Tuesday, February 28, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Sharing Interests

Here's an important little tip for a thriving long-term relationship or marriage. It helps, a lot, if the two of you share some common interests. While you don't have to do everything together, your passions should intersect somewhere. You two are building a life together, and it's much easier to build if you two are operating with a similar set of blueprints. For example, if both of you love making blueprints.

I mentioned last week that a strong couple culture can help build an enduring relationship. Part of building this culture is sharing activities that give you mutual experiences. Events that happened when you two went snorkeling or skydiving together will help you build your couple shorthand and speak in your couple code that no one else can understand. When you lack mutual experiences, you don't get that chance to create as much of your shared code.

It goes deeper than simply having common experiences, though. It goes to understanding and appreciating who this person is, knowing all facets of their personality, being perhaps the only one in the entire world who sees all sides of your partner or spouse. We need to be known. We need to have someone in our lives who gets us, who sees us as we truly are. We also need to be that person to our partner.

There are two words that can be poison in a relationship. "That's nice." You're telling your spouse about landing the lead in a community theater production of Guys and Dolls. "That's nice." You excitedly tell your girlfriend that you just won the Donkey Kong semi-finals and are heading to the final round. "That's nice." You spend three months painstakingly building a scale replica of the Titanic. "That's nice." Except, it really isn't.

"That's nice" is your way of saying "I think it's cute that you have a hobby, but it offers no interest to me and I really don't care how much work you put into it or how it goes." We often got this from our parents growing up, and many of us wished that we could make them understand our passion. Those lucky enough to have parents who not only got what they did, but were totally on board, know of the joy and peace that comes from not having to fight for recognition with your loved ones. When we have to fight, when we feel that the ones we truly care about don't appreciate our efforts, it can be discouraging and lonely.

That shouldn't be with your partner, your lover, your spouse. He or she is the one person who should get what you're up to, and you likewise. If you have a passion, and this could be your career or your hobby, you want someone who understands it and cheers you on, who truly knows what it means to succeed, and can empathize when you fail. Having that person in your corner makes everything better, the highs sweeter and the lows more bearable.

More than that, your partner might be the one who can push you to be better, do better. My wife, for instance, gets my writing. She's read every single one of my columns, including this one, and she always has constructive criticism for me. Sometimes it's just a small edit, other times I need to completely revamp it. She shares my passion for writing (see her blog here) and understands the trials and frustrations of trying to put one's thoughts down in written form.

In addition to writing, we also love reading. While we do like many of the same books, we also have differing tastes and regularly pass books to one another. Reading each other's favorite books has helped us understand each other a little more. That's also the same reason we watch movies together and, more importantly, watch each other's movies. It's not just about putting up with it because that's what you do in a relationship, it's a way to understand who this person is. I love my wife and I want to know everything about her, and to know her books is to know her.

While it may seem inconsequential, your media consumption is a huge part of who you are. If you want to understand each other, you need to make an effort to get to know each other's favorite bands, books, movies, and TV shows. That means taking time to watch, read, and listen to things you may never have even heard of, but it's more than just being polite.

This is a way to test your compatibility, because if you wind up introducing each other to new tastes that you never knew you liked, you know you're with a person who not only shares your passions, but will help you develop and explore them in ways you never imagined you could.

I've fallen in love with books that I never would have read. I've listened to some of my wife's favorite albums more than she has. I've also gotten her hooked on several book series and television shows. We've been able to do this since before we were married, and it was another indicator of our long-term compatibility, and it's something we keep doing today.

We share other passions as well. I also regularly compete in Toastmasters speaking contests, and she helps me with my speeches and attends all the contests. She is my biggest fan, and no one is more happy for me when I win, and she's there with a sympathetic and understanding ear when I don't. She truly understands what it means to compete in a speech contest, because she's done so herself. She's no slouch either.

One of my proudest moments was when we both competed in a contest and walked away with first prize in our respective categories. I don't know if a husband and wife had ever both won a contest simultaneously before, and I'm proud to think we might have been the first. Sometimes she was the only one competing, and I was always there cheering her on. I'd look over her speeches and help make them better, just as she did for mine. Never once has either of us uttered "that's nice" when the other walked away with a trophy.

Lately, I've been working backstage at a local community theater. I run the spotlight, which is harder than you may think. While she doesn't work alongside me, she still appreciates what I do and is proud of me for playing a part in that production. I'm encouraged to be a part of the community theater scene because I know my wife gets it.

This is why, from the very beginning, you should be with someone who appreciates you and your passions. If this person understands your career goals, your dreams, your hobbies, and not only looks on from the sidelines but also jumps in, you have the makings of a strong relationship. Likewise, if the person you're dating seems to dismiss what you care about the most, or at best offers a condescending "that's nice," then I foresee future relationship problems.

As we were dating, even before, I would show my wife some of my writing. In fact, she read over many of these scripts and was able to offer constructive and encouraging feedback. That was one of the many, many signs that I had met the right girl. (Her love of Freakazoid! also helped.)

It may not seem that way at first, but your shared interests are part of what can keep your relationship strong. When you have mutual goals, when you have someone always in your corner, you both are more motivated to make it work. Relationships take a lot of effort, the both of you will go through many hard times, and you'll both wonder why you're together at all. Those shared loves and passions are the answer to that question. They will help you realize why you have such a good thing going, and make you understand what you'd be losing if you let it go.

However, if you two don't share interests, if your worlds just aren't connecting all that much, then it's easy to drift apart. A lot of couples split up not because they hate each other, not because of infidelity, but because they realize that they don't have anything in common, that they are basically strangers to each other. They don't have a relationship any more, not really, and there's nothing worth fighting for.

Here's the thing. For many couples, it's not too late. If you see that you aren't sharing your passions with each other, you can start today. It doesn't have to be all-in at first, just each of you try to share one passion of your partner. If she has a hobby, ask if you can join in. See if you like it. Perhaps you want to learn more about his job so he can talk about it with you when he gets home. Try to find something you both love and make an effort to do it together.

Obviously, a shared interest isn't the magic key to a perfect relationship, but it's something that will help the two of you better understand each other and grow closer together. When you truly get each other, when your worlds overlap, when you can appreciate what your partner is doing, then you'll have a much stronger bond and a well fortified relationship.

 What are relationships like in a fantasy universe? Find out in the book I wrote.

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