Q&A: Relationship Advice from Dr. Ed Long
Dr. Ed Long is a family studies professor. He teaches classes like HDF 211, Marriage and Close Relationships, and HDF 411, Families in Social, Legal and Political Context.
He sat down with Central Michigan Life to give relationship advice about dating in college.
What is your experience in family and marriage therapy?
When I finished my master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, I practiced therapy for a while. Then, the first 10 years or so that I have been with the university, I also practiced within a practice in Midland and then I had my own practice as well.
Does college influence dating?
One, I think dating is really good for people because you get to learn a lot about yourself through the process and then you learn how to interact with others in close intimate relationships. That is something that most people do, through a good portion of their life. I think it is good to date in college.
Is it more difficult? I think there are several things that do make it (dating in college) more difficult. I think that one is time and schedule because students have different class schedules and then also people have jobs that they work off campus. So, trying to put all of those schedules together can be significantly challenging. When you’re in the work force often times, you’re both on the same kind of schedule and so that just makes it easier. I think the other one that makes dating difficult during the university period of time, is the idea that you’re in the largest group of potential partners that you’ll ever be in in your life. Because of that, there are lots of opportunities that people see and they might think “hey, that looks like a better situation than the one I am in,” so I think that makes the college experience of dating difficult as well.
How should couples balance being a student and working with their relationship?
I would say that first off, you need to figure out what priority you want to give to this relationship. Is it the most important thing in your life? Is the college experience the most important thing in your life? Is the relationship peripheral to what you’re all about? In situations where the relationship is really not a priority, then I think people will make a decision not to spend so much time together. I think the challenge for people who see their relationship as a top priority and have made a significant commitment to that relationship, then balancing those schedules are more challenging. In reality, some things have to give, so you have to make decisions about your matter of priorities.
What makes a relationship in college successful?
There are a couple of skills that are really helpful for individuals in relationships. One, is the notion of communication. People have a significant desire to be understood by their partner and by their friends… in social relationships we want to be understood. If a person is going to be our partner, they have to understand us. If they don’t, there is a good chance that we are going to look elsewhere for a partner who does. I think the ability to communicate is really important and to communicate in ways that your partner understands.
Valentine’s Day is all about love, so your communication of love is important and with many couples, their ideas of what it means to be loved, may be very different. That communication has to be speaking in a language their partner understands. When I say a language, I don’t mean a spoken language but that communication of love. I think another skill that maybe we don’t want to think about, but is important, is the skill of being able to have conflict with each other that does not really harm the relationship. I think often times, people don’t think about setting rules for their conflict, it kind of sounds like an oxymoron, to be in love and have conflict, but the reality is, in all relationships there is conflict. So, the ability to have that relationship in ways that benefits the relationship and doesn’t harm it so that it can’t continue on.
How does someone understand or get to know their partner’s love language?
Some people have enough self-knowledge so they would be able to answer the question if asked (what their love language is), but then I think there are other individuals who couldn’t really answer that question. Maybe, it is one of their first relationships and they have not thought about how to understand love and what they need in the context of their relationship. In that situation, I think as a partner, you should keep your eyes open and try to look for things where you are attempting to communicate love and find the connection by seeing your partner respond in positive ways.
What advice do you have for couples who are in long distance relationships while they are away at school?
I will say that those relationships where people are not close to each other, as you might guess they are more likely to end than a relationship where people are closer to each other. I think one piece of advice is to determine what kind of commitment you have to that person and that relationship, and to talk explicitly about that. Hopefully, they are both on the same page in terms of that commitment that they have to their relationship because if one person is committed more than the other person, it creates a really unstable relationship to begin with. Commitment is really important as well as priority and making the time to be able to spend together. Even when you can’t spend time physically together, spend time how ever you talk. I wouldn’t recommend texting because that form of communication is too ambiguous. For communicating with minor things, it is effective but if you are going to be talking about a relationship, there is some complexity involved with that. You want to hear what they are saying and the way they are saying it to be effective.
What advice do you have for single college students who are looking for a significant other?
I think in lots of ways, people have such a romantic notion of what relationships are that it is blown out of perspective. So that if you’re not in a relationship, you have this romanticized view of what a relationship would be like and how you’d be… so happy and everything would be so good in your life. I am more likely to say if things are good in your life before a relationship, they are likely to be good after. If things aren’t good before you have a relationship then they are not likely to be good after. The other thing about meeting someone is that people tend to pair up with other individuals that are like themselves. That is just cross culturally a reality when people get into intimate types of relationships, they pair up with others who are like themselves. Anytime you can put yourself in a situation when you are with others who are like yourself, it does to some degree increase the probability of finding another person there.
Do you think opposites attract?
The data says pretty clearly that opposites don’t attract. It is important to say however, that people who get together with people who are like themselves, there are still differences. It is those differences that can cause problems in the relationship. I would say that opposites don’t attract and that people who are like one another are more likely to be with one another.
What advice do you have for college couples who may not be able to afford to celebrate Valentine's Day?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone had endless resources and they could do whatever they want? If you think about the best thing you have with another person that you are in a relationship, is that relationship. In the context of that relationship, you can do a lot of things together. Think about what you enjoy doing together, I mean it is not just in college when people don’t have the money to do something special, in early careers people often have a lot less income to do those kinds of things. What can you do that is different than that?
I remember at one point, my wife and I… I was in college and unbeknownst to me, she had set up this whole Valentine’s kind of experience in our garage. She had set up a little card table and there was a white table cloth on it covered with hearts. It didn’t really cost us a lot of money, it was totally a surprise to me, I knew nothing about it. She had asked me to go into the garage, “I want to show you something.” She even had some of our friends who had come to wait on us as waiters bringing us out drinks. It didn’t cost us a lot of money, nothing near to a movie or dinner at a really nice place, but it was a kick. It was really fun, even though our bicycles and our car was in the midst of all of this, it was a part of what made it cool. You can do a lot of things without money.