Missteps on the Path to Finding Love

Written by Dianna Palimere, PhD, LCSW .

Missteps on the path to finding loveNavigating all of the “Dos and Don’ts” of dating can be quite the labyrinth these days. It’s become such a complicated issue for so many people that when you use Google to search for “dating don’ts,” there are over five million results. Clearly, a lot of people are looking for some direction.
I work with clients everyday who seem to have all of the qualities of a highly desirable mate, but try as they may, they continue to remain single; or have one after another first dates; which don’t lead to relationships; and/or have a history of several short-lived relationships, each lasting just a few months. If you’ve been struggling to find a happy healthy relationship, perhaps there are adjustments that could be made to make your efforts more fruitful. There are several common mistakes people tend to make in the early stages of dating and relationships; which cause the relationship to end (sometimes, before it’s ever really started). If you’ve found yourself dating one person after the next and can’t seem to find lasting happiness, you may be engaging in one or more of the following unhealthy behaviors.
Changing Yourself
It’s not uncommon to meet someone so amazing, that you feel like you have to change something about yourself to be with them. I once had a client who dated a woman for several months who was a deeply devoted sports fan (specifically, football; and even more specifically, the Eagles). He was so attracted to her, and so badly wanted to be liked by her, that he told her he was also an Eagles fan. After a period of time, it became evident to her that he wasn’t really all that interested in football in general, much less her beloved Eagles. In one of our sessions, he shared, “I figured that once she got to know me, it really wouldn’t matter if we liked the same sports.” Unfortunately, it mattered much more than he could have ever imagined.
Being from Montana (a state that doesn’t have a major league football team) the poor guy had no idea that pretending to like football in a relationship with a diehard Eagles fan was actually a very big deal and would end up being the downfall of their relationship. I recall at one point he said, “I don’t get why she cares so much. It’s just a dumb game—what’s the big deal? Who let’s themselves get all emotional over a football game?” [Note: Having been born and raised in the Philadelphia area, I believe I may have actually had an automatic, unconscious physical response in which I leaned back a bit in my chair, uncertain of what her reaction might be to hearing this statement—but preparing myself for the worst]. In the family in which she was raised, watching and supporting the Eagles was regarded as something sacrosanct. I can only describe the explosive argument that followed his statements as being comparative in nature to what one might expect to hear during a very heated debate about the existence of God, between a devout Roman Catholic and an Atheist. It escalated very quickly, it was emotionally charged, and neither were able to offer any validation to the others point of view.
If you find yourself changing details about who you really are, to be more like the type of person you think the other person is looking for, the relationship is almost sure to fail. This behavior includes doing things you wouldn’t normally want to do, dismissing your own core values and ethics, and/or feigning interest in some or all of their interests instead of expressing your own. Eventually, your authentic interests, values and beliefs will surface, which may likely lead to significant conflicts in the relationship, due to your misrepresentation. The first step toward avoiding this mistake is to take time getting to know yourself and who you really are. Once you feel confident in being who you are, all you need to do is focus on being your most authentic self with others.
Compromising Too Much
Before entering any relationship, it’s vital that you know what your wants and needs are from a partner in a relationship. Frequently, people are afraid to express their relationship wants and needs, especially if they are unsure about how the person will respond to those needs. It’s important to push through the fear, and just be honest with yourself and with the person you’re dating. It may be uncomfortable to communicate your needs, but if you think the person is someone you would really like to commit to, it’s essential to be assertive, clear and specific about your needs in a relationship. For example, if you know that physical touch and intimacy are a core need for you, this should be communicated early in the relationship. In return, they may express that they have very low levels of desire for physical touch and affection. In such scenarios, it’s not uncommon for one partner to suppress their need for physical touch and affection early in a relationship, with the unfounded belief that the other may be uncomfortable with physical affection now, but won’t be later. Thus, core needs are compromised, based on the faulty assumption that things will change as a deeper connection in the relationship is formed. Unfortunately, when their lack of desire for physical touch and affection doesn’t change, it becomes major source of discontent in their relationship. Compromising their need for physical touch and affection by suppressing it over a long period of time has a tendency to cause emotional pain, as well as thoughts or feelings of being unattractive, undesired, and possibly even unloved by the other.
Too frequently, I see people try to stifle their needs or hide parts of themselves to “make it work,” and ultimately they end up unhappy in the relationship because they’ve compromised too much of what they needed, in order to fulfill the needs of the other. In the end, resentments are built because one sacrificed too much of themselves. To avoid this mistake, you must be honest with yourself about what you really need from a partner and push through any fears you may have about communicating those needs.
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