Telegraph, The (
March 11, 2008
Experts: Slow and steady win a lasting love
Dating is a popular topic on television, in the movies and among friends. But what may surprise you is how little most of us know about what we need to do to succeed in dating.
"We don't prepare people in this culture to understand the process of dating and love. It's this huge Mulligan stew of feelings and yearnings and old business," said Joe Mansfield, a couples and family therapist at LaMora Psychological in
. "I think people, up to a point, have got to approach it as a long-term, careful process, because once you're hooked, the judgment goes out the window."
recommends starting slowly and paying attention, even before the first date. He also offers a few guidelines. "Never date a person who is getting divorced", he began, explaining that it's necessary for a person to deal with his or her emotions before forming another attachment. "Don't date a person with an untreated alcoholic disorder or someone involved in an ongoing 'toxic relationship,'" he added. "If the goal of dating is to find a long-term love interest, you must take it very slow,"
warned. "Once the switch has been flicked and you've developed strong feelings for each other . . . I always recommend going out and dating someone else simultaneously." He also suggested discussing this approach with the person you are dating. "This is so important to me, and I want to do it right," he said a person could tell his or her date. "I don't want to rush it."
Statistics confirm what
concludes from more than 30 years as a practicing therapist: Half of all first marriages end in divorce; 60 percent of second marriages fail; and the failure rate for third marriages is even higher. "If you're dating someone on a Friday night and it's a nice experience, you say, 'This is good. Let's go out tomorrow night,' and the next thing you know, you've been together five or six times in two weeks," the therapist observed, pointing out the breakneck speed at which dating often progresses. In addition to dating another person before "getting into the soup," Mansfield said men and women should continue their relationships with family and other friends, maintain hobbies and keep other routines, including taking some time alone.
"It's really very important to be very clear about who you are," he says. "Get to know them by dating every other weekend. Make it a slow and thoughtful process." He suggested that dates involve activities: go to a museum or take a long walk; do something that allows you to see each other's unrehearsed self. Avoid the movies. "I fell for my wife playing pinball machines at
said. While dating, pay attention to red flags. What does the person's driving style reveal? How does he or she relate to his nieces and nephews or other family members? "There are some personal habits that are deal-breakers, but every person out there dating is a used car, and you have to put up with a certain amount of things," he says.
When he talks with a client about his or her intimate relationship, or the longing for one,
said he often recalls the words of his family therapy professor: "Marriage is a relationship that offers the most, delivers the least, but is essential to our well-being."
translates his teacher's lessons this way: "The promise in marriage is 87 units of bliss, but after the wedding, people resent the 85 units of work that are essential in having a life partner." The therapist also talks about dating as a three-stage process: Stage one is infatuation; in the second stage, "la-la land goes away" and you have to confront and negotiate differences; and if the couple makes it to stage three, they realize that "things are good and we're on track."
Few mental health professionals are likely to disagree with
's take. Jessica Deleault, for example, a licensed clinical mental health counselor who works at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, says she impresses on students that "it's very important to have good communication" in dating relationships. "You need to talk about what you care about and value," she says. "Be honest and say what you think, not what you think the other person wants you to say." Deleault says she advises college students "to take it slow" and to maintain a balance with their other relationships and activities while dating. Dating is intensified on campus, however, because students live so close to each other, the counselor said.
Still, the guidelines for younger and older adults are similar, Deleault said. "You need communication, honesty, respect."
Health Matters appears in The Telegraph every Tuesday. Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 594-6439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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