Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finding common ground in new relationships.

Post 515 - I’ve been watching episodes of an old British TV series, Coupling, recently. Produced for the BBC from 2000 to 2004, the shows center on the dating and sexual adventures and mishaps of six friends in their thirties, often depicting the three women and the three men each talking among themselves about the same events, but in entirely different terms. The show was based on the author’s experiences meeting his wife, and on the issues that arise in new relationships.

There are so many jokes about the lack of understanding between men and women that I think it makes sense for couples in new relationships to take them seriously and try to find a way to reconcile their differences early on. Sometimes this means learning to compromise; however, most of the time, it just requires lots of work and mutual understanding by both parties in the relationship.

In addition, when couples first get together, they tend to be attracted by their similarities. As they get to know one another better, their differences start to come into focus. Younger couples are attracted to each other’s complementary differences - sometimes, the more different, the better. The logistics of sharing a larger list of coping skills against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune can seem wise for survival. However, relationships later in life tend to develop between people with greater similarities.

Some people won’t get involved in a serious relationships even with someone they like very much if they don’t have a shared background. They have a deep connection to their culture and its rituals, and they want someone who’ll be able to keep these traditions alive with them. Here, cultural continuity is what’s important. However, when people feel they have a cultural match, many things are taken as a given and people don't feel the need to discuss them. It’s easy to imagine that there’s more compatibility with someone than there actually is just because they both feel they already know each other.

Similarly, using the same language isn’t always speaking the same language. It's quite a common assumption that just because both parties speak the same language, there are no serious cultural differences. Even if they share the same values, there are many assumptions about how values are communicated that are quite different among those who come from different cultures or different backgrounds.

In my experience, the big things, like religion for example, are usually easy enough to deal with because they're more visible and so people tend to talk them through early on. It's the small things, like sarcasm, which go unnoticed at first, or are too small to really "discuss," that can add up over time to cause big problems later on.

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