Today, human relationships are a highly debated topic today and they take many different forms. From the excellent and good, to the neutral and even negative. The topic of our LP-Life.com interview with Petr Jan Křen, an expert in effective relationship improvement and a renowned mentor and coach was, among other things, relationships formed on the basis of scientific tests and the social experiment that is the reality show "Svatba na první pohled" (Marriage at First Sight). He told us how he came to his profession and what it consists of, shared his interesting experiences from behind the scenes of the show that follows six marriages in front of the camera, and opened up about what a healthy partnership needs to work.
You've had a stellar career at a company where you've built a tremendous team. At the moment you’re not only an expert in building, developing and leading teams, but also in effective relationship improvement in both personal and work environments. How did you get into this profession?
That's quite simple. It was actually a consequence of what I did professionally for the previous 20 years. In order to build a large team of people and lead it, I had to work very hard on developing the relationships we had within the team. And those workplace relationships then often translated into a level where I was also discussing personal relationships with my team. I always listened to people, which consequently gave them the confidence to discuss their personal issues with me as well. So the foundation to my current profession was laid in my previous business.
As a relationship expert, you participated in the second series of the TV social experiment Marriage at First Sight, where ideal couples are being selected using science. Do you believe that science can find love?
We must find love within ourselves. But science, specifically in this experiment, can help bring together two people who have certain aptitudes to seek and develop it together.
I get this question a lot. I think it doesn't matter how and under what circumstances people meet, but how they handle the opportunity they’ve been given. And that's where the stumbling block of relationships lies. Sometimes we expect something from a relationship that the relationship can't give us. We expect infatuation, euphoria and that floating on cloud nine. When that passes, or isn't there right away, we feel like it's not the right relationship or the right person. And then we tend to give up and walk away... And of course, that's what this experiment has shown.
What kind of relationship did you establish with the participants? They have to expose themselves to you, don't they...?
I think I have established not only a professional, but also a friendly relationship with those who were selected. They gained enough trust in me so that they could talk about their issues, their inner feelings, what was going on inside them, and whatever they needed help with at the time. But even in the selection and interviews, of which there were "dozens and dozens", the participants opened to me. Besides the obvious listening to them to get to know them, I tried to give them some useful tips. Ones that would make their lives, their quality of life better. Whether it would work out for them in the experiment or not.
Overall, 12 people participated in the project and thus 6 married couples were created. In your professional opinion, which relationship problems and disagreements occurred most often and why was it?
Actually, in retrospect, the most frequent was the inability to communicate. I think that's generally a problem in all relationships we have, whether they're professional or personal. Often we have a certain idea that we try to project into our lives. But we don't realize that the other person can't read our mind i.e. they don't know what we actually want. Some of the participants in the experiment expected to get a finished partner with whom they would already have everything cleared up, everything would go smoothly and it would be easy. They were surprised that this wasn't the case and still isn't. The reason is simply that some went for it with not quite the right expectations.
Did you always agree with the other experts on the pairing of specific individuals, or did you also encounter some variation?
I'm sure there were variations. There were several of us who expressed our opinions, so of course, the consensus of opinion that emerged afterwards was the result of having to discuss everything all the way through. The fact that there were differences is quite all right, as is the fact that we were able to communicate everything and hopefully find the best solution at the time.
As I already mentioned, it's, of course, communication. It's a bit of an overworked topic when you say that communication is important in a relationship. Everybody says it, but I think very few people can imagine what it really is. It's not just about two people, sitting together and talking like you and I are here right now. In relationships, there are people who talk to each other but don't listen to each other. Because part of communication is also paying full attention to what the other party is saying and striving to understand what they are attempting to tell me. Instead of putting some kind of my own projection into it, I actually try to attune to them in some way and get a picture of what it is that they want to tell me or to clarify it with them. And that's something that usually doesn't work very well in relationships. Another thing that complicates our lives in relationships significantly is that we all have different expressions of love. Each of us expects the other partner to show us love in a way that we like, that we want, that we need. Often this is not the case in practice because, again, it has to do with the fact that we don't communicate it, because we don't even realize that we have a "love language."
Some need to hear words of support, praise and so on. Some, on the other hand, can't hear it when it's put in words, but need to see it in the actions of the other party. And when people don't realize that something like love languages exists at all, it can clash in relationships because the people in question are not on the same page. It's like when a person who only speaks Czech and another who only speaks English meet. There's simply a language barrier, as much as they want to get along. They can both talk about the same topic, yet they don't really understand each other. When this happens, we need to get closer to each other and really strive for that mutual understanding. To learn each other's love languages, which can be hard work sometimes. This might actually be something that is maybe the third point that often doesn't work in relationships. People think they'll meet someone, they start living together, and just like that they're ready for a relationship, when in fact, it's only by entering into a relationship that everything starts anew. This means that even though we've had some relationships before and have some experience, now we've met someone new and we have to get to know them first, just like they have to get to know us. And we need to communicate about everything. It means that we should have a common interest in creating and developing the relationship. This is often a stumbling block because many people, as we mentioned with the TV experiment, for example, expect to get something from the beginning. We expect to be flooded with hormones, and we call it love. But in reality that's not love, it's infatuation. Because love is something that only comes after falling in love. When the infatuation wears off, we find out that the other person has some faults and habits that maybe don't suit us as well. We must learn to live with them; we must learn to accept them. I guess we've all had the experience of wanting to change our partners, of wanting to teach them new habits and we failed at that and it didn't work. The moment I'm not able to accept the other person as they really are, it's not going to work.
The question is, what do we mean by "it worked" or "it didn't work." Today, as we film our interview, the last episode is on air. Viewers will find out whether the couples will stay together or not. So we'll keep that a surprise. When this interview comes out, it'll already be obvious. But the principle of this experiment is that after a month, the participants are supposed to say whether they want to continue getting to know each other, whether they want to continue what they started together, and whether they want to go on or not. To me, that is actually one part of the overall success. Whether they say okay, we'll keep going. And then of course the other thing is whether they're going to handle it well and actually make something out of it. Now maybe I've gone a little bit astray from the question, what exactly was the question again?
Sure it could. I don't think any of the participants could imagine at the beginning what it would look like afterwards. There's long-term pressure, these people are under long-term stress. First of all, whether it's going to work out, whether we're going to find someone for them. If they do, they get married within a week and it means they have a very intense week. They have to tell their parents, their friends, and they're picking out a dress... It's a lot, so there's a lot of pressure again. There's also the stress of realizing they don't know who's been chosen for them. At the wedding, the pressure comes off at that point. They already know who we picked for them. They meet someone new at the altar, first affections are rising. You can see it at each individual wedding as well. All the weddings are beautiful, people are smiling and the atmosphere is nice. Then they wake up the next day and go on their honeymoon together. They're flying halfway around the world with a person they've never met before. They start to get acquainted, get to know each other, all of that in front of the cameras. Of course, that's what's interesting about the experiment, because under such pressure, certain patterns and scars that the participants have brought into the relationship come out very quickly. They would have brought these with them anyway, even if they met someone in a bar or on the street. Anyway, under that pressure, when they really have to spend 24 hours a day together, everything comes out very quickly and shows how they are able to work with it. Some of them better, some of them worse.
Easier, maybe, but I don't know if that's what would make the relationship last. Obviously, without the cameras, they wouldn't be under as much pressure. On the other hand, I think it's that pressure that has the positive effect of really accelerating things. You can then get to know yourself a lot quicker, find out what it's doing to you. I think that's one thing that the participants could take from this. How they are able to function under pressure. Whether it's the pressure of having cameras there, or the pressure of having a person next to them that they've never seen and having to get to know each other. If it was like a normal dating thing, they'd see each other a couple of times a week, for an hour or two, then they’d both go back to their own environment. In normal life, it would probably be a lot slower. I can't say if it would be more successful, too. I don't think it would necessarily have to be.
What's the most interesting experience you've had during this project that you haven't yet encountered with your regular clients?
For me, probably the most interesting and rewarding thing has been the opportunity to meet so many people, so many destinies, so many life stories and perspectives on relationships in a relatively short stretch of time. Of course, this is my daily bread. As I already said, I don't just work with personal relationships, but in the business sphere as well. In this project, where there were really dozens of interviews and some repeat interviews within the selection process, we were often able to go in depth with quite a large number of people. In that, it was also very interesting for me, because they were different people from various social classes and various parts of the country. When I work in companies, for example, there is already a company culture, these people already have something in common, whereas here it was very new, interesting and very beneficial for me as well.
I don't know if I'm planning anything dramatically new. Rather, I plan to continue to develop the path I embarked on a few years ago. After the big career change I made twenty years ago, when I left the world of big business and started doing this line of work. I want to develop my Academy where I offer both corporate and personal development programs. I also want to work with my wife more. She focuses on similar issues as I do, she is strongly oriented towards women's development and even does therapy work for women. She wrote a wonderful book for women, but also for men, "Být sama sebou" (Being Yourself). We want to start organizing relationship seminars and go that route as well.