Rediscovering Love

How to identify behaviors that undermine love—and how to avoid drifting apart

Should I Date This Person Again? First-Date Behaviors That Predict Relationship Success

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Many of my patients have asked me why some relationships just seem to work, and others do not. They often invest a significant amount of time with a new person only to find out later that it has been in vain. They wish they had known how to have predicted that outcome early on.

Over the years, the question has intrigued me. To find the answer, I began categorizing the First-Date personality characteristics and behaviors that survived the test of time, and those that did not. As you read through them, ask yourself whether the lovers you have stayed with exhibited the nine positive behaviors, and if those you eventually disconnected from displayed those seven that are negative. To be fair, ask yourself where you may have behaved similarly.

Please do not be embarrassed if you or your lover's behaviors have fallen into the negative categories. All behaviors can be changed if you can identify them and are willing to do what is necessary to replace them with those that are more successful.

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The Nine Characteristics That Often Predict Relationship Success

Physical desirability:

Physical desirability is the most common characteristic that is initially attracting in most all new relationships. Interestingly enough, it is not limited to just sex appeal. Physical desirability is an overarching feeling people have when they look at someone who physically intrigues them. That choice can be influenced by many things, only one of which is physical. Though it may be strongly directed by sexual lust at the beginning of a relationship, it lasts far beyond that initial phase.

I've known people whose childhood hero or heroine influenced their choice of mate for a lifetime. Others look for a replication of an earlier love or a simulation of a childhood nurturer. Some were deeply influenced by a character in a movie or book and seek to live out that fantasy in their own lives.

You will know when you are attracted to someone's physical characteristics because you are entranced by the way they look to you.

"I couldn't stop looking at her."
"It seemed as if I was falling into his eyes."

Generosity:

Whether of spirit, availability, or pocketbook, generosity is a definite winner. It is not no so much their offering of gifts, but their willingness to give that matters. Generous people look for ways to care, often before they are asked. They pay attention to what others want.

Innately generous people don't worry about being taken advantage of, or of being judged unfairly. They easily forgive faults and look for the best in people.

You will know when you are with a generous person when you feel that your needs are upper most in his or her mind.

"He seemed to anticipate my every desire."
"I'd never known someone so willing to please."

Kinship:

People who love deeply and are loved in return are very desirable. It takes a lot of energy to maintain close and intimate relationships, and these people make it a high priority. They are laid back and secure because they have nurtured so many relationships and know they can count on them when they need them.

These naturally social people show you their ability to connect by the way they are genuinely interested in you. The seemingly effortless interest they show makes you feel important and valuable.

You will know when you are with a successfully social person when you feel automatically included in their personal circle.

"She must have a million friends, and they all seem to love her."
"I couldn't believe how many people showed up to help him."

Compassion:

The ability to feel compassionate is crucial to a successful long-term relationship. Compassionate people genuinely feel others pain. They want to understand, empathize, and help.

It's easy to enjoy another person's company when things are going well. Compassionate people don't miss a beat when their lovers are in trouble. They are especially available when things are not going so well.

You will know you're with a compassionate person when you feel comfortable being vulnerable and don't feel you have to cover your faults.

"No one has ever cared for me that way before."

"I never worry about being put down when I do something dumb."

Openness:

Openness is the ability to put out authentic feelings and thoughts without the need to hide who you are. Whether to new ideas, unexpected challenges, or probing questions, open people are more interested in learning than looking good. They don't seem to worry about making mistakes because they accept their own faults, and are eager to know how others see them.

Open people are not gullible or naive. They just have a strong sense of self that is not easily threatened, and don't need to cover when unexpectedly exposed. They aren't uncomfortable with whatever questions they are asked and don't overreact when faced with their lover's vulnerable feelings.

You will know a lot about an open person early in your encounter. You'll also feel comfortable talking about your deeper self in their presence.

"He's so easy to know and understand."
"She seems genuinely interested in me."

Integrity:

Integrity can mean different things to different people, depending on their convictions. They define their personal integrity as living within those beliefs.

Integrity and trust are linked. Two people who believe in the same ethics can trust each other's motives and behaviors.

People who live by their integrity know which behaviors and thoughts are sacred to the people close to them, and will not abuse that knowledge. If their beloved people express judgments, prejudices, defenses, strong opinions, and held stereotypes, a person with integrity simply states what their own ethics are, and doesn't try to force others to feel or think the same.

You will know when you are with a person of integrity when they are comfortable with what they believe, but are openly interested in your views, even if they are different. The relationship may not work if you can't share the same ethic, however, you will not be overruled.

"It was so easy to have a discussion with him. It never deteriorated into an argument."
"She and I have very different views, but it didn't seem to be a problem."

Humor:

There are some things in life that never lose their luster. A great sense of humor is one. People who see the humor in situations, or laugh just as easily at themselves, are easy to be with.

A couple is unlikely to be any real trouble if they can still laugh at the same things together. The loss of a sense of humor is the most telling clue that a relationship may be in distress.

A great sense of humor is not about sarcasm, mockery, or stripping away an opponent's defenses. It is a way of lightening life's challenges so that sorrow is lessened and joy is increased.

You will know when your date has a great sense of humor because you will find yourself relaxing, letting go of tension, and laughing a lot.

"I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard."
"By the end of the evening, I felt so comfortable. He's so funny."

Passion:

I am not talking about the passion that fuels negative behaviors. Passion is energy, focus, and intense commitment to a behavior or person. New partners often find it in their lustful feelings toward each other, but zeal and enthusiasm can be expressed in many ways.

Passionate people are superbly alive in every aspect of their lives. Beauty is supremely delicious. Love is rich. Good food is a blessing. Great movies are almost too enjoyable to bear. Sad experiences are shared with tears.

They care deeply. They love with abandon. Life is for living to the fullest and the greatest punishment is the inability to feel.

You will know when you're with a passionate person because you will feel more alive.

"Every cell in my body felt invigorated."
"She is so damn excited about everything. It's hard not to feel the same."

Confidence:

Confident people can direct the way things happen. They have learned who they are and what they can do as a result of the battle scars of their own heroism. They take risks, and aren't afraid of losing as long as they learn to do it better the next time.

Confident people are resilient. They know where they have value and where they don't. They lean into critique, unafraid to hear negative comments. They mean what they say and do what they promise.

You will know when you're with a confident person. They're open to new experiences and don't seem to worry about embarrassment or loss.

"He is so ready to try anything."
"She always lands on her feet."

The Seven Characteristics That Often Strain Relationships Over Time

Victimization:

Bad things happen to everyone. True hardship should elicit compassion. But some people seem to have unending heartbreaks. They don't seem to have anything else to share but their latest sorrow.

When someone describes every experience in terms of constant emergencies, losses, frustrations, or disappointments, he or she can be hard to listen to over time. That is especially true if there is no satisfaction or joy to compensate.

Even when those experiences are legitimate, those people who feel chronically victimized by life often eventually conclude that no one really cares.

You will know when you're with a chronic victim when you experience compassion and the need to bolt at the same time.

"No matter how much I try to help him, he's always got one more problem."
"I feel so guilty when I run out of patience with her."

Neediness:

Most partners enjoy meeting their lovers' needs. However, when overwhelming needs are presented with entitlement, their once eager partners begin to feel inadequate. Over time, they stop expressing their own needs so as not to burden their always-empty partners. No intimate relationship can survive a one-sided obligation forever.

Most partners will eventually resent the constant demands for attention and support, and start seeing their lovers' needs as illegitimate. The needy person then feels invalidated, increasing their needs even more.

You will know you're with a needy person if you begin to feel inadequate and that your own desires are not as important.

"I feel like I'm burdening him if I need anything."
"I love her, but I just can't keep solving all these problems."

Domination:

People into power want to win at any cost, and to control the outcome. They can be exciting initially because of their comfort with being on top. If they have desirable attributes, you may overlook their orchestration of situations for their own benefit for a while.

When they start controlling their partners, they are not as attractive. Needing to win every argument, convinced that they know more than anyone, or unwilling to give up directing the show, they can seem heavy-handed and uncaring.

Dominating people are rarely willing to let anyone else be in charge. They can easily run over people, and are not team players.

You will know when you're with a dominating person when you have a different opinion.

"He's a lot of fun if you never argue with his opinion"
"She's usually a caring person but she needs to run the show."

Negativity:

Chronically negative people are pessimistic and cynical. They believe their past relationships were never worth the time they put into them, and that nothing they do has ever really worked out the way they wanted it to.

They artfully escape any attempts to cheer them up. They seem painfully wed to their state of sorrow and are too frightened to give up their negative expectations.

Naturally optimistic people are often drawn to negative people, wanting so much to alleviate their sadness. They feel they have enough joy to give them hope again. Initially, the negative person may seem to be better, but will eventually invalidate whatever suggestions or help they are offered.

You will know when you're with a negative person when you realize you've heard nothing positive during the entire encounter.

"She's really beautiful, but what a downer."
"I've tried everything I know to cheer him up, but his pessimism always wins."

Entitlement:

Entitlement is often a relationship destroyer. Entitled people feel that others should serve them, and that they are exempt from the rules. They believe that others are there to make sure they get what they want.

Entitled people often order people around and criticize anyone who does not do things according to their dictates. They can initially be charming but quickly become irate when their wants are denied. It is not unusual to find them yelling at waiters, demanding privileged parking places, or dismissing "incompetent" people with loud, critical comments.

You will know when you are with a person who feels entitled when you are embarrassed at the way he or she treats others.

"I felt so embarrassed when he humiliated that waiter."
"She can't stand anyone who doesn't put her first."

Performers:

Performers are people who hog the limelight and turn their partners into audiences. They get bored easily if anyone else is center stage, and they are easily wounded when their partners are not impressed with them. If they are blessed with charm and physical attractiveness, they can hold their audiences for long periods before their egocentricity is recognized.

Performers can take a back seat for short periods of time if they are entertained or out-performed. Eventually they need the accolades that go with being the center of attention, and will disconnect if they can't get it back. They usually blame their audiences if the show is not well-received.

You will know when you're with a performer when the conversation will always be about him or her.

"I enjoy her company but sometimes I get tired of just listening."
"It's pretty clear to everyone he's pissed when he's not holding court."

Evasiveness:

People who are evasive would make great spies. They have the ability to learn a great deal about their dates without revealing anything meaningful about themselves. They can appear initially as shy, contemplative, or even good listeners. But when inquired of, they turn the conversation back to their partner and stay hidden. They put the pressure on others to carry the conversation and to figure out what is happening.

Evasive people can get by for a while with well-timed minimal interactions. But when their partners actually ask direct questions, their unwillingness to reveal is exposed. They will change the subject, misinterpret the question, or challenge the right of the questioner to ask, thereby putting the responsibility for risking back in the hands of the now-branded inquisitor.

You will know when you're with an evasive person when you realize at the end of the encounter that you are the only one exposed.

"I thought he was the strong and silent type. I wonder if he has anything important to say."
"She sure knows how to get me to talk. I feel a little naked."

What to Do With Your New Knowledge

These attractive and repelling behaviors are those my patients most commonly talk about, but there are many more. Ask yourself what emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical attributes you have consistently been attracted to, and those that have left you uncomfortable. Make a comprehensive list, and challenge yourself to find them early in your new relationships so that you will know who to pursue and who to avoid.

Bravely challenge yourself as well. Ask yourself if you regularly practice any of the attractive or push-away behaviors talked about here, or others you have identified in your past or current relationships.

Never be afraid to know yourself or to face what you are proud of. Also identify those that you may want to change.

The one positive behavior I have left out is the commitment to continuously transform yourself into a more effective person. That quality is more important than all the others combined.

Randi Gunther, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor practicing in Southern California.

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