The Love Doctor Terri Orbuch says healthy expectations make a healthy relationship: Part I

In addition to her role as a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, psychologist Terri Orbuch is also a professor of sociology at Oakland University. Her studies focus on marriage, divorce, romance and relationship patterns. She has published over 40 articles, written five books and has been featured in USA Today, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Reader’s Digest.

Dr. Orbuch offers her relationship advice to OU students.

OP: What are the best ways to date on a budget?

Orbuch: You don’t have to spend a lot of money when you date. There are many budget-conscious ways to date. For example, on campus there are lots of activities and events that people can do that are free.

Any activity that engages in exercise, increases your adrenaline and your arousal — those are all great first dates. Research shows that if you do an activity that is exciting, that can get transferred to the two of you and increases passion and excitement. Plus, any kind of exercise is wonderful.

There are also activities in the surrounding community. In Detroit, for example, the winter carnival is downtown. And there are all kinds of activities and foods. The Eastern Market is free as well.

Dates are all about getting to know the person, and that doesn’t take a lot of money. But also make sure that if you are dating that you are doing new and interesting things with this person. And there are many ways to do it — whether it’s engaging in those adrenaline-boosting activities or any kind of low-budget or free activities at OU or in the surrounding area. What you want to do is a short first date that has a beginning, middle and end. You don’t want to do something that is too loud — you don’t want to go to a movie or anything like that. As you go on with this person, you want to set your dates apart from all others and do new, interesting activities.

OP: What topics should to shy away from on the first date?

Orbuch: The golden rule is to never to talk about exes on the first date. If those questions appear, be as brief and neutral about an ex-relationship or ex-partner as possible. You don’t want to just dismiss it, but you want to be as brief and neutral as possible. Exes are off-limits because you never know who anybody knows, first of all. Second, you don’t want to appear negative on a first date. One of the key things is being positive and optimistic on a first date. People are attracted to others who are positive or optimistic. So often when you talk about exes, negativity gets in there, even if you don’t want it do, so anger gets in there. You don’t want negativity on the first date.

On first dates, people make the mistake of thinking, “I have to tell this person everything about me, lay it all on the line, and you know what? If they don’t like me, too bad.” I don’t think that’s the best idea. What you want to do is gradually disclose about yourself over time with this person. You don’t want to say everything about yourself on the first date. You want to leave some chapters for the next time you meet or talk.

It’s (also) really up to the person. So if politics is so important to you, than that may be something you want to talk about on a first date. If it is a deal-breaker, if that is your life (it’s okay). You just don’t want everything to come out about you.

OP: What can you do to make the best of the situation when you and your partner still live at home with your parents?

Orbuch: Dating, happiness and relationships are all about expectations. If you expect something and then it doesn’t come out, or reality doesn’t meet your expectations, people get frustrated. So if you have a ‘should’ statement — “I should have more privacy, I should have more time, my parents should not tell me what to do, etc.” — and then reality doesn’t meet your expectations, people get frustrated and disappointed. And that what eats away at happiness in relationships.

You want to expect that you won’t get as much privacy, or that your parents will ask questions. So if you think that’s not going to happen — and it probably will — or you don’t get as much privacy as you think you will, you probably will be really upset.

Make sure you have realistic expectations of how relationships develop and what goes on in relationships as time goes on. For example — and this is a myth many people believe — if you think a good relationship don’t have any conflict or disagreements, you are going to become very frustrated as you date and have relationships. All relationships have disagreements in them. That is inevitable. There are two people coming from different families, neighborhoods and different backgrounds. You’re bound to not agree on everything.

An important for thing for both partners to remember is that you need to have respect for the parents of your partner. Not respecting or not acknowledging that there may be rules or limitations is unrealistic. Many parents have rules about curfews, not having this person coming to the house, or having this person meet the parents, having this person spend time with the family… Families have many different rules and it can depend on the religion, ethnicity, culture, age or many different things.

Respecting those rules is going to be very essential because your partner lives in that household and lives in that family. Relationships don’t live in a vacuum. Families of partners do impact what goes on in a relationship. And that is true if you live at home or if you don’t live at home. So how that family talks to your partner, how that family spends time with your partner, the expectations of the family for the partner in terms of time and holidays, in terms of what kinds of partners are appropriate, norms or desires for who that family member dates — that is going to impact and influence your relationship. If people do live at home, it is going to influence the relationship even more.

Studies show, especially with college students, the Romeo and Juliet effect is very evident. And that is whether or not the family likes the partner. It still influences what that person thinks. When they (the family) don’t like the partner, sometimes that increases liking. If your parents tell you not to do something, sometimes that individual likes, wants, or desires that person more — It’s called social reactance. If you tell me what I can’t do, I want to do it even more. You tell me what I can’t do, and I will show you that I will overcome that obstacle. And happens to be true of college age individuals.

OP: How can you make a long-distance relationship work?

Orbuch: Studies show that long-distance relationships can work but they do have many obstacles or challenges.

The biggest obstacle is trust and jealously. Often times when partners don’t tell each other what goes on a daily basis — they don’t disclose everything — trust and jealousy arise. So the first important thing to do is to be open, honest and as inclusive as possible.

Its not that they don’t trust you, or that they are an insecure person, it’s that they feel excluded. The details are what really count. So text your partner when you’re — tell them ‘Oh, I cant wait to tell you this story about what happened when I was out with my friends.’ Or when you tell your partner say, ‘hey, I know you may not know these people, but let me tell you about them. These are the people I going out with, I met them in class, etc.’ The details and being inclusive make that partner connected to you and make them part of your daily life, and that’s important because they are long-distance.

Affirmations and validation — its what really keeps a relationship going. You don’t even have to see that person, you don’t have to have it be hours, it can be one second, but that’s really important in keeping a relationship going.

What happens in a lot of long-distance relationships is you begin to idealize that person. Every time you get together for a weekend, every month, or every week, whatever it may be — you want it to go perfect. So you don’t talk about anything that may be taboo or that may create conflict. You’re always doing fun stuff and you’re never just hanging out, its never boring, its never relaxing; you never meet each other’s friends. What that sets up is unrealistic expectations. And the bubble is bound to bust at some time. And what happens is it busts with a bang — a huge bang — because you’ve been strolling along in this idealistic fashion.

What you want to do to make sure this doesn’t happen is to do the mundane things. And you live life like it should be when that person comes to visit. You introduce each other’s friends, you do have those conversations that are difficult and there is conflict.