what your parents did was the right way and you are currently the best person you can be because of it. People, parents are often wrong. Why? Because they are people first and parents second. It is healthy to have differences in opinions and beliefs yet the deepest and most sacred values are best shared with the other. Two people can only negotiate the dynamics and aspects of their relationship to the extent they share the same fundamental values.
4. Do commit to someone whose parents you have taken into consideration. I remember back in the day when Rene’ and I were starting to get serious and seek counseling. At that time we would often be counseled that you are not just committing to each other, rather, you are committing to each other’s family as well. I not only committed to Rene’, in addition, I am committed to her mother and father. I am not certain how much I adhere to this philosophy presently, still I agree with the spirit of the sentiment, which is, “Parents Matter.” I tell my kids that if they want to know what their significant other is going to look like in 25 years, check out mom and pop for a fairly good indicator. Likewise, temperament is not a whole hell of a lot different. Am I suggesting we are all helplessly locked into our own parents’ mindset? Hell no. I am saying that if you are having doubts about whether or not this person is for you, a quick parental evaluation may tip the scales one way or the other, particularly the younger you happen to be. Parents are not to be ignored.
Now on to the negative: The 3 Do Nots:
1. Do NOT commit to someone solely because you share similar interests and have fun enjoying these activities together. Sure enjoying activities together is fun and exciting, yet, like sex and attraction below, they are not relational priorities you can hang your long term relational hat on. Often times it is more exciting to possess dissimilar interests not only for the purpose of maintaining healthy autonomy in the relationship, but also to expose each other to your various worlds at times. The worst thing in the world for me would be to have a partner as obsessed about working out as I am…that would spell disaster as we would drive each other crazy. Imagine if I played piano? Don’t get Rene’ started…
2. Do NOT commit to someone because the sex is off the charts. A healthy and exciting sex life is awesome and inspiring though not a prereq for long term commitment. I look at good sex as frosting on the cake, a bonus for a relationship gone terribly right. Often times poor sex is an indicator that something else is askew in the relationship…you cannot blame the sex. Good sex can come and go; loving companionship is the gift that keeps on giving.
3. Do NOT commit to someone because they are exquisite, mysterious and intriguing. We spell these kinds of relationships this way: D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. The strong, silent type can morph into the uncommunicative prick in very little time while the man of mystery turns out to be a loser with some really weird ass secrets. And the exquisite lady whose eccentric preoccupations have you smitten? In 20 years she is one of those weird cat ladies with 100’s of felines with fecal matter running about her house. In the same way I counsel people not to own the special, pure bred, shitzu-something-or-other canine pet and to stick with the tried and true retriever or lab; a life partner should be selected with the same strictly vetted process. Exquisite pure breeds vomit and have massive amounts of diarrhea, while the tried and trusted mixed breed pups can eat shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner with no digestive problems. So, unless you really want to clean up after someone else’s excrement… you get the picture.
That is my lecture for today kiddos. And this one is on the house. Like Vegas, there are no guarantees though you can hedge your bets with the house’s money.
Your future happiness may depend on it.