Last week I had the rare opportunity to speak to a group of fellow brothers and sisters about marriage and relationships. The group was an equal(ish) split of men and women, the conversations was open and honest, here’s what we discussed.
My opening question was to ask each group to list the qualities they wanted in a partner. The results are pretty much what you would expect, and what we have been hearing over the past 10+ years of having this conversation with the hundreds of individuals we come across through our events. There were some commonalities and some differences.
Commonalities – The traits that both the men and women listed: compatibility, truthful, trustworthy, responsible, mature, attractive, intelligent, good character.
Listed by men – The additional traits listed by men: looks after parents, works well in a team, health conscious, respect for family values, past marital status not an issue, doesn’t use social media.
Listed by women – The additional traits listed by women: similar humour, alignment on the idea of marriage, provider, adventurous, generous, emotionally intelligent.
With limited time we were unable to fully unpack each of the listed traits. We touched on a few areas, for example uncovering that the apparent dislike of social media by men was more about valuing privacy, humbleness and authenticity.
We did however take a deep dive into the concept of compatibility. What we uncovered was a real need to first understand oneself and know the fundamentals that underly the ‘why’ of what you do i.e., your values and beliefs. As a psychologist, I know that day to day our behaviours can change and are heavily influenced by the context/ environment that we are in. However, the core beliefs and values driving our actions are more stable. For example, for me, authenticity and fairness are absolute. My closest friends and husband are all comfortable with who they are as people – they do not waver or put on a show for anybody, and I respect that deeply because that is something I value and strive for myself. Most of my frustrations at home come from me feeling like my fairness value has somehow been breached – whether it’s because I feel like I did more housework, or because my husband ate the last bit of chocolate that I had been saving all week!
When seeking a relationship, we tend to focus on the outward behaviours without appreciating that these can change from day to day and over time. These can also be altered through gaining new knowledge, adaptability, and humility.
Understanding each other’s values and beliefs will also help in the most crucial of relationship skills, communication. By understanding the core of somebody’s ‘why’ you can better understand their actions and triggers because you understand how they see the world.
Another key topic that we discussed was time i.e. how long does it take to know if you are compatible. Thoughts around this varied wildly. Some of the men felt that they would decide on the fundamentals very quickly and then get family and friends involved early on as “they may be able to see things that you can’t”. Some of the women felt that there was a minimal period of 3 months within which men could keep up the show, before revealing their true colours. One even suggested the need to go through all four seasons with somebody.
Overall, there seemed to be a real fear on the women’s side especially, that they had to know how the man would respond in every type of situation, especially when under stress. This fear has been echoed in other conversations that I have had with girlfriends, particularly when you get to a certain age. Excuse the generalisation, but in your 20’s most are still a little naïve to the world so jumping into marriage may feel a little less scary and more romanticised. As you get older you start to see others around you in relationships. You go for nights out with your married friends who spend most of the time complaining about their partners. You see marriages fall apart and the destruction that can leave. In short, you get a more realistic view of what marriage actually is and the work that is involved. You become less and less willing to take a leap of faith.
In my view, everything big in life involves a leap of faith. Starting a new job, buying a house, deciding to get married, deciding to have kids. You can crunch the numbers, analyse from every possible angle but at some point, if you want it, you’re going to have to jump, or you risk losing it forever and being left with “what if”. You can always find better. There may be a better deal to be had. But if you wait for perfect, you will be left waiting. I struggled with the same thing until a married housemate of mine sat me down and said, “there may be ‘better’ guys out there for you, and there may be ‘better’ girls out there for him, but you have to choose when to stop looking for ‘better’ and realise what you have.” You then have to make that decision every day going forwards. ‘The grass may look greener over there, but I am happy here. I have everything I need right here’.