Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The essence of a relationship

There are three factors on which a lasting relationship may be built.

1. Respect
2. Trust
3. Communication

Respect is necessary because people rarely change. Over time they do change, as they age, but such change takes a very long time and is never predictable. Some are more amenable to change, others less so and in certain fundamental ways people never change.

What is therefore necessary is acceptance. We must be prepared to accept them for what they are and acceptance without respect is impossible except in the short-term. People have good and bad qualities, likable and annoying traits, in order to suffer the worst aspects of our fellow human beings we need to be sustained by their better qualities.

Respect is key, lose respect and the relationship is over.

Trust is necessary because every relationship involves exchange. Where there is no trust one can only have a transaction, where each party is looking to ensure that they get at least as much as they give. A series of transactions do not make a relationship. A relationship involves giving unconditionally in the expectation that that this will someday be repaid in kind. In all sustaining relationships it is.

This is trust at a fundamental level. The petty matters like women who check their boyfriends email and men who dig into their girlfriends mobile phones and such distressing behaviour involves trust, but at a more mundane level. It matters in that to any reasonable person a lack of respect for personal privacy will bring about feelings of intense irritation and will doom a relationship well before any serious stresses are placed on it.

Communication is necessary because relationships will invariably have its problems. When faced with a problem the people involved need to talk it over and resolve the matter if the relationship is to prosper.

These principles are true of any relationship, be it personal or business.

Man is a social animal. It is through cooperation that individual tribes and eventually mankind as a whole triumphed over much more powerful beings in the animal kingdom and these are the elements of cooperation.

It does not surprise me that many marriages end in divorce, so much so that I am told that wedding photographers in Sri Lanka ask for full payment in advance, fearing that the marriage may end before the photographs are delivered.

A good many people that I know seem to be incredibly naive about the whole thing. I have met women who seem to view marriage as an extension of playing 'house'. Marriage is much much else besides and I'm fond of quoting Jared Diamond on this (and he quotes from Tolstoy): “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Diamond explains that by that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness.

It is also about the sharing of personal space as anyone who has been on an extended holiday with a friend can testify. Sharing room with someone who is more messy or does things differently can be incredibly trying: wet sheets on the bed, sand on the floor, toothpaste squeezed the wrong way, to sleep with a fan or without one, with a mosquito net or without; seemingly mundane, unimportant things that have ruined friendships and I'm sure a marriage or two. Too small to talk over and agree upon, too difficult to ignore.

This is where background comes into play. There is term, for it but it escapes me now, I thought it was endrogyny, the seeking of similar traits. Presumably people with similar backgrounds will share similar values, tastes and expectations. There is an automatic, unconscious trait that supposedly draws people to others like themselves and which is where an arranged marriage can be of some use.

I think the English got it right with the presentation ceremony though, whereby suitable boys and girls are allowed to mingle at a series of parties, with mothers and aunts furiously taking note of potentials to be invited to the next party. As one of the elderly ladies at one of these parties is said to have remarked, it doesn't matter if your daughter runs off with someone, as long as she runs off with the right kind of fellow.


Delilah said...

good post. totally agree with you on the background bit. not to be snobbish about it... but i think it serves as preliminary screening for basic compatibility.

Me said...

Perhaps not the essence of a relationship. But the qualities in an individual who's ready for a relationship...

Jack Point said...

Me - you pose an interesting question. Is it the qualities of the individual or is it something that should be in the relationship itself?

Its definitely something that needs to be mutual: mutual trust, respect and of course the communication needs to be between the parties concerned.

I would say these qualities are what develop between people be they friends, lovers, business associates even family.

DeeCee said...


Serendib_Isle said...

Excellent post. I think this could apply to any relationship, at a rather universal level.

This deserves to be part of the school syllabus – another little step towards creating a Sri Lankan society that understands how to get along with each other.

santhoshi said...

Great post...

santhoshi said...

Great post...

Jack Point said...

Delilah, Dee Cee, Serendib, Santhoshini: Thanks guys.