By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE
Recently, I asked two large groups of college students to write one word to describe their future marriage. I then asked them to write five non-negotiables they were looking for in a partner. Many said they struggled to write anything down.
“If you don’t know what you are looking for, anything will do.” This seems to be the more prevalent dating philosophy in today’s culture. Find someone to date. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into making it work. Then, be shocked when it isn’t good.
Several things jumped out at me with these students. They were definitely interested in a relationship, but they had little to no information about the qualities of a healthy one. In addition, they were uncertain as to whether they themselves were good date material. Alarms were going off and red flags were going up all over the place.
Suffice it to say, there are many people in this dating quandary, and it’s one reason why relationship expert and author Dr. John Van Epp wrote How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk.
Dr. Van Epp had seen too many people fall into the trap of marrying a person they thought they knew, but in reality, only knew about. In his book, he describes his conversations with people who repeatedly found themselves involved in unhealthy relationships. When he asked these people if they saw any problem areas at the beginning of the relationship, their answer was always “yes” – and yet, they had continued to look the other way. Why? The bottom line was that they were suffering from what Dr. Van Epp calls the “love is blind” syndrome. They had become too attached and too involved too quickly.
It’s important to know what you are looking for in the dating process. But even when you do, you can still be blindsided when you allow your attachment to become too strong too soon. Dr. Van Epp’s book is designed to help people form healthy relationships from the outset, and he proposes that there are five areas a person should know about another person before marrying them.
Getting to know people comes first. This first step is about simply getting to know the person you’re dating. It’s learning about their family background, conscience, relationship skills, previous relationship patterns, etc. NEWS FLASH: You cannot speed up this process. Many people are very flexible in the infancy of a relationship, but become less so over time. Taking things slowly gives your relationship time to grow up, and you get to see how the person will really treat you.
The second area is trust. Trust is a picture in your mind that tells you what that person will do when you are not around. It’s a living and active definition that changes as the relationship evolves.
The third dynamic is reliance. As your relationship grows, you begin to look to this person to meet certain needs. This forms reliance in the relationship – a growing sense that you can depend on this person to come through in these areas. If you go too fast and get too close too soon, you won’t have an accurate picture of what it will be like down the road.
Fourth is the dynamic of commitment. As a relationship grows, it has different definitions and each definition is a level of commitment – a growing sense of belonging and security. Friends have a low level of commitment, whereas best friends have a higher level of commitment, and married people have the highest level of commitment.
The fifth dynamic is physical touch. This includes chemistry as well as any expression of touch from holding hands to complete openness. Sexual involvement tends to create a feeling of really knowing somebody when in fact you don’t. In long-term marriage relationships, sexual chemistry does not dominate the majority of life together. Most of life is talking together, having personalities that blend well, having a shared sense of humor, etc.
While there is no 100% solution to prevent yourself from falling for a jerk, the points made above are definitely ways to reduce your risk. Do you know your non-negotiables when it comes to dating and marrying someone?