Marathon Relationships, We Not I

Traditionally, “communication” was defined in terms of an individual using language to express what was in his mind to an audience. “Meaning” was found in people’s minds; the process of communication involved sending a message that the receivers could decode in a way that matched the sender’s ideas. Recent theories conceptualize communication not on the individual level but as a group phenomena. “Meaning,” according to the group perspective, is jointly created in interactive exchanges. On this view, messages are not sent and then decoded. They are constantly being exchanged, and the instantaneous interactions between people affect the construction of messages. What something means is never settled because it depends on people’s past experiences, the context, the cultures, and the give and take of the interactions. The group view of communication is more complex than the individual perspective, but it better reflects how we communicate and focuses our attention on the many factors involved in this process.

A few months ago, I decided to get into better shape. I’m not a senior citizen yet, but I do have an AARP card. The quality of my life from this point forward, I realized, depended increasingly on my health. As I have gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the interconnections between things. I knew that I could not simply focus on one dimension of my heath to accomplish my goals. Many people either try dieting or try exercising to improve their health, but most eventually fail because they do not appreciate the necessity of both diet and exercise.

I started by increasing the lengths of my once or twice daily walks with Bonnie, my dog. For about a month, I walked Bonnie five or more days week for two to three miles. Then, I slowly increased my pace and distance. I hoped to improve my cardiovascular fitness and lose weight. I jogged at Lake Horton with its three miles of pavement, beautiful scenery, tame deer, and birds. Beautiful. At first, I jogged about fifty yards, then walked until I caught my breath, then jogged again. No, I was not setting any land speed records. I was jogging at a pace about eight minutes per mile slower than I ran about ten years ago. I went to Lake Horton four or five times a week, walking or jogging all three miles, trying to increase the amount of time spent jogging.

Jogging breaks down the muscles in the legs, so the muscle can rebuild and become thicker and stronger. However, exercise also involves pounding the pavement. The repeated foot strikes can cause injury. If I pushed too hard, the muscles would not get repaired or the ligaments would get stretched too far, resulting in injury. I developed a plan for slowly increasing my effort to reduce the chance of injury.

I also improved my diet. I knew that successful dieting was largely a matter of changing my habits. The vegetarian food I had been eating was fairly healthy, so I focused on eliminate snacks. I ate two meals a day, eating until I was full, but ate nothing in between. The new eating rule reduced my overall intake of food and stopped me from eating right before bedtime.

Eating fewer calories, along with exercise, resulted in lost weight. As I lost additional weight, it became easier to run. My speed picked up and I was able to run longer. Thus I burned more calories. As I ran more, I lost fat and gained muscle. Muscle tissue weighs more than fat but adding muscle helps to burn even more fat. I added a 10K route in Peachtree City to my exercise routine. I planned to run the 10K route once a week without Bonnie, who preferred sniffing over running. I’ve lost about a pound a week and can now jog the 10K distance without walking. I am running about five minutes per mile slower than I used to, but I am happy with my progress.

Along the way, I had a few setbacks. The first time I started running the 10K route, while enjoying the feeling of running again, I jogged most of the way and walked very little. I was sore for a couple of days. My assumption that walking the dog prepared my body for the pounding was mistaken. The second time I tried out the route, a couple of weeks later, I had still not learned my lesson. I pushed too hard again, thinking that I was ready for faster, longer jogs. I could hardly walk afterwards and limped around for a few days. I had to stop jogging for a while. But, I stuck with it, doing some cross training while I was waiting for the pain to go away.

Communication, like exercise and weight loss, is a complex phenomena. Weight loss, cardiovascular fitness, diet, and exercise should not be considered in isolation if you want to maximize the chances of accomplishing your fitness goals. If you don’t balance these elements, you’ll work against yourself. So too, if you think about communication as a group phenomena and consider all the factors involved, you are more likely to accomplish your relationship goals. You have to consider your needs and the needs of others. You have to think about other people’s experiences. How will they interpret what you say and do? Listening and giving feedback will help you adapt your message to your potential friends or partners.

Long term relationships are formed when both parties have some common goals, are committed to each other, interact in a meaningful way, and listen attentively. Communication in relationships evolves into a “we” phenomena from an “I” phenomena. Breakdowns can occur. You may need to slow down. Or, you may need to consider the interrelationships between things. If, for example, you say something nasty, people’s perceptions of you will change. They will interpret what you say differently. In addition, they will respond to you based on your nasty remark in the future. You, in turn, will react differently to their altered responses. The process of creating meaning will head down a different path from the one it was on before you said something thoughtless. If you had a good relationship before, you may notice a shift back from “we” to “I.” If your communication was on an “I” level, it may never get to a “we” perspective.

Getting in shape for most senior types, requires regular exercise and dieting. Building good relationships requires hard work and sacrifices. Thinking about how your communicative interactions affect others will help you develop meaningful relationships. Think “we” not “I.” Plan and act like your relationships will be marathons, not sprints.

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