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How To Pick Your Life Partner – Part 2

How To Pick Your Life Partner – Part 2

So you’ve got more ideas about how to pick your life partner in Part 1. Here Wait But Why explores more on what makes a happy life partnership.

Often, the key to succeeding at something big is to break it into its tiniest pieces and focus on how to succeed at just one piece.

When we examined procrastination, we talked about how a great achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable tasks looks like from far away. In the pixel post, we looked at a human life up close and saw that it was just an ordinary Wednesday, again and again and again—and that achieving life happiness was all about learning to be happy on a routine weekday.

lineup

    I think the same idea applies to marriage.

    From afar, a great marriage is a sweeping love story, like a marriage in a book or a movie. And that’s a nice, poetic way to look at a marriage as a whole.

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    But 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.

    So if we want to find a happy marriage, we need to think small—we need to look at marriage up close and see that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.

    Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day.

    Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.

    So I’ll leave the butterflies and the kisses in the rain and the twice-a-day sex to you—you’ll work that part out I’m sure—and spend this post trying to figure out the best way to make Forgettable Wednesday as happy as possible.

    To endure 20,000 days with another human being and do so happily, there are three key ingredients necessary:

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    1. An Epic Friendship

    I enjoy spending time with most of my friends—that’s why they’re my friends. But with certain friends, the time is so high-quality, so interesting, and so fun that they pass the Traffic Test.

    The Traffic Test is passed 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.

    Passing the Traffic Test says a lot. It means I’m lost in the interaction, invigorated by it, and that I’m the complete opposite of bored.

    To me, almost nothing is more critical in choosing a life partner than finding someone who passes the Traffic Test. When there are people in your life who do pass the Traffic Test, what a whopping shame it would be to spend 95% of the rest of your life with someone who doesn’t.

    A Traffic Test-passing friendship entails:

    • A great sense of humor click. No one wants to spend 50 years fake laughing.
    • Fun. And the ability to extract fun out of unfun situations—airport delays, long drives, errands. Not surprisingly, studies suggest that the amount of fun a couple has is a strong predictor for their future.
    • A respect for each other’s brains and way of thinking. A life partner doubles as a career/life therapist, and if you don’t respect the way someone thinks, you’re not going to want to tell them your thoughts on work each day, or on anything else interesting that pops into your head, because you won’t really care that much what they have to say about it.
    • A decent number of common interests, activities, and people-preferences. Otherwise a lot of what makes you ‘you’ will inevitably become a much smaller part of your life, and you and your life partner will struggle to find enjoyable ways to spend a free Saturday together.

    A friendship that passes the Traffic Test gets better and better with time, and it has endless room to deepen and grow ever-richer.

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    2. A Feeling of Home

    If someone told you you had to sit in a chair for 12 straight hours without moving, aside from wondering why the hell they were making you do this, your first thought would be, “I better get in the most comfortable possible position”—because you’d know that even the slightest bit of discomfort would grow to pain and eventually, torture. When you have to do something for a long, long time, it’s best if it’s supremely comfortable.

    When it comes to marriage, a perpetual “discomfort” between you and your partner can be a permanent source of unhappiness, especially as it magnifies over time, much like your torturous situation in the chair. Feeling “at home” means feeling safe, cozy, natural, and utterly yourself, and in order to have this feeling with a partner, a few things need to be in place:

    • Trust and security. Secrets are poison to a relationship, because they form an invisible wall inside the relationship, leaving both people somewhat alone in the world—and besides, who wants to spend 50 years lying or worrying about hiding something? And on the other side of secrets will often be suspicion, a concept that directly clashes with the concept of home. This is why having an affair during an otherwise good marriage is one of the most self-defeating and short-sighted things someone could ever do.
    • Natural chemistry. Interacting should be easy and natural, energy levels should be in the same vicinity, and you should feel on the same “wavelength” in general. When I’m with someone on a very different wavelength than I am, it doesn’t take long before the interaction becomes exhausting.
    • Acceptance of human flaws. You’re flawed. Like, really flawed. And so is your current or future life-partner. Being flawed is part of the definition of being a human. And one of the worst fates would be to spend most of your life being criticized for your flaws and reprimanded for continuing to have them. This isn’t to say people shouldn’t work on self-improvement, but when it comes to a life partnership, the healthy attitude is, “Every person comes with a set of flaws, these are my partner’s, and they’re part of the package I knowingly chose to spend my life with.”
    • A generally positive vibe. Remember, this is the vibe you’re a part of now, forever. It’s not really acceptable for it to be a negative one, nor is it sustainable. Relationship scientist John Gottman has found that “couples with a ratio of fewer than five positive interactions for every negative one are destined for divorce.”

    3. A Determination to be Good at Marriage

    Relationships are hard. Expecting a strong relationship without treating it like a rigorous part-time job is like expecting to have a great career without putting in any effort. In a time when humans in most parts of the world can enjoy freedom and carve their own path in life, it usually doesn’t sit that well to suddenly become half of something and compromise on a bunch of things you grew up being selfish about.

    So what skills does someone need to learn to be good at marriage?

    • Communication. Communication being on this list is as silly as “oxygen” being on a list of items you need to stay healthy. And yet, poor communication is the downfall of a huge number of couples—in fact, in a study on divorcees, communication style was the top thing they said they’d change for their next relationship. Communication is hard to do well consistently—successful couples often need to create pre-planned systems or even partake in couples’ therapy to make sure it happens.
    • Maintaining equality. Relationships can slip into an unequal power dynamic pretty quickly. When one person’s mood always dictates the mood in the room, when one person’s needs or opinion consistently prevail over the other’s, when one person can treat the other in a way they’d never stand for being treated themselves—you’ve got a problem.
    • Fighting well. Fighting is inevitable. But there are good and bad ways to fight. When a couple is good at fighting, they defuse tension, approach things with humor, and genuinely listen to the other side, while avoiding getting nasty, personal or defensive. They also fight less often than a bad couple. According to John Gottman, 69% of a typical couple’s fights are perpetual, based on core differences, and cannot be resolved—and a skilled couple understands this and refrains from engaging in these brawls again and again.9

    In searching for your life partner or assessing your current life partnership, it’s important to remember that every relationship is flawed and you probably won’t end up in something that gets an A in every one of the above items and bullet points—but you should hope to do pretty well on most of them, since each one plays a large part in your lifelong happiness.

    And since this is a daunting list to try to achieve in a life partnership, you probably don’t want to make things even harder than they need to be by insisting upon too many other checkboxes—most of which will not have a large effect on your happiness during dinner #4,386 of your marriage. It would be nice if he played the guitar, but take it off the list of must-haves.

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    I hope Valentine’s Day was good for you this year, whatever you did for it. Just remember that Forgettable Wednesday is a much more important day.

    __________

    Sources

    The facts and opinions in this article are based on a combination of dozens of hours of research, on both scientific study results and expert opinions, and of my own personal experience and observations and those of a number of my friends and family (many of whom I interviewed in the last week). Special thanks to Eric Barker for his great blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, from which I mined a number of sources for this post.

    1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10090130/Marriage-makes-people-happier-than-six-figure-salaries-and-religion.html
    2. “Marital Status is Misunderstood in Happiness Models” from Deakin University, Faculty of Business and Law, School of Accounting, Economics and Finance; Economics Series Paper # 2010_03.
    3. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/08/08/most-young-adults-expect-marriage-for-life-study/
    4. “Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: Do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner?” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Eastwick, Paul W.; Finkel, Eli J.
    5. “Can Anyone Be “The” One? Evidence on Mate Selection from Speed Dating” from IZA Discussion Papers, number 2377.
    6. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2013/10/recipe-for-a-happy-marriage-2/
    7. http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2011/12/is-5-to-1-the-golden-ratio-for-both-work-and/
    8. Terri Orbuch, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship
    9. John Gottman, The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy
    10. Dan Wile, After the Honeymoon: How Conflict Can Improve Your Relationship
    11. Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29, 94–122.

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    Anna Chui

    Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the Content Strategist of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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