In my practice, I meet with people that are in various stages of romantic relationships, be it new boyfriend/girlfriend, newly married, no relationship, or married 10 or more years. Within these groups is even more variety, from issues with cheating to drugs and alcohol. Through all of this I frequently get questions in one common area that I can sum up with just one question: Who should I date?
Let’s begin with the genesis of relationships.
How do relationships start?
Human behavior is rather complicated. When we meet one another and begin a romantic relationship, we bring our entire family and past history to the table. But, as most people can tell you that have either been married a while, or have some failed relationships, we rarely see the past history stuff right away. One of the reasons for this is a little chemical called P.E.A. , or Phenylethylamine.
P.E.A. is a funny little chemical chain. When we meet someone and start the whole romance/falling in love process, our bodies/brains produce this chemical in very large amounts. It has 3 main functions:
1. It aids the brain in neurological restructuring so that you are, for all intents and purposes, attached to this person. Attachment occurs in romantic relationships, and parent-child relationships(more on parent-child attachment in another article). This is why it can be rather painful when the relationship goes too far, and you breakup. It is also why you obsess about the person. Which leads me to the next function.
2. It causes focused, obsessive behavior regarding the other person, and causes increased feelings of euphoria. So to say that someone is on drugs when they’re dating someone isn’t too much of a stretch, given that this chemical has amphetamine like qualities to it.
3. It causes the person you are falling for to seem more attractive than they actually are. Sounds crazy, but haven’t you ever had one of those moments after the smoke clears and you think “Huh, wonder why I didn’t see…”? Well, it’s this chemical coursing through your veins that is causing your distorted perception.
But this is only part of the scenario.
Opposites attract, but they don’t make good bedfellows
Everyone has heard that opposites attract, and they often do, but from a psychological standpoint, it doesn’t work out too well. As an old professor used to say, “Opposites attract, but they don’t make good bedfellows.” You might wonder why this is, but the research seems to indicate a few things about this.
Many years ago there was a really interesting study done on cooperative work. You might be wondering what that has to do with relationships, but a relationship is most definitely one that requires cooperative work with your significant other, and you are always working on common goals(hopefully), such as how to run the household, keeping one another happy/content, and working to limit or reduce conflict(and its extremes).
This particular study seemed to indicate that when two people worked well together, they completed the work equivalent to nearly 3 people! So when you work well with one another and compliment one another, you increase your productivity by nearly fifty percent! Conversely, the research seemed to indicate that two people that DO NOT work well together barely complete the work of 1 person. The conclusions that were drawn were that too many differences in people cause too much conflict, which reduce the ability of the pair to work well together.
So what should I look for in a mate?
Frankly, this is a difficult question to answer simply. In addition to what we’ve already covered, we also bring our past history to the table when we get involved romantically. I’m never one to blame past history or parents on a person’s current behavior, but the reality is that our parents and our environment and experiences growing up do in fact shape who we are. It’s not an excuse for behavior, but many things that happen to us in life do in fact lead us to behave in certain ways. Unfortunately, it is all too common for people to unknowingly recreate their childhood environment in who they choose to start a family with, or be in relationships with.
Other studies have been done on the unconscious signals we send to others. For example, if you get a room full of strangers together and leave them together long enough, without knowing much about any of the people in the room, folks will begin to group off according to things like strong personality characteristics, whether or not they suffered sexual abuse as a child, etc. We don’t entirely understand how this all works, but can observe that it does in fact happen.
All that being said, below is a list of loose guidelines to keep in mind.
1. Honesty– We hear this all the time, but this is huge. It is the cornerstone to communication. What kind of relationship do you have if it isn’t built on honesty?
2. Consistency– Your mate needs to be consistent(hopefully in mostly good ways). If you start dating someone that can’t make up their mind on anything, is too wishy washy, or says one thing one minute, and a different thing the next, you might reconsider the nature of the relationship.
3. Good listener– My idea of a good listener is someone that actually pays attention to what you’re saying, and can take their lumps when you point out something about them that you find bothersome or offensive. A good listener also knows when to speak and when not to.
4. Kind, caring person– Do you really want someone that isn’t kind and caring?
5. Opposites attract, but they don’t make good bedfellows– I can’t make many guarantees in life, but I can tell you that if you don’t have enough in common with your mate, the relationship with have extra difficulty.
6. Don’t look for your opposite, but do look for someone that compliments you well– This will foster a relationship where you work well together.
It’s difficult to cover everything in a short article, but hopefully this gives you some insight into things to look for. I hope this helps! As always, please feel free to send me an email. I’m more than happy to answer questions.
David P. Robbins