Three stages of dating and tips for finding love.
By Becky Whetstone, Ph.D.
We know the world is full of unhappily married couples, but guess what — it’s also full of unhappily dating couples. That’s right — I’m talking about unmarried men and women in committed relationship who are hopelessly incompatible and remain together even though they don’t have to. The question, of course, is why?
Well, the answer is complicated, but some of the most common reasons people continue to date someone they don’t like or get along with are: fear of being alone, fear of change or the unknown, laziness, and hatred of dating life. Also, many times a person either thrives on unhappiness and turmoil, or has never experienced peacefulness, contentment, or a happy relationship, and may think it’s normal to be in a semi toxic relationship. Any way you look at it, it’s sad.
Another huge snag with couples who are incompatible and won’t break up is the claim that they love one another. I see a lot of couples like that in therapy. Their relationship is already terrible, but they want to fix it, and amour is the reason why. This begs the question of, if the person doesn’t treat you great, isn’t all in, doesn’t contribute a lot to enhancing your life, what is love, then?
One thing I’ve been seeing lately is that some single couples, who knew there was trouble almost from the start, ignore the obvious and start amassing material things such as houses, puppies, furniture … things that quickly complicate the relationship and become an anchor that weighs down two people who otherwise might walk away. In my opinion couples should avoid living together for a significant amount of time, and never co-mingle funds or buy things that can’t be cut in half. Singles should remain fast on their feet for as long as they can, so they can leave if they need to.
You need to have enough experiences together to know you have found your life partner. To me, jumping into the deep end of a pond without testing the depth of the water isn’t very smart, and dating without using all parts of your brain tends to lead us to the wrong people for the wrong reasons.
That is why I am calling today for singles to take drastic action and begin a new and different process of dating and getting to know one another. It’s a process I call, Dating With a Brain. Yes, instead of acting on instinct like animals, singles will now engage the cerebellum and use thoughtfulness, mindfulness, patience, and self-discipline when it comes to dating and love-related decision-making. When this happens, romantic relationships will change from how they are today. With this new plan, you will become heat seekers for healthy relationships, and will end any romantic possibility as soon as you see red flags. Partners come as is, you won’t be able to fix them, so choose people you are attracted to and compatible with, who are capable of being best friends. This is the best dating advice you will ever receive.
Once this occurs, we will see the end of relational unhappiness as we know it, and my business as a relationship guru will end. There will be no more road rage or divorce. The definition of a narcissist won’t matter anymore, because you will kick anyone to the curb the first time they act like one. Flowers will bloom, kindness will rule, and we all will live life the way it was meant to be lived — joyfully and peacefully, with people who lift us up instead of dragging us down.
Hey, I know what you’re thinking — being patient and using the brain to make wise relationship decisions is extraordinarily difficult, and almost no one can — or will — do it. Call me a dreamer, but I think it’s possible. I know, because I’ve done it myself. with that said, here are the guidelines I suggest that singles use to begin the process:
1. Be happy with yourself. This is important, because you won’t make a great partner if you don’t like and respect you. Self-esteem forms the foundation for the healthy relationship that you will eventually have, and if you start with valuing yourself, you will accept nothing less than decent and respectful behavior from others.
2. Be able to be alone. If you can be alone, then it means you can wait for a relationship that is healthy for you, and that is worth waiting for. Too many people feel that they cannot be without a relationship, and this sets them up for one mess after another. Example: Bob dates Sue, who he doesn’t like that much, and then dumps her to upgrade to Debbie, who he does. What Bob doesn’t know is that Debbie doesn’t like him that much … and, well, you get the idea.
3. Stay busy and interested in life. One of the chief reasons people rush into unhealthy relationships is due to loneliness. If you stay connected to friends and activities, then you’ll be less likely to leap into something that isn’t right. Make sure your life is fulfilling with or without a mate.
4. Give people a chance you normally wouldn’t. Guess what — the person who is a great fit for you may not look like you imagined, have the sense of fashion you’d hoped for, or live as close as you’d like. But if the person is kind, decent, and has integrity, give him or her the benefit of the doubt, and see what unfolds. Although some people believe physical attraction must be immediate, they’re wrong. It is not difficult to become romantically attracted to someone you spend quality time with who has a lot in common with you and/or has a great personality. Try it.
5. Date. Too many singles soar from one or two dates between their last relationship to love and going steady in two seconds flat. The odds of finding that right person for you within a sample of two or three is next to zero. Also, some singles tell me they don’t know how to date, they only know how to have relationships. Well, here’s how: If you are interested in a person, go out, then continue going out, and go out some more. See red flags? Stop going out. If you enjoy them keep going. You don’t have to narrow it down to a one-person commitment right away. Keep your options open as long as you can … see what’s out there, and even if you do decide to date only one person, it doesn’t mean you have to declare he or she’s The One. Spend time getting to know one another, be patient, let the closeness progress or … or not. Dating is the romantic equivalent to test driving a car. If it’s not quite right, don’t buy it.
6. Believe people when they show you who they are. If you go out once or a few times and your date is late to pick you up (or isn’t ready when you get there), drinks too much, talks about or does things that cause you to feel uncomfortable, tries to push you farther than you want to go, doesn’t do what they say they will, expresses beliefs and values that are wildly opposed to how you believe, comes on strong — and soon pulls back, shows a lack of honesty or integrity … then save yourself weeks, months or years of misery, and end it.
7. Hold on to your heart. Don’t give your heart away — allow a person to earn it over time. Be skeptical at first, walls up until it’s safe to bring them down. In a healthy relationship, respect, friendship, compatibility, and companionship come first, romance comes second. If a person wants to rush it, pressures you in any way, then assume they don’t have your best interest at heart.
Getting more serious.
8. Ease into commitment. Commitment is an important decision. It means I’m off the market and I want to go out with you and ONLY you. To me, that’s a big dam deal. I suggest you treat monogamous commitment as a huge deal, too. Think about it.
9. Commit, but take it easy. OK, you want to be exclusive. Date, enjoy, love the person. But remember what I said above, don’t move in, buy a house, puppy, or anything else together that will make it difficult to break up should issues come up that make it unworkable. Date at least 2.5 years before considering lifelong commitment. In that time, you should have seen your person in many situations and will have seen how they handled them. This is important data.
10. If you want a party person for life, think again. I have worked with numerous couples in marriage therapy who lament that their partner is an alcoholic and stays up all night partying with friends, and when we unpack it, they admit that when they were dating, they deliberately selected a party person. Now ask yourself, how likely is it that a party person will be a responsible person over the life span? Just because you enjoy partying at 25 doesn’t mean you will at 45. Future alcoholics of America love the party and bar lifestyle. Not every partier turns out this way, of course, some do set their cocktails aside and move on to a more responsible lifestyle. But if it was me and I was looking for the real thing to take me all the way as a life partner, the last person I’d pick would be a party person.
11. Should you marry your person? Whether it’s your first marriage or not, you need to know what a big deal this decision is. I am suggesting an unconventional dating method, which involves being slow, thoughtful, and deliberate. When it comes to huge decisions, it always makes better sense to be deliberate, intentional, awake, and aware.
The things I mention here sound difficult, but they are doable and will ensure that you don’t end up in relationships that ultimately cause you to feel miserable and trapped. Your brain is ready and willing to do the work if you’ll let it. The best thing you can do for you is to listen to a wise woman like me, who learned all about this the hard way, and who sees couple after couple miserable and struggling because they did almost none of the things I listed above. One last suggestion, as you meet potential dates, make note whether people seem to be successful professionals or workers who are also adult-like in their behavior, or if they are more into the lifestyle of a frat or sorority person. A frat boy would wear me out, whereas a grown man I can lean on would not. I hope you get what I’m talking about.
Becky Whetstone, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Arkansas and Texas*, and is known as America’s Marriage Crisis Manager® . She would love your support with a follow and appreciates you sharing her work! She has worked with thousands of couples to save their marriages, and is also co-host of the Call Your Mother relationship show on You Tube, and has a private practice in Little Rock, Arkansas, and as a life coach via tele-therapy. To consult with Doctor Becky or to get on her email list so you don’t miss a thing, contact her here, or check out her web sites at www.DoctorBecky.com and www.MarriageCrisisManager.com.
*For licensure verification check Becky Whetstone Cheairs.