So you’ve survived the breakup (if not, see breakup survival tips here) and are now wondering if it’s time to look around for a new partner. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve checked out the dating scene and you’re struggling with how to go about it. You may also not be sure how quickly you should start to causally date, or when to focus your search for “the one.” The following list of guidelines can help you identify if you’re prepared for serious dating, and can ensure you’re in the optimal frame of mind before doing so:
1. Are you truly ready for a committed relationship again, and not on the rebound? Certainly a lot of people may have transitional relationships and casually date in the beginning. They’re not prepared for the “real” one just yet. Don’t let feelings of loneliness or neediness cause you to jump into a partnership prematurely. If you feel comfortable about dating casually, be honest with yourself about it. Perhaps you’d really be better off first growing as an individual. Are you simply fearful of being (or not being) in a lasting relationship?
2. Reevaluate what you’ve learned about yourself from, and since, your prior relationship. Do you really know what went wrong between the two of you? How did you contribute to the problems and the unraveling of the relationship? What were the strengths in the relationship? Think about the compatibility issues you had with your previous partner. This is truly a golden opportunity to learn things about yourself that you’ll likely benefit from for the rest of your life.
3. Have you learned to love yourself again? It’s not uncommon to feel despondent, angry, or suffer from very low self-esteem after a breakup. This is particularly true if you were the one who was rejected. Are you beating yourself up or questioning what you have to offer in a relationship? If so, it is important to get your confidence back and clearly see what positive qualities you have to offer in a future relationship. If not, you’re much more likely to make poor decisions and end up in an unhealthy situation. Those who feel they have little value end up with partners who value them (very) little!
4. Be prepared to be patient. Finding the right and “perfect” partner can take a while. Look out for red flags early on. Don’t compromise on the standards you set, and don’t just “settle” if something doesn’t feel right. Loving yourself and being content before embarking on a dating relationship is the best way to prevent settling for a partner you know is not healthy for you.
5. Stay truthful. In the long run, honesty will take you farther. You don’t need to disclose all the details of your past when in a new relationship, but honesty is always appreciated and facilitates more open communication. It encourages the other person to reciprocate in similar fashion and develops trust that can help build a deeper connection more quickly.
6. Pay attention to the phase of life you’re in and make sure the person you’re dating is truly compatible with your lifestyle. Are you retired or just starting a career? Are you still raising children, or perhaps grandchildren? You and your partner need to be in a compatible life stage and share similar goals to ensure long-term success.
7. What are you looking for in a partner? Compile a list of qualities most important to you and also a list of the “deal breaker” characteristics or situations that simply will not work for you. Pay attention to any warning signs and don’t lose sight of those qualities when it comes to deciding what next steps to take.
If any of these guidelines and steps are confusing or overwhelming, or if you’re still trying to process troublesome issues from your previous breakup, seek professional support to maximize your chances for healthy relationships in the future.
In my experience as a couples counselor and relationship specialist, I’ve noticed that the healthier and happier couples tend to share some common characteristics. The healthy habits listed below are by no means a comprehensive list, but are qualities that, when followed, will no doubt improve almost any relationship:
1. Respectful “Fighting”
The healthiest couples have mastered the ability to discuss almost any issue with mutual respect. Their goal in any discussion is to listen and understand one another as fully as possible. This is in stark contrast to the many (less healthy) couples who carry a score sheet, and focus on why they are “right,“ and their partner is “wrong.” The ability to maintain a respectful discussion necessitates that both partners have the skill set to self-soothe (calm themselves down), and the self-awareness to recognize when they are too upset to continue having a productive dialogue with their partner. These healthy couples often have an understanding that when either is too emotional to continue, they agree to postpone and reschedule the discussion in the near future. Establishing the ritual of choosing a regularly scheduled time to talk about important issues can be an important first step for many couples. Proper timing also fosters healthier conversations; it’s essential to know when to initiate a serious discussion and when not to (after a rough day at work, or when feeling too tired or otherwise stressed).
2. Timely Repair
There is little doubt that a strong correlation exists between happy couples and their ability to skillfully make repair attempts (see article for more information on repair attempts). Healthier couples are able to “repair” any damage to their connection with one another after a heated conversation or argument, and usually are able to do so in a timely way (without letting rifts last very long). These couples are also able to consistently accept each other’s repair attempts.
3. Love Language Fluency
Do you speak your partner’s love languages? Happy couples are typically familiar with how each other feels loved. The five ways people express and experience love, first described by Dr. Gary Chapman, are through: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Connected couples are aware of their partner’s preferences, and make an effort to speak the languages that makes him or her feel most loved, even if they aren’t the ways that matter most personally.
4. Shared Activities
Couples who naturally, or with willing effort, are able to cultivate and develop shared interests and hobbies are more likely to feel connected and have a satisfying relationship. In fact, recent research shows that having shared activities contributes to the longevity of a relationship. Some couples may need to push themselves a bit in trying out activities that might not initially be very appealing to one or the other partner, in order to discover the shared activities that work for them.
5. Positive Interactions
Not surprisingly, studies conducted by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute reveal that healthy relationships have a minimum of a 5 to 1 ratio of feel-good exchanges to negative ones. These positive gestures may be as simple as expressing appreciation with a quick hug or kiss in greeting, or checking in on each other during the day with a brief phone call, text, or email. It’s these “little things” that add up and can make a big difference in a couples’ overall happiness.
Happy couples have the ability to really accept, and learn to live with, problems in a relationship that don’t seem to ever improve very much. Gottman’s research refers to these issues as perpetual problems, and he found that 68% of conflict between partners involves these recurring issues that stay mostly unresolved, and thus come up repeatedly. Developing a tolerance for the differences that cannot, or will not, change is a key factor in preventing a breakup or divorce. Healthy couples accept their partner where they are, and don’t hold their breath waiting for a new behavior or attitude. The goal, of course, is to focus on the positive qualities of your significant other, and tolerate/learn to live with his or her less than desirable qualities. The alternative can quickly lead to relationship instability.
I’ve noticed how many happy couples prioritize having daily consistent and uninterrupted time together. This “protected one-on-one time” is without any electronics or any distractions, and allows partners to give each other their full attention. I recommend that couples start by devoting a 10-15 minute block of time to focus solely on each other. It’s a healthy routine to develop, and communicates clearly to one another that their relationship is, in fact, a priority.
8. Sex Life
The happiest couples recognize that maintaining an active and satisfying sex life doesn’t happen without working on it. While it’s unlikely to recapture the romantic passion experienced when first dating, healthy couples become skilled at talking about their sexual preferences. They are able to communicate their needs and discuss this delicate topic easily with each other. Some busy couples find it helpful to schedule “sex dates” in order to make this intimacy a priority in their relationship.
9. Healthy Individuals
In order for a couple to maximize the quality of their relationship, each individual partner must prioritize his or her own self-care. Happy couples attend to their own physical, mental, and spiritual health while striving to continuously grow as individuals. Relationships can suffer when both partners are not addressing their overall health issues.
10. Goal Setting
Being able to discuss both short term and long term goals allows a couple to know the road map ahead. Healthy couples communicate freely about their hopes and dreams and revisit their goals periodically. Regular discussions keep them on the same page and no topics are off limits.
11. Realistic Expectations
Perhaps the most important characteristic that the healthiest couples share is the notion that relationships require sustaining a true effort, and attentiveness, in order to flourish. These couples are also able to summon the motivation and energy needed to maximize the success of their relationship. The happiest couples are realistic enough to recognize that a rewarding deep connection doesn’t happen without putting in the work.
Healthy couple relationships don’t necessarily have all eleven of the above characteristics, but they’ve put in practice more than a few. If you’re just starting out on the path to improvement, I’d suggest starting slowly. Introduce one of the above habits at a time (that you have not yet included in your routine) and try to notice how your relationship is enhanced. After incorporating one new habit, alternate with your partner in choosing the next one that the two of you can strive for together.
Although the overall divorce rate in this country is shrinking (see marriage statistics here), recent headlines and reports have indicated that the divorce rate is climbing for couples in the 50-and-over age bracket.
Interested in preventing further erosion of “gray relationships,” renowned gerontologist Dr. Karl Pillemer surveyed 700 men and women, ages 60 and up, to ask their opinions about how to keep the spark alive. Details can be found in his book “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships and Marriage,” but here are his main findings:
1. Happy couples are willing to share new interests and embrace their partner’s interests. This is important even if it’s an activity or hobby they don’t really care for that much; Pillemer says it’s worth trying. One couple in the study included a golf “widow” and a golf enthusiast. When his wife decided to learn the sport and join her husband on the golf course, he reported it was a dream come true. He’d hoped for years that she would play golf with him.
2. While a romantic spark is important, it’s a real friendship between two partners that matters most over the long haul. After retirement, couples typically spend more time together. It’s hard to be with someone for extended periods every day if you don’t enjoy spending time together!
3. In successful long-term relationships, remembering the “little things” makes a big difference. Partners who help each other with small, routine matters, who show appreciation and add occasional surprises, keep their relationship fresh and their love alive.
4. Older healthy couples do in fact have active sex lives, and value being in good shape physically, as well as maintaining an appealing appearance. Often, the concept of sexual intimacy expands to include simply the pleasure of touch.
5. Of interest to note, Dr. Pillemer discovered that couples growing old together see each other as physically looking the same over the years – a great way to halt the aging process!
Study participants also endorsed the value of couples counseling. People who had been in previous marriages wished they had attended couples therapy prior to calling it quits. In hindsight, they realized how important it is to feel that you did everything you could to try to save the relationship. Lingering guilt or regret over “not trying hard enough” could likely have been avoided with some professional help.
Below are suggestions for keeping love alive in the later years, but they can enhance a couple’s relationship at any stage:
1. Each partner agrees to try one of their significant other’s hobbies, sports, or other interest that they haven’t previously participated in.
2. If suggestion #1 doesn’t apply or work out, decide on a new activity that interests both partners and learn about it together.
3. Focus on everyday little things that you appreciate about your partner. These “microinteractions” create positive connections that can have quite a big impact and really add up.
4. Surprise your partner with thoughtful gifts: perhaps that new tennis racket he or she has been eyeing, or tickets to something you could do together, such as a theater performance you know she’d enjoy, or a sporting event he’d like to attend.
5. Expand on #4 by scheduling a weekly date night. It can be something as simple as an evening stroll through the neighborhood, or as adventurous as taking that hot air balloon ride you’ve heard about.
6. Regularly compliment your partner and show your appreciation for his or her presence in your life. Everyone wants and needs to feel that he or she is valued and loved.
7. Even if a couple has no particular problematic issues to deal with, attending a few couples counseling sessions can enhance or “tune up” any relationship.
In summary, in order for a long-term relationship to flourish, it requires effort and an ongoing attentiveness. While there will undoubtedly be periods that are challenging and difficult, the end reward can definitely be worthwhile.
Financial disputes are considered the most frequent cause of conflict between couples today and can often lead to the end of the relationship. Multiple research studies confirm this finding and, according to data from the Utah State University, couples are 30% more likely to divorce if they argue about money every week, as opposed to those who argue about money less frequently.
In a survey conducted by Ally Bank, 55% of Americans desire someone with a strong savings and budget approach. Not surprisingly, this preference grew proportionately with the age of the respondent. In addition, they found that 76% of survey participants said it was important to have a compatible financial philosophy. Other attractive money management traits included thriftiness, bargain hunting, and “paying as you go” strategies.
Regardless of its long-term importance, fiscal responsibility isn’t usually one of the things people look for at the beginning of a relationship. When a couple first falls in love, clearly appearance and personality play the largest roles. But as a relationship progresses, each other’s spending habits can become an important issue for serious discussion and a determinant in a couple’s level of commitment. After you’re married, the “for better or worse” vows also apply to your partner’s financial history – his or her good or bad credit rating and any debt become yours as well.
If you didn’t have this talk prior to your wedding, or if you haven’t had it yet (!), it’s not too late to make amends. A couple’s relationship can grow through any challenge, if handled properly. One way to begin is by identifying your “money personality.”
In an online assessment, you can discover which of five money personalities best describes your attitude toward finances. Here are brief descriptions of the different financial types:
1. The “Saver” who gets a high from saving money and rarely spends impulsively.
2. The “Risk Taker” who gets a thrill from risking money, regardless of the payoff or lack thereof.
3. The “Spender” who doesn’t skimp, lives in the moment, and spends freely for any convenience.
4. The “Security Seeker” who is willing to sacrifice and has a plan for the future.
5. The “Flyer” who lets others take charge and make all the financial decisions for them.
It’s easy to see how some combinations of money personalities can lead to big conflicts between couples!
Here are some tips to keep your relationship financially healthy:
1. Try to identify the financial personality that you and your partner most closely follow. It may not be one clear choice, but a combination of two.
2. Discuss financial issues early on in your relationship. Be honest about your financial background. How much debt are you in?
3. Regularly discuss your goals, both short and long term, and if following a budget, check in with each other about it often.
4. Be on the same page with your partner about money; create a financial plan and share financial goals. Planning for the future (kids’ college fund, vacations, retirement, etc.) are all important compatibility issues.
5. Realize that finances can trigger different emotions, which may be unsettling for some people. Influenced by our early experiences, money may equate to power or security for some. It’s important to have the money talk without emotions getting in the way. Stay on topic and don’t let the discussion drift into other conflictual issues with your partner.
If you need help implementing the above suggestions, you may want to consider seeking appropriate financial help from an accredited financial planner.
However, if you and your partner are having unresolvable money conflicts due to personality differences and/or communication issues, seek couples counseling early on in the process to boost the overall health of your relationship.
What if you can’t find common ground with your partner on some serious relationship issues like finances, sex life, and parenting differences? Does this mean your relationship is necessarily unhappy, or even worse, doomed?
Typically, most attribute dissatisfaction or unhappiness in a relationship to an increase in the number of problems a couple faces. However, a recent study, conducted by the University of Georgia and the University of California in Los Angeles, found that experiencing an increase in the number of problems is not what increases relationship dissatisfaction. This holds true even when the number of problems stays the same; some couples will still grow apart. The researchers hypothesize that it is a lack, or lowered tolerance, to the same old issues partners are having that causes the biggest rift, not any additional or new conflicts.
These study results are, in fact, very consistent with the work of Dr. John Gottman. His research found that the majority (over 60%) of marital problems are perpetual, unsolvable problems which are not likely to change much over time. Gottman found that even 10 years later, these problems will still be there (even if they’re a little less intense). He concluded that intimate partners who are healthier and more at peace, whom he refers to as “Masters of Love,” develop tolerance, playfulness, and humor to manage their differences. On the other hand, the “Disasters” don’t learn to accept their partner’s preferences as the years go by. Instead, these conflictual issues grate on them and increase the emotional distance within the relationship. Gottman found that these perpetual problems can become “gridlock issues,” (especially for the “Disasters”) in which couples spin their wheels and get nowhere.
It is interesting to look at why some partners have more tolerance than others. One important factor, suggested by Gottman, is that the partners whose tolerance grows thin over time seem to have an idealized, underlying belief about relationships. They believe that couples should mostly be happy and in a state of bliss. It is likely this belief that prevents couples from realistically accepting the difficult qualities of their partner and becoming more tolerant of them.
It should be noted that some relationship issues can very reasonably become “deal breakers.” If you and your partner have polar opposite stances (on finances, parenting issues, or sex life) and these issues are extremely important to one or both of you, this level of incompatibility, regardless of how tolerant you are, is likely to doom your relationship. However, the level of tolerance plays a vital role when the perpetual relationship problems are difficult, but not deal breakers for the couple. When you and your partner learn how to manage this difficult issue in a way that is acceptable, but not ideal, the level of tolerance you have over time becomes critical to your relationship satisfaction.
How to best deal with perpetual relationship problems:
1. Recognize when unresolved issues are, in reality, perpetual problems. Ending the relationship is always an option, but you should realize there will likely be an ongoing difficulty in any relationship.
2. Distinguish between a one-time issue, and an on-going perpetual issue. Is it a solvable problem or a situational problem? What is solvable for some couples isn’t for others. A perpetual problem that reflects a fundamental difference in character or lifestyle is likely a deal breaker. For some, that issue might be an open relationship versus a monogamous relationship. To other couples, the unacceptable issue could even be about how to load a dishwasher.
3. Honestly examine and evaluate your underlying beliefs about relationships. If they are unrealistic and idealized (expecting only relationship bliss), recognize that your high expectations are setting you up for disappointment.
4. Seek couples counseling early on, before the problems become gridlocked. Counseling can help couples learn how to manage their perpetual problems, and even increase your tolerance for each other’s personal preferences.
5. For couples just starting out, premarital counseling can be invaluable in this regard, helping couples recognize their differences and working through them, prior to committing to a permanent partnership.
Learning to manage and tolerate our differences, rather than letting them fester and cause increased resentment with each passing year, is a critical step to promote a satisfying long-term relationship.