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That Special Someone

How do you know they are "the one"?

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Prepared fiances create healthy marriages.
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Dating and premarital couples tend only to see the good and ignore the bad when looking at each other. You could say they have on rose-colored glasses.

Yet, knowing that the divorce rate is at 50 percent, we must pause to consider whether the rose-colored glasses are contributing to the divorce rate and, if premarital couples were to take off the glasses, what red flags would they notice, and how would that change their decision-making.

You have to wonder, given the aforementioned issues, why would someone purposely blind themselves to a potentially bad partner? People who are in love perceive their loved ones differently than others. Neurologists have analyzed the brain functions of people who are in love using an fMRI machine (a machine that takes pictures of brain activity). Researchers ask the participants to think about their loved one, and the machine takes a picture revealing an interesting pattern. The dopamine levels rise, and the activity in the pre-frontal cortex goes down.

Dopamine is the pleasure-seeking neurochemical that drives someone to seek a reward. The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) houses your ability to do executive functioning, in other words, your ability to critically analyze a situation and/or person in a rational way and come to a reasonable decision. When in love, dopamine surges, and the PFC goes offline. That's love, baby!

Love is like an addictive drug. Researchers have compared the brain patterns of those in love with cocaine and gambling addicts and found them to be almost identical. So what does this mean for someone wanting to take his or her dating relationship to the next level? Or for the premarital couple preparing for marriage? You must accept and recognize that when in love, your brain is predisposed to a delusional perception.

In a study conducted by Gingrich (2003), Gingrich pointed out that couples actively engage in delusional perceptions of their partner and of their own ability to work through problems for several reasons:

  • They unconsciously project their idealized mate onto their partner.
  • Resisting self-disclosure, which may emphasize dissimilarities between partners and overemphasizing similarities
  • The desire to seek out a mate that will heal all the wounds incurred in one's family-of-origin

Needless to say, couples develop unrealistic images of marriage and their partner, which usually persist through marriage, leading to shock and disillusionment. If unchecked, delusions contribute to unfulfilled expectations within the marriage relationship, causing much pain and conflict. Hence, the need for premarital counseling.

Knutson and Olson (2003) found that couples who seek out premarital counseling before getting married tend to stay together longer and report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. But it can be painful to do premarital counseling because you are essentially killing one of the best highs you'll ever experience: the love high. But if you are able to kill the love high and evaluate your partner and your relationship logically, your relationship has a better chance of working. Or you may realize that your partner isn't the right fit for you, and so you choose to break it off before serious damage is done.

Sadly, some couples who do not cut the relationship off when they should suffer severe consequences. In addition to heartbreak, both parties financially struggle, mental health takes a nosedive, work productivity plummets, relationships sour among extended family members, and if there are children in the picture, they can inflict lasting scars on their kids. The damage is serious, and if it can be avoided, then better to kill the love high and do what's smart.

Here are a few suggestions for taking off the rose-colored glasses and evaluating your partner and relationship honestly:

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Break the power of delusion and deal with real issues.
Source: Wallace Araujo/Pexels

Seek Premarital Counseling

Having a third set of eyes on an issue can really help. Premarital counselors are trained to help couples work through relational issues and establish a strong foundation of trust and intimacy. Counseling can give couples a sense of how hard relationships really are and the work that is required in order to make them healthy.

Define Expectations

Explain to your partner what you want from the relationship. Make sure you are at minimum aware, and at best in agreement, of what the two of you are looking for from each other. If you have a hidden disagreement regarding expectations or values, it could take years to discover the issue, and by then, the damage could be so great, the relationship may not be salvageable. It happens all the time, and you and your partner are not special or exempt from what happens to everyone else. Define your expectations regarding kids, career, religion, leisure, finances, birthdays, and schedules.

Honest Self-Disclosure

This is an important one. Be honest about who you are! Dating and premarital couples are always trying to present their "best self." Then, when they get married, the other-self comes out.

A true and lasting relationship is one based on total acceptance. So lay out all your dirty laundry. Tell your partner all your secrets. Let them see the skeletons in your closet. If they take off running, then you know they aren't the one for you. But if they accept you for who you really are, then you know they are the one.

Red Flags and Deal-Breakers

Be prepared to look for and discover red flags about your partner. Just because you love your partner and you are dating or getting married, that doesn't mean he or she is the right person for you. The rose-colored glasses might be disguising a major problem. That problem may, in fact, be a deal-breaker.

Ask yourself, "Is this something I am willing to live with for the rest of my life?" If the answer is yes, then accept your partner and collaborate with them on pursuing individual and relational health. If the answer is no, then be courageous enough to be honest and break the relationship off. Better now than later or never.

Taking the rose-colored glasses off is not easy and can feel like an uphill battle because you're fighting against your own brain's addiction to love. But a real relationship, based on authenticity, is more realistic and, I would argue, more fulfilling. Delusions, on the other hand, are fueled by fantasies. Fantasies are not based in reality, and they always disappoint. Move past fantasy and into a real, genuine relationship by doing the hard, yet rewarding work of authentically being yourself and accepting the real (non-fantasy) version of your partner.


Gingrich, F. (2003). Complementary delusions in premarital counseling. American Journal of Pastoral Counseling, 6(4): 51-71.

Knutson, L., & Olson, D. H. (2003). Effectiveness of PREPARE program with premarital couples in community settings. Marriage & Family, 6(4): 529-546.

More from Dan Bates, PhD, LMHC, LPCC, NCC
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