A young couple came into my office. When I asked what brought them to me, the wife burst into tears and said, “We want to know if we married the wrong person.” It was the eve of their first wedding anniversary. Another couple that sought my help had been dating on-and-off for several years. A lot of conflict and pain had built up during that time, but they said that they loved each other and wanted to see if they could make their relationship work. Singles come to me fearing that they will be alone forever and want help finding love. Some are in their late thirties/forties and have never been married, and acknowledge that they have let good people slip by over the years. I mention the above examples because they are common scenarios that often lead couples to unnecessary break ups and singles to missed opportunities to find a good mate.
If you’re dating with the purpose to find love, there are three common beliefs that can sabotage a budding relationship:
- I need to find the “right” one. The risk of this kind of thinking is that as soon as some part of your date doesn’t measure up or there’s a problem (more on this later), you may think that you’re with the wrong person. You may start to wonder if there’s someone better out there, and that another person “wouldn’t be like this.” Then you move on, looking for that “next best thing.”
- My partner has to make me happy/meet my expectations. Have you ever thought, “I would do this for him, so he should do it for me”? Factors such as your childhood, life experiences and preferences shape your happiness and standards for your relationships, whether you are fully aware of them or not. You view potential mates and relationships through your unique lens and typically expect your dates to meet your expectations; if they don’t, you are disappointed.
- If there are problems, we’re not meant to be with each other. I frequently encounter the belief that conflict is a bad indicator for the success of a relationship. “We’re fighting too much. We shouldn’t be together.”
Counter these unproductive beliefs with three guidelines to improve your chances for successful dating:
- Open up your pool of eligible dating partners. A friend of mine didn’t go on a second date with a woman because he didn’t like her hair color. Let go of objective criteria such as height, age, income, etc. Give people outside of “your type” a chance. I encourage my clients to think in terms of a “good” person instead of the “right” person. Ask your friends if you dismiss potential mates too quickly. If you find someone even slightly appealing, spend more time with them – you may be surprised that you grow to like them more each time you hang out with them.
- Focus on what you are receiving from your date rather than what is missing. It’s highly probable that you can find something that you don’t like in everyone you meet. Even think of your closest friends – do they have some quirks that sometimes annoy you (but you love them anyway)? As you date, shift your perspective from what your potential love interest lacks to what they have to offer. I don’t advocate settling in a relationship, but we have to be realistic about what a future partner can and can’t provide.
- Decide which problems you can accept or at least tolerate. Problems are inevitable in any relationship. As I frequently tell my clients, you are not dating or married to your clone so it is not realistic to think that your partner will think, feel and act like you in every situation. In fact, findings by marital researchers show that over two-thirds of relationship conflict is perpetual, meaning that no matter who you are with, you will not see eye-to-eye on the majority of issues. This is not about settling but about the art of negotiating and compromising. Successful couples manage these differences with positive methods, like humor.
Dating provides us with the opportunity to get to know ourselves better – what we like, what we need, what we can or can’t accept. If you keep yourself open to different possibilities, focus on the positives and stay realistic, you can find a good partner for a lifetime of love.
This blog was contributed by Relationship Reality 312, Inc. therapist, Anita Chlipala, MA, MEd, LMFT. For more information, please visit her website at relationshipreality312.com.
Posted on Thu, June 13, 2013