Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, jumping through the window and alarming three distinctive groups of people. The lucky lovebirds should start looking for romantic date ideas, heartbroken veterans that have given up this year should buy their favorite ice cream and queue up their comfort show, and hopeless romantics that still hold an ounce of hope should try to find their soulmate ASAP. If you find yourself in the latter group, this is the article for you.
Although I’m mostly an ice cream veteran, a couple of friends from the IE Well-being Club persuaded me to attend a seminar called: “Finding and Maintaining a Healthy Relationship” organized by IE MBA Alumnus and relationship advisor Julien Ragheb. In this seminar, Julien covered a broad range of concepts such as finding the right partner and compatibility, couple dynamics, and general tips and recommendations.
Finding The One
The first step in building any relationship is finding the right partner. Some might even argue that this is the most crucial part of the relationship, because if two people are incompatible, there is not much to work with. There are generally two lines of thought regarding the perfect partner.
First, we think of the soulmate: the person that shares everything with you. From extrinsic characteristics such as musical taste, hobbies, and favorite movies, to deep factors like personality and values. The second line of thought is the idea of “opposites attract”. The opposite is the one who has everything we lack.
As Julien and most research indicate, however, both views are rather extreme, and the best partner usually falls right in the middle. Having someone similar enough to you to understand you, yet different enough to complement you, seems to be the best choice for a long-lasting partner. This is especially true for personality traits. If you have an extroverted party animal as a partner while you are a shy bookworm, conflict will arise when deciding plans for the weekend. It is ultimately recommended, however, that morals and values should be as similar as possible. This might seem a tad irrelevant at first, but having a different point of view on heavy topics such as marriage, abortion, and even politics can implode the relationship in the worst possible moment.
The concept that Julien focused more on regarding partner selection was the Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Chapman states that we communicate love in five “styles”: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. Although the different styles are all present in every relationship, each one of us has a predominant one through which we express our affection most of the time.
The key point, however, was not about picking a partner with the same style, but rather understanding how to manage the dynamic if both people have different styles. For example, if your partner is mostly into acts of service, you should not only try to do things for them, as they will appreciate it more than a gift, but also realize that when they are doing something for you, it is their way of showing their love. We might find these forms of love expression as non-important sometimes, but if it’s how the other communicates, we should understand it and appreciate it.
Choosing the right partner is the first step, but keeping the relationship healthy can be the most complicated part. Just like understanding love languages is a drive for positive interactions, understanding dynamics in the relationship can make or break the most seemingly perfect couples.
Givers and Takers
During the class, we dove into the concept of “givers and takers”. Although I knew the concept applied to organizational behavior, as presented by Adam Grant, Julien used it to explain relationship dynamics.
Givers, as the name implies, are the sort of leaders in the relationship. They are always making plans, encouraging their significant other, and taking care of most of the decisions. The taker, on the other hand, holds a more passive role. They generally are less proactive and rely on the giver doing most of the “work” in the relationship. Although this is completely normal in any relationship, we can find it troubling if the dynamic is extreme. If both sides are on the extreme, the giver will likely feel that their partner is not doing or caring enough for the relationship, whilst the taker might find the giver a bit pushy or demanding.
Julien gave special advice to those that end up towards the extreme giver side of the relationship: find another giver. It is true that if you are someone who is generally disappointed in their relationships, and feels like you are always giving everything, finding someone like that to match the effort might be the rational choice. However, if there is something completely irrational in life, it’s love, and Julien, most research, and the crowd agreed that givers simply find themselves more interested in takers. And of course, the same is true the other way around. Someone who always finds their partners pushy or demanding could, in theory, find another taker, but they will probably end up in a relationship where no one is pushing or pulling.
The golden tip for any problem in any relationship, whether we talk about differences in preferences, love languages, or dynamics, is communication. Although it might not sound like a surprise, communication and setting boundaries for ourselves and our partners works as a sort of rule book for the game. Finding someone perfect is impossible because there is simply no one like that.
The key, then, relies on being honest and understanding about which imperfections we can allow, or even want the other person to have. I said “being indecisive” as a personal example. It can drive me crazy if taken to the extreme, but it is something that I really don’t mind and even find endearing sometimes.
The same principle can be applied to communication and dynamics. Are you willing to allow your partner to make every decision in the relationship, or would you like more balance? Having a clear stance on what works for you and what doesn’t might save you from the inevitable.
After the class, a couple of friends and I extended the talk with Julien about more psychological and sociological theories on relationships. One could spend hours trying to create the perfect formula for finding and keeping the right partner, but at the end of the day, that is impossible. Not because if you follow everything that is “needed” for a healthy relationship it will be in vain, but rather because doing all the work and putting in all the effort is only half of the job. The rest relies on the other person, and that is what makes relationships beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
In this manner, the conclusion is that the second-best advice any scientist, relationship coach, or friend can give you on dating is to find someone willing to make things work as much as you. The best advice is, of course, to have the same music taste.