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How to pick a partner

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

June 26 · Issue #249 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.


Summary: Picking the right marriage partner (or romantic partner) and having a successful relationship is hard. We need only look at divorce rates or the number of failed relationships among friends and family members around us. So, how can we increase our odds of success?
Part of the answer is choosing the right person up front. It may not guarantee relationship success, but it’s a crucial first step. This issue offers a few ideas to help.
(~5 min read)

#1. Avoid the expectations trap
Emil Anton and his team at Alux say in a video that one of the flaws that can doom a relationship is being the savior. 
When you think of yourself as a savior, you see your role as changing the other person. 
As the Alux team puts it: “You see potential in them, and you judge their actions based on what they could become—not what they are.”
They suggest the following way to avoid falling into this trap.
Before marrying someone, ask yourself:
If they were to remain the same exact person they are right now—not who they could become or their potential—for the rest of your life together, would you still marry them?
We’re often enamored by the process of changing someone else into what we want them to become, and in the process we blind ourselves to who they actually are. 
The consequence of falling into the expectations trap can be not only a failed marriage, but a ruined life.
#2. Could you stand getting stuck in traffic with them?
Tim Urban, creator of the Wait But Why blog, writes that to succeed at something big, it helps to break it down into its smallest pieces, and then try to succeed at just one piece.
He suggests that this same approach can be used to understand how successful marriages work.
From afar, a great marriage looks like a sweeping love story — the kind you might find in a book or a movie.
This is a nice, poetic way to view marriage, but as Urban points out, “human happiness doesn’t function in sweeping strokes, because we don’t live in broad summations — we’re stuck in the tiny unglamorous folds of the fabric of life, and that’s where our happiness is determined.”
To identify a happy marriage, we should instead think small. When we look at marriage up close, we see “that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.”
A key ingredient for happily enduring those 20,000 days is an “epic friendship” between the two people.
For Urban, an epic friendship is one that passes what he calls the Traffic Test: “when I’m finishing up a hangout with someone and one of us is driving the other back home or back to their car, and I find myself rooting for traffic. That’s how much I’m enjoying the time with them.”
It means he’s lost in the interaction and invigorated by it — the opposite of being bored.
Here are four criteria to determine whether your relationship with someone passes the Traffic Test:
1. A great shared sense of humorWho wants to spend 50 years fake laughing?
2. An ability to have fun together: Especially in otherwise mundane situations like while running errands or on long drives.
3. Respect for each other’s way of thinking: A life partner “doubles as a career/life therapist,” and if you don’t respect the way someone thinks, you’re going to be less likely to share details about your life with them because you won’t value their opinion.
4. A good number of common activities, interests, and people preferences: If these don’t exist, then the aspects that make you who you are will become a smaller part of your life, and you and your life partner will struggle to find enjoyable ways to spend free time together.
#3. Avoid the bad apples
Author and psychiatrist Gordon Livingston writes in his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that “Much of our difficulty in developing and sustaining personal relationships resides in our failure to recognize, in ourselves as well as in others, those personality characteristics that make someone a poor candidate for a committed relationship.”
He suggests that we can develop a better screening process by understanding what exactly personality is, and by being able to identify those people who are evidently not suitable candidates for lifetime commitment.
We’re accustomed to thinking about personality in superficial ways: “He has a lot of personality” is often a statement about how engaging or entertaining someone is.
As Livingston notes, the formal definition of personality includes our habitual ways of feeling, thinking, and relating to others. Many of us understand that people differ in certain characteristics, such as attention to detail, determination, introversion, and willingness to be helpful, among many others.
But what most people fail to recognize is that the characteristics we value, such as kindness and tolerance, are not randomly distributed: “They tend to exist as a constellation of ‘traits’ that are recognizable and reasonably stable over time.”
This tendency to cluster is also true for less desirable characteristics like impulsivity, quickness to anger, self-centeredness, and unpredictability.
Knowing that personality characteristics tend to cluster, and being able to recognize them, can save a lot of heartbreak.
What you want to do is construct a conceptual map that serves as a reliable guide to help you avoid people who are not worthy of your time and trust, and to embrace those who are.
The best indications that your “always-tentative” map is faulty include feelings of anger, betrayal, disorientation, sadness, and surprise.
Quote of the week
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”
- Author and journalist Mignon McLaughlin in her book The Complete Neurotics Notebook
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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