More Than Chemistry

What makes relationships tick.

5 Tips for Daters Who Want a Relationship

How to find ‘The One’ and make it last

Here are 5 recommendations for people looking for a satisfying and long-term relationship.

1) Work on yourself first. Everyone has issues to work though and improve upon. Growing up, we internalize patterns from our families of origin – some are positive and others are not. It is through our adult intimate relationships that these patterns are brought to light. We should recognize how our patterns are affecting our health and relationships, and replace maladaptive practices with better ways of thinking and doing.

I recommend that everyone take inventory of their attachment style using the link below. Attachment styles are socialized and changeable, but we can’t change our style until we learn the type we have. Style is important because it affects how we interact with friends, partners, and children. Once we’ve taken the assessment, we should have a goal of becoming secure (if you’re not already) and take the steps to achieve this goal. For example, read up on the characteristics of each style and practice the thoughts and behaviors associated with the secure style. Getting paired up with a secure partner will speed up the process.

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People who have experienced a significant amount of dysfunction in their families and past relationships should seek professional help. One of the best predictors of therapeutic success is the client-therapist relationship, and so individuals should find a therapist they respect and feel comfortable with. AAMFT and Psychology Today (links below) can help people locate therapists in their area. If therapy is not an option due to financial stress, individuals can consult self-help books through their library or local bookstore. The important part here is to make sure professionals with advanced degrees in psychology or related fields have authored the books.

 

Once we’ve worked on ourselves and become the best we can be (note: this is an ongoing process, but the goal should be to feel secure and stable), then we’re ready for a partner. Working on ourselves will also give us inner-peace and confidence; we’ll no longer tolerate the “bad girl” or “bad boy” in our life because their poor treatment won’t resonate with our new, positive self-concept. High self-esteem reduces the attraction to people who treat us poorly. Remember: the way we treat ourselves demonstrates to the world how we expect to be treated, so be kind to yourself. You are worthy of respect.

2) Find a similar partner. Now that we’re ready to find a partner, we have to get out of the house and do things we enjoy. You aren’t going to meet someone sitting on the sofa watching television, although you might find a partner while surfing the net. Online dating services account for a significant number of satisfying relationships. My advice here is to be cautious (e.g., read my blog entry on catfish), but don’t discount this option. A major reason for online dating success is that sites match people based on similarities, which is crucial for developing a satisfying, long-term partnership. By partaking in activities you enjoy, you will meet like-minded people. If you love animals, get a dog and make friends at the park. If you like dancing, enroll in salsa classes. If enjoy softball, join a league. Figure out what you love and get out and do it!

 

The “opposites attract” expression does not hold for long-term relationships. Partners with dissimilar traits might experience initial intrigue because they compliment one another, but too much dissimilarity is a recipe for disaster. In such cases, the traits that are admired early on become increasingly annoying and lead to the demise of a relationship. For example, if you value planning and get involved with a partner who is spontaneous, you might initially welcome this quality and view it as providing balance to your life. It won’t take long however, before your free-spirited partner is perceived as irresponsible and lacking direction. The bottom line is that similarities are good for relationships and there can never be too many.

3) Avoid early relationship pitfalls. Many people get into relationships that dissolve quickly because they rush through the initial stages. Given that every relationship is different, no rules apply across the board but some general recommendations can help things progress more smoothly. For example, the amount of time to wait before having sex with a new partner is not based on a set number of dates, but on making sure both partners feel comfortable and secure with each other.

 

When we get involved with a new partner, we may want to see them as often as possible and be intimate right away. We seek this closeness because we experience a biological reaction to their presence, which is rewarding and exciting. The downside is that in the early stages, our emotions often interfere with our ability to think rationally. So, it is best to balance the relationship by building on the friendship and getting to know each other gradually. This process will lead to sounder decision-making and provide the foundation for a long-lasting partnership.

Along these same lines, don’t disclose too much, too soon. In the early stages, little things can turn a partner off. Wait until they know you before you start revealing the intimate details of your life. It is also important to self-disclose reciprocally. So if your partner isn’t disclosing a lot at the outset, you shouldn’t compensate by revealing everything about yourself. And finally, avoid private topics like past relationships, family of origin issues, and personal problems. These can get revealed with time, as a partner gets to know you. Some people believe that certain topics should never get discussed in a relationship such as previous sexual experiences, because this information can lead to the demise of a relationship (or at least leave out the details, particularly if they have nothing to do with the present partnership). Everyone is different in terms of what they think should and should not be revealed. The important part is to disclose slowly, reciprocally, and be well-matched with your partner in terms of what you think should and should not get discussed.

 

4) Balance independence with interdependence. Independence refers to meeting your own needs; interdependence is when partners rely on each other for need fulfillment. Some needs are easily met on your own such as earning an income, whereas others like receiving affection would be more satisfying if met by a partner. Everyone has different comfort levels regarding dependence and these preferences are influenced by attachment style and family of origin characteristics. For example, people with an avoidant-insecure attachment style prefer high independence and low interdependence. Alternatively, people who grew up in families that did everything together may prefer high interdependence and low independence. The important part is for partners to be well-matched on these preferences and communicate their needs to each other.

But even compatible partners can experience tension related to dependence, especially in the early stages of a relationship. As individuals begin to merge their lives and build a relationship, they spend less time with family and friends, which can lead to feelings of suffocation and anxiety. It is important know that this tension is normal because otherwise, people may hastily end a good relationship. My advice is to give the relationship some adjustment time before making decisions about ending it. Every person differs in the degree to which they value dependency, so learn what works for you and then talk to your partner to achieve a healthy balance. Remember: interdependence is what leads to commitment so don’t be shy to rely on your partner for some things, and be sure you are meeting his or her needs as well.

5) When the time is right, put the relationship’s needs first. One reason relationships fail is because people put their own needs above the relationship. We live in an individualistic culture and are socialized to pursue personal goals and fulfillment. However, this mentality may conflict with relationship well-being. Of course, some circumstances require placing one’s own needs above the relationship such as when a person experiences abuse or when a partner is not equally invested in making things work. But in general, if both partners are putting the relationship’s needs first and making decisions based on what will benefit the relationship the most, they should find themselves in a rewarding partnership.

When people ask, “what is the secret to staying married forever?” I respond, “a commitment from both partners to make it work no matter what.” In such cases, partners have agreed to tackle any obstacle that comes their way. A relationship can’t work when only one person practices this philosophy; both partners have to be on board. That being said, staying together forever isn’t for everyone. Some people believe that when things turn sour, especially for a prolonged period of time, they would rather break up than work through the issues. Either outlook is fine -- the point is to identify your values and find a partner who thinks the same way. If the relationship doesn’t last “forever”, my hope is that you will have at least enjoyed the journey.

Links referred to in this article

Attachment style assessment: http://www.web-research-design.net/cgi-bin/crq/crq.pl

Therapist locators:

http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/ (scroll to TherapistLocator.net)

http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/prof_search.php

Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.

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