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Skills For Meeting People, Dating, and
Developing Intimacy

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
Send Feedback/Questions to: Tom.Stevens@csulb.edu
 
 
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Skills For Meeting People, Dating, and
Developing Intimacy

Tom G. Stevens PhD

Index

Levels_of_Intimacy
*  The Underlying Causes of Intimacy

Steps_to_Developing_Intimacy
* Pre-Meeting
* The Introduction
* The First Meeting
* First Planned Activity (or date)
* Continued Development of the Relationship


Key_Conversational_and_Intimacy_Skills
* More on Introductions
* How To Be An Interesting Conversationalist: The Concept of Free Information
* Establish Conversational Balance, Equality, and Intimacy
* How personal/intimate is the topic
* Establish Trust: Trust and Responsible Behavior Begets Trust
* Are You Compatible Giving and Receiving Basic Information
* Variables Affecting the Success of Any Relationship
* Develop (And Practice) a Brief Meeting People Strategy

* Asking Questions Effectively
* Conversational Styles
* Characteristics of intimate conversations
* Drawing Your Partners Feelings Out
* Romantic Conversations
* Controversial Topics and Intimacy
* Continuing A Successful Conversation: Develop your Internal Observer
* Revealing Potentially Embarrassing Information
* What If You Want to Date Someone Who Has a Lot More Experience than You
* What To Do When You Can’t Think of Anything To Talk About
* How to Win Friends, Influence People, and be Loved By Women: Empathetic Listening Skills
* Empathetic Listening Skills as Conversation Generators
* Non-Verbal Communication: Using Body Language to Build Closeness
* The Importance of Physical Attractiveness


Where_Can_You_Meet_People
* Invitations: How To Invite Someone to Meet Again or Go out with You
* Developing a Physical Romantic Relationship 
* What If a Problem or Conflict Develops? 
*What if some aspect of yourself or your past may upset others?
* What do you do if you are rejected or fear being rejected

 
Special_Problems
* Problems With Your Physical Appearance
* Physical Illnesses, Disability, or Similar Problems
* Issues Related To Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
* Mild to Moderate Psychological Problems
* Problems That Almost Always Destroy Relationships
* The pace of the relationship. What if you want to go slowly
* What if one partner has a performance anxiety problem with sex
How_Do_You_Continue_To_Develop_Intimacy_

RELATIONSHIP_RESUME (Make one for yourself to help you present yourself to others more favorably)

 

Introduction
When Jerry first came in for counseling, he was so shy that he couldn't even look at me and could only give one-line answers to questions. Jerry was 21, but had made only one friend in his life. That "friend" was actually someone who had used him. Jerry came to counseling because he was tired of being so shy and wanted to be able to meet women and eventually marry and have a family. He knew that his current path was not leading him in the right direction, and he was very upset about it.

Jerry worked hard and persisted. I helped him with conversational skills, assertiveness skills, and with building self-esteem and confidence. He used individual counseling, an assertion training group, and self-help books. He persistently applied what he was learning. He took risks and often failed at first. Nevertheless, within three years he became president of a fraternity, had all the dates he wanted, had lots of friends, and had changed his major to one requiring a high level of interpersonal skills. More importantly, he was much happier with himself and his life.

Jerry was not a typical case. Most people I see don't start at such a low level and only want or need much less help. If you think you have a long way to go, then it is helpful to know that others have gone even further. Jerry was successful primarily because of his persistence and continual conscious effort to improve his skills and confidence. It is also important to get good information. The focus of this self-help manual is to help you improve your conversational and intimacy skills. I have counseled with and taught these skills to hundreds of people seeking ways of becoming more outgoing and assertive, more confident, and more able to develop close relationships with others-especially others in romantic situations. If you are also concerned about fear of rejection and lack of self-confidence, read my short self-help manual, Beyond Fear of Rejection and Loneliness to Self-Confidence at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/c-rejct.htm.

If assertiveness in dealing with interpersonal conflict or standing up to people is a problem, read my Assertion Training manual at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/assertion_training.htm.


Levels of Intimacy

Levels of intimacy vary from no contact strangers to friends or lovers who are very similar in their most important-innermost parts of themselves, care greatly about each other; communicate in a completely free, open, and honest manner; are willing to make significant efforts or sacrifices for each other, and are in a long-term committed relationship. This continuum starts with strangers at the low end, then moves to casual friends, people who are close in only one or two specific areas, people who are close in many areas for a short time, and ends with those closest in many areas over a long time span. They may be married, be close family members, or have an extremely close friendship.

 

The Underlying Causes of Intimacy
Why is it that two people become friends or lovers and others don't? Following are some general causes that research has shown to be important.

1. Opportunity and Availability. There may be many people "out there" who you could be good friends with or could be happily married to. However, you will never meet most of them. They live in another city or a block away, and you never meet them. Or, one person could be unavailable because he/she is already in a committed relationship. Or, perhaps one or both are so busy, they don't give any priority or time to meeting others. So sad if you never meet. For that reason, active searching for others and meeting many people statistically increases your odds of finding someone highly compatible to you. On the other hand if someone is not available for whatever the reason may be, don't waste time thinking about that person. Instead, spend your time productively looking for someone who is available.

2. Compatibility Factors. The key compatibility factors that will determine the degree two people can achieve a high degree of intimacy are (1) the similarity of their top beliefs and values (their inner core), (2) their communicate styles, (3) the similarity of their interests and activities, and (4) the similarity of major background factors (ethnic, religious, cultural, educational, etc.) . We will discuss these factors later.

Long-term romantic intimacy is based primarily upon these same factors , but it also includes the sexual/romantic dimension. For romantic relationships, similarity of overall attractiveness is also important. Part of that romantic attractiveness dimension is physiological and a greater part is cultural and psychological. For example, many people share beliefs that flowers, cards, "romantic" music or movies, lighting, and romantic talk are "romantic." Those beliefs cause a romantic reaction in the believer when any of those stimuli are present under the right conditions. Someone without those beliefs will have little reaction to receiving flowers or sitting by a fire. So, if your partner has these romantic beliefs/values, then he/she will feel more attracted to you if you create these romantic conditions. If your partner doesn't have these beliefs and values, they will be less affected by your efforts, but they still may react positively because of the fact that it was a sign of caring.

3. Basic Human Relationship Behaviors and Skills. Treating people with kindness as opposed to cruelty, listening intently and helping a person explore as opposed to ignoring or interrupting, and expressing caring and respect as opposed to contempt are examples of behaviors that almost universally increase the likelihood of closeness. People who care about others, treat others well, and have good interpersonal skills will generally be more successful with others than people who don't. People who are too aggressive, dominating, or distancing or people who are too passive, submissive, or dependent may generally have problems forming close relationships.

People who are not reliable, trustworthy, honest also will have problems forming close, lasting relationships; as will people who have personal problems with addictions or other habits that seriously interfere with relationships. Before you can have a happy, close and long-lasting relationship with another person, you must first develop yourself until you can meet the minimal standards of what a potential partner (like the one you want) would need from you. Ask yourself, honestly, what someone who you want is looking for. Better yet, ask them or people like them.

4. Common Positive History. One theory of attachment or love states that one's feeling of attachment to another is related to the intensity and number of positive contacts divided by the number of negative contacts (times the number of contacts). This theory may be an oversimplification, but think about it for a minute. If you have 10 contacts with someone and the overwhelming feeling you get each time is happiness, how do you feel? Compare your degree of attachment/liking/closeness to a situation where all 10 contacts with the other person have left you feeling very unhappy. Similarly, how do you feel about someone who usually greets you with a smile and positive comment versus someone who usually is critical or negative toward you?

Be friendly, give genuine compliments, be helpful and supportive, and show interest and listen effectively. Make sure there is equality of control and you do what you can to give your partner what he/she wants without giving up too much of yourself. Positive actions help make your partner's contacts with you positive. Those positive contacts increase the chances that your partner will value you and feel closer to you. Negative contacts increase distance and resentment.

Even though creating positive interactions are the best way to achieve closeness and intimacy, just being together and sharing a common history, especially positive common events, can help two people feel close. People who work toward common goals, play on the same team, work together, participate in the same group, or play together tend to become closer over time just because of the common experiences and history they have shared. Therefore, to get closer to someone, try to share more with them. (Don't use coercion to be together though, because coercion has huge negative affects often outweighing any positive effects of the shared time.)

All relationships fall somewhere on the intimacy continuum. To get closer and more intimate we must move along that continuum in our relationship with someone. In most cases this process happens semi-consciously. However, people with more knowledge of this intimacy process can consciously have more personal power for creating intimacy. They can use their knowledge of how to create intimacy to guide their actions. If you haven't been as successful as you wanted in the past at meeting people, dating, or establishing happy, long-lasting relationships, then you can benefit from knowing more about how to develop intimacy.
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Steps to Developing Intimacy

If someone interests you, how can you create more intimacy with that person? Following are some of the key steps and skills that can help.

Pre-Meeting
You may get information about the person from observing them in a group setting such as a class, work, or a public place or from getting information from a friend, the Internet, or a newspaper singles ad. The other person may also have information about you. Usually people will form first impressions on the basis of obvious external factors such as your appearance, behavior, and body language. To more effectively attract the people who will ultimately be the most compatible with you, it is extremely important that others also learn about your best inner qualities. See below for tips on presenting yourself in a way to maximize the first impression.

Also, it is important that you take a personal survey to see if you are leaving the kind of first impression based upon your appearance, body language, and actions that you want to leave. Ask people who you can trust. Observe others who are successful at making good first impressions. For dress or hair styles, go to experienced clothing sales or hair stylists and tell them what your goals are and ask them to make suggestions.

The Introduction
Sometimes you may start a conversation without an introduction. If you are approaching someone new, you may want to make a comment to start an interaction, "How do you like this class?" "It's sure a great day, isn't it?" "How are you feeling?" "Why are you here?" "What do you think of this place?" "How do you like ...?" "Would you like to dance? [at a club or dance]"

However, after you have talked for a little while, before signing off, introduce yourself. "By the way, I'm Bret." If the other doesn't give you his/her name, ask. "What's your name?"

In some settings such as a party or other group setting where people are expected to meet each other, it may be best to start with an introduction. A good simple introduction is, "Hi, I'm Bret." Again, if the other doesn't respond with a name, ask. When hearing the other person's name, repeat it to yourself and try to associate it with something to help you remember it. Also, use it in the conversation with the person. A little later, write it down with a few facts about the person and their phone number, email, etc. in your address book.

If you forget his/her name, ask again, "I'm sorry, what's your name again?" Also give your name again in case he/she has forgotten. "In case you've got as bad a memory as me, I'm Bret." Sometimes people will exchange personal or business cards that include phone number and/or email address. It is good to print some of these if you are meeting a lot of people. [You can get business card stock and print them yourself from your computer or get it done inexpensively from a professional printer.]

The First Meeting
By first meeting, I mean the first time you have a chance to talk about yourselves for even 5 to 15 minutes without too much distraction from other people or the situation. This opportunity could be a chance encounter; a brief meeting at a club, class, or organization; an arranged meeting; or a date. The point is that you can talk with each other about yourselves and exchange personal information that is important for getting to know each other.

Goals of the First Meeting. WARNING: how to increase your anxiety. If you make your overall goal to get the other person to like you, then you give all the power to your partner and make yourself very vulnerable to rejection and anxiety. The more you build up your image of that person, the more you will increase your anxiety.

To decrease your anxiety, think the following. You can learn to control what you think and say, but you can never control another person's reactions. Focus on controlling your thoughts and behavior. Make your goal to improve your knowledge and interpersonal skills and view this situation as practice. In the long run you will achieve your outcome goals of getting in a good relationship. That mind set will help you keep calm and stay focused on creating the kind of conversation that will help create intimacy (if intimacy is possible with this person).

Instead of focusing on outcomes, make your overall goal to exchange valuable information that will help each of you decide if you want to pursue a relationship. Remind yourself that you are not trying to get the person to like you, instead you are hastening a natural selection process. If you two are compatible, then good communication will open the door to the relationship and hasten its progress. If you are not compatible, then good communication will hasten the conclusion by both parties that you aren't compatible. To maximize your chances of making a good impression with someone who is compatible with you , try to accomplish some or all of the following goals.

1-Gve genuine compliments to your partner when you can.
2-Talk about your feelings about the current meeting situation.
3-Exchange basic information about occupation, living arrangements and life situation, major life goals and interests.
4-Exchange feelings and/or stories about family and friends, relationships, and a minimal relationship history.
5-Exchange information about what each sees as a good or ideal relationship. What you are each looking for in a friendship (including how people should communicate and make joint decisions)? (Use ideas in this article and others on my web site.)
6- Give some information about how you feel about this person. (See below.)
7-Indicate your availability and intentions for a friendship, dating, etc. if you know what they are. Otherwise, don't commit yourself at that time. However, non-commitment can be perceived as lack of interest and a turn-off to your partner. If unsure, say that you're interested, but not sure. If both might want future contact, then make a date now and exchange phone numbers. The best way to do this is to say, "I've really enjoyed talking with you and you seem like a really nice person, I'd like to call you sometime"; "I've enjoyed talking with you, . .. "; or "It seems we have a lot in common, . . ."

Don't worry about trying to cover all of 1-7; the opportunity may only allow talking about a few of these. However it is important that you cover at least part of number 3 and that you have information about how to contact the person again if the relationship is to develop.

First Planned Activity (or date)
Even if you are potentially interested in dating the other person, many people like to have a first meeting be something very casual that is not considered a "date." Although, if you both do have a romantic interest in each other, why wait? If you are getting good feedback that your partner might have an interest and you want to, I suggest you go ahead and ask the person out for a meal, a movie, or some other activity of mutual interest. On the other hand, if you are less certain of their interest, if the other person is someone you work with or attend class with, or there is some other reason why you want to proceed cautiously, then ask them for some more neutral activity such as for coffee, lunch, studying together, attending some structured activity such as a game, or doing some mutually satisfying activity together like walking, biking, tennis, a concert, etc.

During a non-date first activity and any subsequent non-date activities, try to get to know the person and become friends. If you have a romantic interest, then follow suggestions below about compliments; about physical closeness; and about intimate, relationship-oriented, and romantic topic conversations. Don't just talk about theories, facts, third-person, sports, and intellectual topics; though these can be good parts of the overall conversation if you share those interests.

If you are already meeting in a setting such as work, school, or an organization, then it is important that you invite the other person to do something in a different setting to show him/her that he/she is "special." That person is more important to you than the other people in that setting. Also, it is a must for developing more dimensions of your relationship. (See below.)

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Continued Development of the Relationship
If the first meeting goes well enough and both parties want to continue the relationship, then you begin a new phase. The first step is more activities together and developing your conversations.

* Continued meetings and activities together. Establishing regular activities together is a powerful way to increase intimacy (if compatibility and other factors are right). Having lunch, or some other meal together regularly is a good idea. Participating in a sport, exercise, church, a class, studying together, or doing some other activity regularly together is usually an excellent idea if such an opportunity exists. Exceptions might include situations where one person is much better than the other, where the two people engage in too much competition and/or conflict, or other difficult situations.

* Developing conversational intimacy. Conversational intimacy is essential for a good relationship of any kind-especially a long-lasting, happy romantic relationship. (See other sections.)

* Recognizing and celebrating similarities. Being with someone who understands everything about you at even the deepest levels andloves you for being that way is a wonderful experience we probably all wish for. To the extent that you can highlight and celebrate these commonalities with your partner through compliments, cards, written statements, symbols (a teddy bear, a gift related to a common interest, etc.), you can "bond" with your partner. In most cases you will probably be similar on those common personal traits, so you can celebrate those similarities in each other. You can create a "mutual admiration society" of at least two people. A compliment implies common values. Be open and verbal with your genuine compliments of your partner. People generally give far too few compliments. How do you feel when you receive a genuine compliment? How often have you received too many compliments from others? If you don't give many compliments, start practicing with everyone and watch their reactions. You are giving very meaningful gifts.

* Overcoming differences: Increased closeness after successfully resolving a difference. A time comes in every close relationship when the two partners begin to have disagreements. It could be in the first meeting. How the two partners cope with conflict is critical to the continuance of the relationship. If the disagreements are ignored, if there is too much aggression (sarcasm, negative labels, anger, etc.), "game-playing," rejection or hurt feelings, or other dysfunctional approaches to solving the problem, then the relationship will often end at that point. One or both partners may immediately decide they don't want to continue that relationship.

The disagreement may be small or subtle. One partner may have accidentally insulted or hurt the other. Perhaps someone insulted a cause or belief of his/her partner. Perhaps one glared at the other after a comment. Many relationships end after this kind of negative exchange. The partners each feel upset, don't pursue any resolution, and give up. If you have a pattern of having this happen in relationships, then you need to learn more assertive (not passive or aggressive) means of recognizing and resolving these differences.

If you do decide to end a relationship, at least talk about why you are ending it (in a nice way). Having a clear discussion of what each is unhappy about and what each wanted is a very a constructive way to end a relationship that provides valuable information to you both. You can do this after only one meeting.

How can you tell if your partner felt offended, hurt, or upset about something you have said? One good way is to observe changes in their body language, talk, or behavior. Does he/she suddenly get quiet, act upset, or change the topic abruptly? Does he/she suddenly act more distant or stop pursing a positive mutual exploration process? If any of these events happen, nicely ask your partner, "I noticed that you seemed to get more quiet after I said . . . . Did I say something that upset you? Your feelings matter to me." These statements show concern for your partner's feelings and ask him/her to engage in a process of trying to positively resolve differences. If they respond that they are feeling negatively, explore the problem. Take an assertive, "win-win" approach-not passive or aggressive approach-to solving the problem. (See other sections and a communication manual at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/c14-lisn.htm.

The good news is that if you successfully resolve a conflict, even a minor one, you will both feel good about your ability to do so together, and your relationship will have crossed a major hurdle. Resolving conflicts builds trust that you each care enough to put the effort and thought into resolving the conflict so you can continue the relationship. As a result of a successful resolution, you will probably feel closer after the conflict. You may also have more respect for each other because you may have seen some good communication skills displayed by each other. The relationship will probably have moved to a deeper level.

* The importance of time and history together and kindness. Why is it that people who have known each other a long time and had a lot of mutual experiences feel closer over time? It is as simple as that. Time and history together per se generally add to feelings of closeness, providing they aren't overdone. You don't have to impress or entertain the other person, just spend time with them and treat them in an understanding, respectful, and kind way. If you do that, you will almost always become closer.

* Developing more dimensions of the relationship. Some relationships are more one-dimensional or situational. A tennis partner; a classmate, a work partner, or someone you know at church are all examples of relationships related to one situation. You may find that your conversations are limited to one primary set of topics. To make a relationship more multi-dimensional, talk about more topics, meet your partner in other situations or activities, and do more than just talk together. Have him/her meet your family and friends and visit places of importance to you. Have him/her share important activities or other events important to you. And do the reverse for his/her family, friends, and activities. Of course the your partner must share your interests and be interested in getting to know you better too. If your relationship is too one-dimensional, use these means to increase your closeness and meaningfulness of the relationship. It is a must for developing close romantic relationships. Engage in these new activities at a pace that is comfortable to you both. Check with each other about how you each feel about pursuing new dimensions ahead of time; don't just assume your partner is ready for the next step.

* Developing a physical relationship. In any relationship, there is a physical component; and it starts with the first meeting. Friends hug and kiss and sit closer than they do with strangers. In a romantic relationship, the physical aspect is particularly important. See the section below.
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Key Conversational and Intimacy Skills


More on Introductions
Often the first step in developing intimacy is an introduction. There are also many times when it is appropriate to interact with people without an introduction. In many settings such as a business, class, or public situation we often talk to people without an introduction. In fact we may withhold giving personal information such as our name until enough positive interaction takes place that we want to give it. In this case an introduction is a significant step in starting a new relationship.

In either case people can leave a strong first impression in the manner they make the introduction. A good book that goes into great detail about introductions is Contract: The First Four Minutes . Body language is particularly important in introductions. Get yourself in a relaxed, confident state, stand an appropriately intimate distance from the other, look directly at him/her, smile, and talk at an appropriate level, frequency, etc. These body language dimensions communicate friendliness, interest, and confidence.

If the person is at a distance, approaching them directly without too much hesitation, is important in communicating confidence. Nevertheless, if the other is occupied, then generally don't just interrupt them until you get their attention. Try walking up and standing near them and glancing their way to get their attention. Try to make eye contact. Making periodic eye contact from a distance in a social context (meeting, party, nightclub, etc.) may be a good prelude to approaching a person if the person looks back. Experienced "daters" may use eye contact like this to make the first real contact. However, distant eye contact is not necessary or even usual.

What do you say? If you are approaching someone from a distance, try, "Hi, I'm John Doe." You might also give additional information about who you are or where you come from. That information may be particularly important in a setting where there are a wide range of people. Examples: At a party, you might relate yourself to the host, "I've worked with Jason at Acme for two years and ..." In a singles meeting place, you might say, "I'm John Doe, I saw you from across the room and you looked very interesting because you seemed so bubbly (friendly, positive, etc.). In a class you might add why you took the class, your major, you why you are in college, etc.

In many situations, you may not begin a conversation with an introduction. If you are sitting next to someone in a meeting or class, you may appropriately start talking with them about almost anything that is appropriate. The topics most appropriate would relate to the immediate situation. You might ask a factual question, give information, ask how they feel, or tell how you feel about something directly or indirectly related to the situation. If you can't think of anything in the immediate situation to talk about, then you may even introduce a topic (brief story, question, comment, etc.) that is of common interest.

Starting with a compliment. Another good way to start a conversation is with a compliment. How would you feel if a moderately attractive member of the opposite walked up to you and said, "You look like an interesting person"? Before you approach someone (especially to meet a potential friend or date), think about why you are interested enough to approach that person. If you like the other's appearance, can you think of a specific compliment that isn't too threatening or too strong for the situation? You could start with the "interesting" comment and follow up with a comment like, "You smile is so nice and you seem so friendly," "I like the way you dress," "You seem confident," "You have such pretty eyes (hair, face, etc.), "You dance so well," "You seem like a very thoughtful, intelligent person," etc. Genuine, honest compliments are almost always welcome, and you can make someone's day with one. If nothing else, you've given someone the gift of a few minutes of happiness. If the compliment is on target, it will feel especially good, you will be seen as very insightful (and interesting), and it may spur a conversation about mental associations with the topic of your compliment (brown eyes, intelligence, friendliness, etc.). By following the stronger feelings of you both (see below), you could end up in a very meaningful conversation rather quickly.

How To Be An Interesting Conversationalist: The Concept of Free Information
If you ask someone a question such as, "What kind of work do you do?" and they say, "I'm an accountant," then they have only answered your question. They haven't given you any additional, free information such as, "I work for Jones and Bailey and I spend most of my time auditing supermarkets." You could follow up on that by commenting about their free information: "How do you like auditing supermarkets?" or "How is auditing supermarkets different from other kinds of auditing?" Those questions ask for follow-up information in the area of their free information. You can also give them free information about yourself (self-disclosure) that relates to the topic of their free information. "My uncle is an accountant who works for ..." "I had thought about becoming an accountant when I was a freshman."

If you can't relate to it at all, try throwing out free information less related to accounting. "I'm a student at Cal State, and my major is . . ." Think of a conversation as a series of two people putting a checklist of potential topics on a blackboard until they find a topic they both want to talk about. They negotiate about which topic to discuss until they find one or withdraw.

When people give free information, they generally give it about something that is of interest to them. So if you converse more about this topic, they will usually be interested in the conversation. Learn to view their free information is a flag waving this is what I like talking about (at least for now given our current level of intimacy).

Establish Conversational Balance, Equality, and Intimacy
In some cases one person chooses most of the topics and/or gives most of the information. If this continues, one person will dominate the conversations and the other become submissive or passive. Following are some general types of conversations.

* Dominant-Submissive (or Aggressive-Nonassertive).

* Dominant-Dominant (or Aggressive-Aggressive).

* Submissive-Submissive (or Nonassertive-Nonassertive).

* Balanced-Equal (or Assertive-Assertive).

==> See the self-help manual on Assertion Training at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/assertion_training.htm for a more detailed discussion of these types of interactions.

People can achieve some level of intimacy with all of the above interaction styles. However, in general, people who have more balanced and equal interactions tend to become closer and more intimate than those who don't. Though this general statement must be qualified by understanding the personalities of the two persons. For example, in initial conversations a quieter or shyer person might be more comfortable with someone who talks more so that there are no conversational quiet periods, and the quieter person may be frightened by periods of silence. However, unless the quieter person shares adequately with the other, they can never achieve much intimacy. The job of a good conversationalist is to first put a non-assertive partner at ease by talking enough and leading the conversation. Then as the quieter person feels more comfortable, use conversational skills to draw the quieter person out and get the partner to talk more about his or herself until the relationship becomes more balanced. The quieter person can be a good listener while the other is talking, but must push themselves to open up and share as soon as possible. If two quiet persons are interacting, at least one must push him/herself to talk more and may have to work at drawing out his/her partner. If two talkers are interacting, at least one must bite his/her tongue and get into a good listening mode more and also be assertive enough to get the other to listen adequately.

How personal/intimate is the topic?
The type of topic and the amount of talking are two dimensions of inequality discussed above. A third dimension relating to developing real intimacy is the degree of openness about personal topics. What makes a topic more intimate?

(1) The degree of emotional investment and importance to a person,
(2) the privacy-secretiveness,
(3) the potential embarrassment,
(4) the degree the topic is unique to the persons in the conversation as opposed to people in general).

Think of two people in a conversation. Conversations and relationships usually start with topics that are more superficial, more general, and less intimate. More superficial and general topics are the weather, movies, music, public events, the general setting, or interesting stories. Slightly more personal and intimate topics include public information about you or the other person such as your name, address, career/job, major interests and affiliations, and public beliefs. More intimate topics include information that is more private and secret. Potentially embarrassing personal history, secret goals or interests, weaknesses, dreams, fantasies, or other very private events are very intimate and personal. Normally, people only talk about these to people they trust. The level of intimacy is normally related to the level of trust.
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Establish Trust: Trust and Responsible Behavior Begets Trust
How do you establish trust? One factor that leads to trust is trust. If you trust the other by revealing something that is more personal than what the other has told you, that may increase the other's trust of you. Feeling more comfortable and trusting of you, they are likely to share more intimately with you. On the other hand, if one person keeps sharing at a more intimate level and the other doesn't reciprocate, the person sharing may stop being so intimate and may move to a more superficial level. The person has been testing and if the conversational partner doesn't reciprocate, the partner fails the intimacy test and the sharing person may lose interest in pursuing the relationship at any deeper level.

Other key ways of establishing trust include: demonstrating respect, caring, kindness, honesty, and empathetic listening. Doing the opposite of any of these can diminish or destroy trust. Trust destroying responses to open self-disclosure include negative aggressive/hostile responses such as belittling, making fun, sarcasm, anger, name-calling, or any negative labeling. Even passive/nonassertive responses such as showing too much hurt, withdrawing, pouting, becoming cold, not responding, or passive aggression can also punish the partner for being honest and open.

So what can you do if you feel negative emotions such as hurt or anger when your partner reveals something you don't like with their honesty and openness? Try being assertive-not aggressive or passive. Don't ACT OUT your feelings, instead TALK ABOUT them. Don't name-call, withdraw, or belittle. Instead, first get them to talk more about it to make sure they mean what you think they mean (you may be jumping to conclusions.) "I can see that you feel strongly about .... Can you tell me more about..."

After you partner explores/explains more, if you are still upset, talk calmly and tell your partner what your EMOTIONS are and what UNDERLYING ISSUE you are upset about. "I know that ... is very important to you; however, what you said upset me a little, because of some experiences I have had (or because I think...)." Empathetically listen to them and encourage them to fully explore their underlying feelings and issues until you both understand what the really underlying issues are from each other’s point of view. ==> See Assertion Training Communication manual for more help.

Are You Compatible? Giving and Receiving Basic Information
What if you meet someone who interests you in a public place and you may never see this person again? Your key question is probably, "What is the potential for a happy relationship with this person?" Both of you want the answer to that question. What is the basic information that you each want to give and receive for deciding whether this could lead to a future friendship or dating relationship?

Before you really develop a plan of what information to give and receive, you should complete the Relationship Resume' below. Make a conscious, written list of the qualities you are looking for in a partner and assess your own qualities on the same scales. For example, if you are looking for a physically attractive member of the opposite sex; how attractive are you? Research shows that couples who stay together, get married, and stay married tend to be about equal in physical attractiveness (as rated by neutral observers). The bad news is that you don't have a very good chance of dating or marrying someone much more attractive than yourself, the good news is you have a great chance of dating or marrying someone as attractive as you are. This same principle can be applied to almost any important relationship variable. What are these important variables? How do you make this list? Think both of variables that affect the success of relationships in general and those that are more unique to you and what you want in a partner.


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Variables Affecting the Success of Any Relationship


Some variables affect the success of almost any relationship. These variables are mostly about the maturity, mental health, and general functioning and character of the individuals. Honesty, openness, reliability/trustworthiness, kindness, good communication skills, seeking win-win solutions, facing problems and dealing constructively with them, optimism and positive thinking, generally being happy and able to take good care of oneself, having a meaningful and reasonably successful career, having a balanced life, making relationships and family important in one's life, a positive spiritual life, and other factors are helpful in almost any relationship. On the other hand, (even mild) substance abuse, aggressive-dominating or very passive-submissive or dependent personality, extreme self-centeredness/narcism, dishonesty, unreliability, chronic low motivation, chronic pessimism and/or negative thinking, "workaholism", inconsiderateness of others, constant withdrawing and keeping feelings inside, and poor communication skills are all qualities that should be RED FLAGS! They can destroy any relationship, no matter how much two people seem to love each other. Love is not enough. Many people love each other even after they break up or divorce. Love is not the same as compatibility: being able to live happily together for a long period of time. Select the variables from this list and add your own that you think are important to the success of any relationship.

Variables related more individually to you and your partner. Compatibility requires an adequate degree of the above positive qualities PLUS having enough additional values, interests, and other factors that are compatible so that people can enjoy each other enough without too much conflict. Most persistent conflicts occur in areas where people are different in their values, beliefs, personality and communication styles, and interests. List those variables. What qualities would you add to the above list that seem important to you?

Think about activities and interests you might want to do with someone you are close to: reading, movies, music, dining out, TV shows, watching sporting or cultural events, dancing, bike-riding, walking, singing, classes, travel, sports activities, church, a certain type of organization, etc. Are your political, spiritual, ethical, relationship beliefs compatible enough so you can enjoy conversations in each of these areas (and other areas) with minimal conflict? How much do you value money and various material possessions? How does each manage money (is one a planner/saver and one spends like a leaky faucet?) How does each manage children? How neat and clean? Does each do his/her share of chores?

A very important set of questions relate to your relationship and communication beliefs and habits. Openness, honesty, dominance, passivity, long versus short talks, approaching versus avoiding serious discussions and problems, calmness versus emotionality, extroversion versus introversion, intellectual/educated versus not so much, constant togetherness versus lots of outside interests and friends, high stimulation and activity versus low, valuing expensive things or not, and many more.

What about cultural, geographical, ethnic, family, and other background factors? Personal habits such as smoking, cleanliness, thriftiness, orderliness, and creativeness? An important factor for many people has to do with values and motivation for achievement, power, self or spiritual growth, pleasing others, or being self-sufficient. Research shows that the more alike people are on almost all of these variables-especially those important to one or both individuals-the more likely the relationship is to be happy and long-lasting.

The Natural Selection Process: Breakups are a result of incompatibility more than inferiority. Remember, you are looking for someone who is a lot like you on these above variables. What do you think your potential "soulmate" (the person who you will be most compatible with) will be looking for? Anyone who will be very compatible with you will probably be looking for the same qualities in you. If they are NOT looking for those qualities, the odds are they are NOT a good candidate for compatibility.

Nature rules! You can't fool Mother Nature. Mother Nature says that people who are more similar and compatible will be happier together and continue to be more intimate. Those who are too different and incompatible will tend to drift apart. People who are not alike and are looking for different qualities will (at least eventually) not be happy with too much closeness together. They will tend to leave or downgrade these relationships sooner or later. If it is sooner, before a great deal of emotional attachment occurs, the relationship ending is less painful.

Rejection or natural selection? Therefore, if someone "rejects" you, it may be they have already detected that you two differ on one or more variables that would ultimately doom the relationship anyway. It's NOT that you are necessarily inferior to your partner on some dimension, but you may be incompatible on one or more critical variables (even if you are compatible on others). Tell yourself that this process of meeting people is a selection process in which people who are compatible enough will naturally be attracted to each other, get involved, be happy, and stay together (if given the chance). When people are less compatible, they will tend to have more problems as they attempt to get closer, and the relationship will either end or revert back to a lower level of intimacy.

Develop (And Practice) a Brief Meeting People Strategy


Decide upon a strategy for what you will do when you meet someone that interests you. (Of course interest will vary as you interact.) Part of you strategy should be to find people who are compatible with you and pursue a relationship with those who are. Pick a few of the most important variables from your list developed in the above exercises. Of course you will only approach someone for a friendship who meets some minimal criteria that you can easily observe (such as appearance, basic social behaviors, being in a setting the denotes a common interest, etc.), and others will only approach you for the same reasons.

Start with an introduction. In a brief meeting situation where you might never see the person again, ask questions and give information about important qualities on your list. Often people ask about jobs and career interests. This can lead to exchanging information about achievement motivation, education level and motivation, spiritual and self-growth motivation, importance of income and material life style, and many other factors. Exchanging information about family, friends, and previous relationships can lead to knowledge of each other’s relationship patterns, communication styles, dominance, conflict-resolution styles, image of the ideal relationship (a great topic for exploring possible relationship values), and more. Talking about activities you spend a lot of time doing (sports, movies, dance, reading, visiting family, etc.) can also be valuable. These topics can sometimes naturally lead to an invitation for a second meeting or fantasies about doing them together.

Tell your partner about your positive qualities: The humility-ability balance. What will make the person you are meeting want to talk with you again and get further acquainted? Since the person who is a good compatibility match for you will share your values, beliefs, and interests to a great extent, the best way to answer this question may be to have you look at how you evaluate your partner. What would make you want to see that person again? What would make them potential deep relationship partners? How do you rate this person after your first meeting? What are the main factors you are looking for? Turn those questions/factors around. If you are looking for a person who is physically attractive, intelligent, educated, honest, open, confident, optimistic, enjoys sports and cultural activities, etc., how well did you communicate to that person that you are high on all of these factors? Did you present yourself or talk about yourself in a way that probably conveyed the right information and impression? Did the person learn that you are intelligent, educated, open, honest, enjoy sports and cultural activities, etc.?

When you talk about yourself, don't be too boastful or humble. Find the right humility-ability balance. Don't hide what might be perceived as strengths by someone you just met, but don't brag about them either. How do you achieve that balance? Don't tell about what a great tennis player you are. Be more subtle and talk about how much you enjoy playing tennis and how often you play. Don't tell your partner you had a 3.7 grade average or make $100,000 per year. Instead let them find out you have high grades or a high income more indirectly (if you want them to know). Compare, "I'm a top student; I have a 3.7 GPA." with "I worked really hard last semester, and was so excited that I made the best grades I ever had. I was able to bring my average up to 3.7." The first statement focuses on how good you are. The second focuses more on your feelings and motivation, and drops the 3.7 as a less central aspect. Of course, if your partner has a 2.2 GPA, they may not feel good with either statement. But if your partner is also an "A" student, he/she may welcome this information very much and be happy to share their accomplishment with you as well. Which partner do you think you will be the most compatible within the intellectual area of your relationship? If you are very social and have lots of friends, let them know. Similarly, if you have few friends and haven't dated much or at all, you will want to tell them so at some point. Maybe not when you first meet. However, you can tell them in a positive way (see below).

Also, your communication style will communicate a lot about yourself. Remember factors discussed elsewhere about conversational balance, self-disclosure, focusing on feelings, good listening, resolving potential conflicts, etc. and monitor the conversation to make sure that you are communicating with the style you want to achieve in an intimate relationship. Intimacy breeds intimacy, distance breeds distance.
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Asking Questions Effectively
Asking questions is a good way to show interest in the other person, get information about them, and get them talking. Understanding a few basics about question asking can be helpful to a good conversation.

Closed and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions only require short, simple answers. Open-ended questions encourage the person to give more free and intimate information. Examples of closed-ended questions include: What's your occupation? Where do you live? Do you like that song? How old are you? Examples of open-ended questions include: How do you like your job? Why did you decide to major in music? Can you tell me more about that? How did you do that? or What led you to do that?

A good way to get a conversation going is to first ask a closed question such as, "What is your career?" Then when the other gives a short response, ask an open-ended question like, "How do you like it?"

Conversational Styles

Following are just a sample of some conversational style issues. See what you can learn from these, and pay attention to your own and others' conversational styles. Often a conflict in styles can create conversational and relationship problems-even serious relationship problems. If you notice a difference in conversational styles with your partner, and feel you know the person well enough (and that they are mature enough), then try discussing these differences in a calm, friendly, nonjudgmental manner. Try to see them as just interesting differences that can be overcome, and not some terrible rudeness on their part (or yours). Discuss ways you can compromise and keep openly talking about those differences as they occur. Often these conversational styles are learned in one's family and are so ingrained and automatic, that they almost can't believe other people don't follow the same conversational rules. To interrupt or not?

Some people wait for the talker to pause as a signal they are finished and/or are ready to allow the listener to comment. Other people keep talking until they are interrupted. The second may sound "rude," but in fact that is how many people talk; and it is a very hard habit to break. You can see that these rules work fine with other people who are operating under the same rules. However, what happens in a conversation between these two people operating under different rules? As you can guess, the person who waits for an interruption may keep talking forever, while the listener grows increasingly resentful that the talker doesn't pause to let them talk. The listener may feel controlled, dominated, and hurt/angry. On the other hand when the pause person finally gets a chance to talk, it’s not long before he/she gets interrupted, and again feels resentful for the "rude" and unequal treatment he/she is receiving from the more talkative partner. After all the pauser "politely" avoided interrupting and waited forever to talk. Now he/she is being interrupted. The final insult. Meanwhile the interrupter thinks everything is fine, but perceives the noninterrupter as being a little too quiet and unassertive. If the non-interrupter doesn't seem interested in another date or meeting, then the interrupter is very puzzled. After all he/she had such a good time talking in their first encounter and thought all went well.

Type of language and different cultural backgrounds-Cultural Awareness.
There are too many differences in the languages people use to discuss many. The most obvious is geographical. Do both people have the same English language background or is English a second language for one? If so, they may have some large differences in understanding of the same words. Also, people less familiar with English-or even people from other U. S. regions--may not understand your idioms and cliche's at all or in the same way. If you are in a conversation with someone of a different language or cultural background and someone seems confused. Don't just ignore your own or the other's confusion. Say so: "I'm not sure I understood what you meant, could you explain it to me?" Or, if your partner seems confused, try, "You seem like you may be a little confused by what I just said, are you?" If so, explain.

Language harshness, "maturity," or correctness.
Some people use four-letter words or other more harsh or aggressive language freely, and others don't. This can cause a real problem and leave a very negative impression-especially in an inappropriate setting (e.g. job interview). If you use "harsher" language freely, it is probably wise to start conversations without that language, and gradually interject "harshness" to see if your partner is comfortable with it or not. One way to find out is to ask them. Another is to use a four letter word, watch the other's reaction, and also ask them how they feel about it. Teenagers also have their own "culture." As a people get into their 20's and 30's, and as they interact with more educated and professional people, they will find that the language is often more "refined" and that they are viewed as immature if they use the same language they used as a teenager. "Hey dude, what's up?" might not go over well in a job interview.

Do you speak in ways that are grammatically correct?
Anyone who has seen "My Fair Lady" can appreciate the importance of learning to speak "correctly." It will help define what group you are from or in. The more you want to be seen as socially "equal" to well educated and "high status" people, the more important it is that you don't say things like, "She like to eat chocolate." or "No one never cares." If English is your second language, you will be forgiven more for poor grammar, but not if you were born in the USA from English speaking parents.

Impersonal, fact, theory, task-oriented, and idea-oriented language and conversations
Some conversations are about theories, facts, tasks, etc. More generally, men have traditionally liked to talk more about business, science, sports, politics, religion, and economics. They may like to discuss, debate, argue, theorize, present facts, and the like. These conversations may tie closely to their career interests, but also may just be avocational interests. These conversations can be interesting, lively, and fun for anyone who likes to talk about a similar topic of interest at a similar level of knowledge, understanding, and/or point of view. Problems can occur when there is a clash in views, level of interest, or level of knowledge. However, there are at least temporary solutions to these problems. The more knowledgeable person can explain to the other some background that may help. People can try to be open-minded and listen and learn from someone with a different opinion, etc. However, most often people will quickly end the conversation, and try to find a more agreeable topic.

A bigger problem occurs when someone is only good at this type of conversation. I find many males who are interested in one of these or other intellectual areas and can converse very well in them are having dating or relationship problems. Their problem is that they may be confident in this type of conversation, but not confident or competent in more feeling-oriented, intimate conversations. (This paper is written with many of them in mind. If you are one of them, pay close attention to this paper and practice, practice, practice.) On a date, IF your date has a real interest in this type of conversation, A LITTLE of it may be good; but too much may be dating death in most cases.

Some of the hallmarks of impersonal conversations are use of the third person (he, she,they, it, people in general) instead of first or second person (I, you, we). Use of generalizations instead of specific; talk about things, facts, etc. instead of people; and lack of revealing or discussing personal information or feelings.

Intimate, personal, feeling-oriented language and conversations

If the more impersonal, general conversations are more common among men, it is equally true that the more intimate, feeling-oriented conversations are more common among women. For someone who wants to converse well with the opposite sex, it is a good idea to learn more about how to talk and enjoy BOTH types of conversations.However, conversationally intimate relationships cannot happen without having very personal feeling-oriented conversations. Many people can never form truly intimate relationships because they lack this type of conversational skill. Also, many couples form relationships in which one or both partners have such poor intimacy skills that they never feel very close to each other. Most of those relationships are doomed. A person who lacks an adequate level of intimacy skills may have a series of failed relationships and never really understand the cause.

Women more typically begin these conversations as little girls and develop these skills talking with other women. Men often grow up being left out of the loop. Men who are close to their mothers or sisters who have these skills often develop high levels of intimacy skills and may be very successful in relating to women in their teen and adult years. Men who grew up with a lack of intimacy with women and communicated almost exclusively in a male world may have serious intimacy skill deficits. Some women grow up in no-talk or task-talk environments or mostly interacting with men and have similar intimacy problems.

Many men I have counseled who haven't dated much or have been very unsuccessful at dating often have as friends men with similar problems. These men often form negative stereotypes about women (such as "All they want is a guy who drives a nice car, has power, is great looking, and is rich.") While a few women may fit these stereotypes, most women are less focused on superficial factors than men are. Women tend to focus more on intimacy factors such as deeper values, caring, affection, family values, relationship focus, understanding, intimacy communication, and fun together. By the way, these features make great topics for more intimate conversations (take note).
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Characteristics of intimate conversations

* Conversation directly focused on self and partner.  Use of first person I, you, we.

* Explicit use of feeling words such as like, care, sad, upset, resent, happy, love, nervous, anxious, irritated, concerned, frustrated, etc. (Note: People often confuse intuition words that actually reflect thoughts with feeling words that reflect emotions . "I feel this is going to be a good day." is not about emotions it is a probability estimate about today. "I'm really looking forward to today is closer." But "I'm really happy, because it is such a nice day." is on target as having a feeling word (happy).

* Talk about relationships-especially your own. Discussing how you feel about other people and discussing the lives of people you interact with increases relationship intimacy. The more important to you the person you are talking about is, the more intimate the conversation. Talking about family members, close friends, and important people in your life can be intimate. It isn't just talking about them in general that is more personal. It is also talking about how you feel about them and how they affect your personal life that makes it intimate. The most intimate conversation with your partner is talking about your feelings about your conversational partner and your relationship with that partner.

Most women like to talk about their relationships of all kinds-family, friends, previous romantic relationships, work, etc. Men who know how to use empathetic listening for the woman to go on and on about these relationships are often deluged with women seeking relationships with them. While many men just scratch their heads wondering what women want, other men have problems of knowing which woman to choose of those who keep calling them. This is one of their secrets.

Start talking about yourself, your partner, and your relationship from the beginning. For example, You can give compliments, tell them you enjoyed the conversation, or comment on how open they were.

* Feedback-compliments and criticisms (and suggestions for improvement). Personal compliments and criticisms are very intimate. Of course it is best to give more compliments than criticisms (often a good measure of relationship happiness). Learn to give criticisms sensitively and constructively. Most people are sensitive about any criticism. If it is not given in the best possible manner, it is probable that the other will feel hurt and resentful-especially if it happens to hit in a sensitive area. (And you may not be able to guess what those sensitive areas are.)

==> See The Assertive Request article that gives a step-by-step approach to giving negative feedback or constructive criticism

* Other more personal intimate topics.  Besides relationships, there are many other topics that can be intimate. You can make almost any topic intimate to some degree by talking about your feelings about it. Use feeling words and talk about how it affects or affected you personally. For example don't just talk about what you do on your job, talk about how you feelabout what you do. Also tell about your deeper values, interests, and goals. Tell short stories about past events that were important to you (ones that you felt/feel strongly about or that had a significant impact on you). Or tell about funny or uplifting stories about yourself or others.

A few other common topics that people talk about-especially when they first meet include their work and feelings about it and people they work with, career goals and history, their interests (especially those they may want to do with the current conversational partner), the current situation (class, current environment, feelings about circumstances surrounding the current meeting, their current day or week events (and feelings about them), important parts of themselves or activities, how they feel about the weather or geographic location, etc.
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Drawing Your Partner's Feelings Out

One of the biggest complaints I hear from women about men is that men don't talk enough about their feelings and their problems or personal lives. Some women have the same problem. Many people have grown up in families and/or with friends who rarely have intimate conversations. All their conversations are more factual/theoretical and may be on topics such as sports, politics, ideas, etc. Even their conversations about people tend to be from a more factual/theoretical approach. They may rarely talk about their own feelings or the own problems with people.

What do you do if you are with a partner who is one of these people? You may not know how to converse intimately with this person.

It's no wonder that they haven't had a good relationship before. One solution is to move on (as others may have done). Perhaps this person will never learn to be intimate, and you would be wise to move on and save yourself a lot of frustration. On the other hand, many men (or women with the same problem) really would like to connect at a more intimate level; but just don't know how. If you learn to draw intimacy out of someone, then you may find a diamond in the rough and help him/her learn how to converse intimately. Try some of the following tips to increase intimacy:

1. Ask personal questions. See asking questions section below.

2. Use empathetic listening which emphasizes feeling words to summarize what your partner is saying even if he/she isn't using them (see below).

3. Be a good role model; talk about personal topics and feelings. Ask how your partner feels about what you said. This approach serves both as a role model and direct stimulus to get him sharing his feelings about events too.

4. Use multiple choice. Example "If you are not sure what you are feeling, could it be a. ... b..... c..... or what?" Use your best guesses to generate the alternatives.

5. Directly discuss the issue of conversational intimacy with him/her. 

Ask directly for what you want: both in general and in specific conversations. Be specific and give specific examples. Have him/her practice and give feedback. Remember, your partner really literally may not know what to say.

You may need to repeat this approach in part many times to make progress. Have him/her read this article. Tell him/her how important this quality is in any relationship you want and in the person you want to be with.

If you try all of the above repeatedly, and your results are unsatisfactory, then it may be wise to move on before you get too attached to someone you may never have true intimacy with. It may be impossible to ever have a really happy, intimate marriage with this person. If your partner just responds defensively time after time and/or refuses to work on this problem, then you there is almost no chance this person will ever improve much. It is hard enough for someone genuinely trying to improve.
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Romantic Conversations

Women often say they want a man who is romantic. When many men hear this they feel confused and inadequate. They think of movie stars whom women see as romantic, and they don't see themselves as being like those stars. So they feel inadequate. Most women value intimate, feeling-oriented conversations more than purely romantic ones, but being romantic can only help your cause with most women. Of course most romantic conversations are really one subtype of intimate, feeling-oriented conversations. To be a romantic conversation, it must normally also meet those criteria (above). What are additional criteria of romantic conversations? Of course "romantic" is a very subjective concept and is a little different within the minds of each person. Following are some common criteria for being romantic.

Use or talk about a romantic theme or topic

A romantic them can be love in general; romantic relationships; romantic books, movies, or music; birds, butterflies, flowers, sunsets, the moon, the ocean or a lake, mountains, or other beautiful nature scenes, romantic actions such as buying flowers or a card; romantic or beautiful poetry; thoughtful, considerate, caring actions-especially actions where you sacrifice something for your love; marriage or family themes; symbols of a future together or of your love; and many more.

Give compliments about your partner's appearance, personality, and behavior

If you are not used to doing this create a list of meaningful adjectives that relate to qualities of a partner that are important to you or may be important to your partner. Make a hierarchy going from "low key" adjectives you could use for someone you just met to more intense adjectives you would use with someone you know much better. Make separate lists for appearance and for personality/behavior. Examples follow:

Sample appearance compliments:  pretty, nice, great, lovely, wonderful, best, fantastic, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent (smile, dress, blouse, hair, face, eyes, hands, feet, legs, etc.). Or a more general comment such as, "You look great"; "You smell so good"; "I feel honored to go with someone who looks so good"; "I'm so lucky that you're going with me"; "You look so great that everyone will be looking at you"; etc.

Sample personality/behavior compliments: Your so nice, happy, bubbly, vivacious, energetic, sparkplug, nice, kind, caring, understanding, sensitive, expressive, fun, enjoyable, interesting, joy to be with, a pleasure, confident, strong, independent, self-sufficient, calm, stable, thoughtful, intelligent, smart, brilliant, insightful, bright, cool, stylish, feminine, masculine, spiritual, mature, wise, successful, good with people, well-liked, respected, friendly, outgoing, assertive, intimate, open, honest, good communicator, smooth, romantic, sophisticated, concerned, etc.

Sample specifically romantic compliments: fun, delightful, romantic, soft, smooth, smell good, feel good, electric, thrilling, enthralling, captivating, sexy, sensuous, delectable, tasty, delicious, insatiable, get my juices flowing, arousing, etc.

 

Use romantic non-verbal cues.

Speaking softly and slowly in a lower pitch is usually perceived as more romantic (except in conditions of extreme sexual arousal-when the opposite is often seen as sexier). Standing or sitting closer, looking for longer periods directly in each other’s eyes, smiling, touching and caressing gently your partner's hair, hand, arm, shoulder, face, etc. are all more nonverbally romantic ways that people communicate romantic interest, mild sexual arousal, and caring to their partners as they are speaking (or during silence). Physical closeness, touching, and mild caressing can be very romantic during silence while watching a sunset or in any beautiful moment that you are sharing together. You can create those romantic moments by actively seeking out and planning to be in romantic settings (sunsets; beautiful nature, music, movies; a nice dinner; a few moments alone after an activity; etc.)
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Controversial Topics and Intimacy

Religion, politics, and social or cultural views are often controversial. They can also be important areas for testing compatibility; so it is important to discuss your views with potential partners fairly early in the relationship. If the topic area isn't very important to one or both partners (e.g. politics, religion, etc.), then there may be no need to discuss your views early in the relationship. However, the more important the topic is to one or both partners, and the more extreme one or both partner's view are, the more important it is to discuss these views before getting too involved or attached. If you wait too long, and at least one partner may not be able to tolerate the differences in beliefs/values, then both could end up feeling very hurt.

If you have strong or extreme views on one of these topics that you know may upset some people, then what do you do? If you simply hide beliefs and values that are important to you, you will never get very intimate with the other person. That will always remain a taboo area that limits your intimacy. On the other hand, if you tell your partner, you might upset him/her so much that your partner won't have any relationship with you at all.

I suggest that you avoid these topic areas when you first meet someone. Talk about the other topics first, and get to know them on the basis of these less controversial issues. Make a connection and develop some trust first. If the topic comes up, simply say you'd rather not talk about (e. g. politics) right now, because it's a controversial area and you'd rather just get to know them better first.

When you are ready to talk about one of these areas, you can first ask them what their views are, or if pressured to give your views, give only a vague, less controversial overview (e. g. "I'm pretty liberal (or conservative) in my political views."). To the extent that you agree or find the other person open to discussing views different from their own, then gradually begin to reveal your views. Save the most controversial views or those most opposite of your partner's until latter. Ordinarily, this process may take several dates or meetings. Generally don't knock them over with all your views at once. Let them gradually get used to them. Otherwise, it will likely be good-bye unless they are true believers like yourself.

You may think, "That's fine. I'm only looking for someone with views like my own, so why not just lay it all out." It's true that a confrontive manner will likely eliminate those with differing views; but it may also turn off even many people with similar views who are turned off by this rather insensitive confrontational style. They will likely view you  not as just an honest, true believer as you would like; but as simply lacking concern for others and social skill (an "insensitive clod")
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Continuing A Successful Conversation: Develop your Internal Observer

If you are not used to "being a good conversationalist," you may think it strange that you should learn to observe and modify the course of a conversation. However, any good conversationalist does this consciously or automatically. At first, as you are learning, it must be done very consciously; but after awhile conversation monitoring will become automatic most of the time. Following are some variables that are important to observe and correct (if there is a problem).

 
Balanced amount of talking and listening.

Ideally, a good conversation will be balanced so that each person is talking about the same amount of time. In the short run, conversations are often unbalanced; but in the longer time frame, good conversations are more balanced. If a conversation is 60-40 or even 70-30, and both are happy with it, then there may be no problem in the short run. However, if it becomes 80-20 or 90-10 (with a few exceptions) something is very wrong. Either one person is being extremely quiet and not contributing and/or one is dominating the conversation with constant talking. If you detect a problem, make an effort to be more assertive in either speaking up yourself (even if it means interrupting) or drawing the other person out as the case may be.

Monologues, lectures, or how-to lessons.

Monologues of any kind can clearly through off the balance. Occasionally a listener really does want to hear extensively about some subject. However, extensive information-giving about an area the other person (may or may not) know much about can be deadly if the other person doesn't want to hear it. Even if they do, doing it is taking a great risk that they will be bored. If you are tempted to give a lot of "helpful" information, at least keep asking the person if they want to hear more.

"Are you sure you want me to keep talking about this, I'm afraid it would bore most people." An even greater risk, is that the other person may feel you are trying to control their lives or be in the role of their parent. This is a very big turn-off to many people. People who give a lot of information often are people who also like to receive a lot of information. If you find each other and it seems OK, then great give and take a lot of information with someone. (Although be sure you also balance the conversation with enough more intimate talk if you want to be friends.)

Since high information-giving people like to get information themselves, they often are very oblivious to how turned off others are to their high information exchange need. The biggest issue is often the amount of detail and total talk time. Learn to just give a brief, general overview of the topic, with possibly a short example. Avoid trying to cover the topic thoroughly. That is where you get into trouble. Do NOT give the amount of information you would like to receive if you were in the listeners position. They aren't you! Doing too much detailed information exchange is another dating death trap many more intellectual people fall into.

A series of questions.

Avoid asking too many questions-especially in a series. It can seem to the other person as if you are interrogating them. Instead, if you are listening to someone use mostly empathetic listening responses. Or ask one to three questions and then talk about how you would answer the same questions. Or change the topic.

Storytelling

We all tell stories about events in our lives or other events we know about. The most personal, intimate stories are those about ourselves and those close to us. The more important the event is to us, the more personal it is. Stories that are humorous (without being offensive to your listener); inform your partner about you, your family, or your interests; relate to common interests; or teach some life lesson are especially valuable and interesting to others. People (especially educated people and women) tend to dislike hearing stories that are sarcastic, put people down, reflect a very negative point of view, show prejudice; or are about disgusting topics. Save these for your small group of buddies that like to be grossed out.

Most common storytelling problems

1. Negative themes. Picking negative themes like those above.
2. Not remembering the end
3. Going into too much detail or not enough detail.
4. Not getting emotionally into the story.
5. Not giving enough or giving too much background
so that the listener knows the context.
6. Going off on tangents
and not progressing fast enough through the story.
7. Debating irrelevant details
with oneself or another. For example don't debate "was it Tuesday or Wednesday." Your listener doesn't care. In that case, just make up it up or arbitrarily make a choice "Tuesday" even if it might not have been or "some day last week."

Good storytelling often has some sort of gradual build up, giving the listener cues about what is to happen (or the main point) that keep the listener's interest until the climax, when the punch line or main point is revealed. This isn't necessary, so don't feel you have to be a great storyteller to tell a story. Most of the important events in your daily life and life history should be told in the form of short stories. To not tell stories at all is much worse than bad storytelling, because it prevents any kind of real intimacy from developing.
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Revealing Potentially Embarrassing Information


If you trust another enough to tell them about embarrassing events in your life that you don't tell most people, you are initiating intimacy. Revealing this kind of information can cause a significant increase in the level of trust and intimacy on both sides. It may be met with similar revelations on your partner's side, which can increase trust and closeness even more. However, this kind of risk can backfire if the story leaves a very negative impression that doesn't make up for the increased trust your partner feels. For example revealing serious problems such as substance abuse, a prison record, or abusing other people can scare people away if they don't already trust you quite a bit and if they aren't able to cope well with such information. (See below for help on revealing serious problems.)

What If You Want to Date Someone Who Has a Lot More Experience than You?

A large relationship experience difference may upset you if you have little or no dating experience. A similar problem may develop if one partner has dated a lot, but never been in a lasting relationship and the other partner has been in one or more long, intimate relationships such as marriage. In both cases you are at an experience disadvantage with your potential partner. This may be a problem in a variety of ways.

First, you may feel inadequate to your partner. Feeling inadequate may be the biggest single problem. I have seen many couples where one partner had limited or no previous experience. In almost all cases the experienced partner didn't care very much. In some cases the more experienced partner preferred to have someone who was less experienced. These generalizations apply to both relationships where the male is more experienced and relationships where the female is more experienced. Of course, like most other variables, similar experience is usually better; but it is not difficult to overcome. The other compatibility factors I have mentioned above are much more important. Experienced partners usually realize this fact more than the inexperienced partners. The reason is that the experienced partner may have already dated people with experience who lack the more important qualities. When the experienced partner finds someone more compatible, he/she realizes that these other factors are much more important and is confident that their partner will acquire the needed experience within their relationship. They may even enjoy coaching their partner. It is best to be honest about ones inexperience, but to put a positive spin on it so that your statements are NOT self-demeaning. Don't' say, "I haven't dated because no one ever wanted me." It is better to say, "I've been focused on school, sports, and my friends, and I've been a little shy about asking women out." Or, "I just haven't met anyone I really wanted to date very much until I met you." etc. Of course, what you say should reflect the truth, but you can state it constructively, "I'm changing and growing," or negatively "I'm inadequate and hopeless."

If you date someone with more experience and feel confused about what to do (such as in making love), try to learn what you can from reading, talking with friends and family, etc. Practice using detailed mental imagery; research shows it can be almost as effective as real practice. Also talk openly with your partner. Don't say, "I'm afraid you won't like me if I can't perform well enough." Try something more positive and caring like, "I'm not very experienced at this, but I care for you and care that you are happy. I want to do the things that will bring pleasure and happiness to you." And you can ask what they like, want, or expect. You can also ask for suggestions. This is part of a good communication process that allcouples need to engage in. The most experienced partners know that they need to ask these very same questions to make sure they are pleasing their partners.
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What To Do When You Can't Think of Anything To Talk About

One of the most common fears of people who are not very talkative is a fear of silence: what if the conversation "goes dead" and you can't think of anything to talk about? What do you do then? Here are some alternatives.

Be silent.

While this may not usually be the preferred alternative, it isn't as bad as death either. There are many situations where silence is actually the preferred alternative. Watching a sunset together or doing anything where your are both absorbing the moment is often not only a good time for silence, it may be problem if you talk too much.

When silence occurs, why do you feel that it is your responsibility to fill the silence, and think that you are the one who will seem boring or uninteresting? If you have these fears to a great extent, explore them-perhaps in counseling. Learn to cope with this worst case scenario that someone will think of you as boring. In summary, it is OK to simply be silent for a few moments while you think of something else to talk about or attend to your environment.

Talk about the current situation-look at your recent feelings and thoughts.

Remember that your emotions are the key to identifying important issues. The stronger the emotion, the more important the issue. Your emotions are connected to your inner beliefs, values, interests, and other important internal aspects of who you are. Therefore following your emotions to events and thoughts they are associated with will lead to these important aspects of yourself and therefore to important-and intimate-conversational topics.

One of the best ways to find a topic of conversation is to start trying to find something to talk about by looking at your recent emotions.

What have been the strongest positive and negative emotions you have had today?

What deeper daily events were they linked to? What deeper issues, interests, concerns, goals, conflicts, values, relationships, etc. are associated directly or indirectly to those emotions? Let your inner observer take notice of the stream of events and associated thoughts that come to mind. Which of these are potential topics of conversation? These feelings can lead to intimate conversations.

Try starting with the present situation and work backwards in time. For example, I am typing on my computer while I am waiting for my car to be repaired. My main concerns right now are with writing this guide and with the cost of my car repair. These feelings could lead to conversations about writing, self-help, meeting people or about my car, car repairs, finances, etc. These are not deep, intimate conversations; but they could be interesting and fun. Maybe I would remember a funny story about an earlier car repair or I could ask my conversational partner if they have had problems with his/her car. If you were meeting someone for the first time on a date, you might think of your car repair and omit discussing that because it’s not very intimate, romantic, or likely to lead to more meaningful information about each other-it's pretty "superficial." However, if it is all you can think about, it will do. Stress talking about  you're your feelings about your car, etc.

However, better topics might come from looking for feelings about people, your work, your interests, etc. Think about the current situation in which you are meeting the person and your feelings about that situation or similar or related situations (of meeting people, of the environment you are in, etc.). Have you been in similar situations? Are there any interesting stories about those situations or people? You can ask your partner the same question. How do you feel about meeting this person? Do you have some positive feelings (e.g. about their appearance, personality, etc.)? If so, convert them into compliments-a great way to start a new topic.

What about negative feelings, nervousness, etc.? Can you use those constructively? For example a great compliment is, "Whenever I'm with a woman/man as attractive as you, I get a little nervous." Or, "From what I read on the Internet, you seem like such an interesting person, that I got a little nervous about meeting you." That is a very positive way of being honest about your feelings and giving a nice compliment at the same time. It communicates your honest "negative" feelings of nervousness, but does it in an assertive, confident manner. It also opens the door for your partner to be honest about his/her feelings of nervousness (which he/she almost certainly has if it is like a blind, first time meeting). From there you can talk about some of the positive qualities you read about and ask questions or ask what she/he liked about you. These can lead directly to more compliments and information about important compatibility factors.

Ask your partner how he/she is feeling.

People commonly say, "How are you doing?" or "What's happening? as a brief greeting with no expectation of a response other than "fine," "great," or "OK." However, if you in a situation where you have time to talk, the same comment becomes an invitation to begin talking about yourself. Many people don't know where to start and simply respond with the short response such as "OK." Then the conversation goes dead. Instead, respond by talking about yourself for a minute or two. Get in touch with your emotions and recall the past few hours or days and comment about one or more of the events that you have been focusing on during that time. Try to locate an event that might be interesting to the other person if you can; but if you can't just randomly start talking about your feelings and daily events. It helps your partner (and you) relax, because conversation is proceeding, and you may accidentally hit upon a topic that one of you has a real interest in talking about. If nothing else, you can ask them about "What's been happening" to your partner, and your partner can start telling you about their recent life.

Of course, you can begin the meeting by asking "How have you been?", "What's been happening for you lately?", or some such general question. If you know the person enough to know something about their life and if you know they have been concerned about something important, then start by asking them about that illness, breakup, new job, test, interview, etc. You can simply say, "How are you feeling?" or be more specific, "How are you feeling about your interview?" The latter shows that you cared enough to remember that they were concerned about the interview and care about their feelings about it. This builds intimacy. In a close relationship, NOT asking can cause the other person to think that you don't care enough to ask and are too selfishly concentrating on your own issues.

Develop and use a conversational topics list

 Carry an updated list of conversational topics in your billfold or purse. When you are getting ready to go to a party, meet a new person, or just want to have a "Plan B" topics list, make a new list (or revise an old one). Add topics that are the types of topics you might want to discuss with almost anyone or topics that might be targeted more toward the person(s) with whom you will be talking. Try a mix of topics like personal events, a funny story, news items, an interesting or meaningful story about a friend, family member, or work situation, a movie, TV show, sporting event, or a joke. Be careful with jokes--especially on dates. Many jokes are offensive to other people.

After you create your list and put it someplace handy, consult it just before the meeting and take 2-3 items from it to place in short -term memory. Then try to NOT use those items, except in an "emergency": when you've tried other methods and still can't think of anything to talk about in a period of prolonged silence. Just having the list items in memory usually gives people more confidence that they have things to talk about, and can help them use other methods more confidently.

Once you initiate a conversation with a list item (or other topic), don't just stop with the story (unless you get a negative reaction); instead see if you can get free associations to other topics or aspects of the story yourself to spur new topics. Or, see if your partner picks up on a related topic, and be a good listener and follow your partner's new direction. For example a baseball story will likely lead to more conversations about baseball or some other aspect of the story. Talking about an embarrassing incident can lead your partner to talk about an embarrassing incident (and therefore greater trust and intimacy). Using free associations like this can set off a whole series of topics as the result of introducing just one of your conversation items. As you add items to your list, try to add items that might more likely spur new conversations. If on a date, focus more on topics that lead to associations of personal feelings and stories about family, personal interests, values, play, romance, and other topics that might bring you closer and spur friendly and romantic feelings.
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How to Win Friends, Influence People, and be Loved By Women: Empathetic Listening Skills

I have asked hundreds of women in workshops, counseling, etc. what was the most important single thing they want in a man, the overwhelming majority say they want a man who listens to them and is sensitive to their feelings. They also quickly add that listening and sensitivity is the most commonly missing element for men. When I ask men how they respond to this, they typically say, "I'm a good listener. I'm sensitive to her feelings." Their partners often say, Sometimes you are, but too often you aren't. What is the real problem here?

Most men have never learned good empathetic listening skills, and even if they do know how to listen effectively, have a natural tendency to want to talk instead of listen. Many men want to tell their point of view, tell how to fix the problem, tell the woman how she isn't seeing the situation clearly, or explain why they (the men) did it their way instead of what the woman asked them to do. All of these responses are the opposite of listening. There are appropriate times to give most of the above "tell" responses, but men typically give them way too soon. They typically don't let the woman present her side of things FULLY. Men may listen briefly, jump to conclusions, and give their point of view. Also, they don't wait for the woman to solve the problem themselves, they try to give them their (the men's) "fix-it" solution to the problem. Many men secretly want to impress others with how smart they are, how much they know, or good they are at solving that kind of problem.

At this point I would like to change my language from "men" to "dominant partner" and from "women" to "nondominant partner." The reason I am doing this is because, even though these dynamics describe the majority of male-female relationships, there are many exceptions. Often the female is the more dominant partner, and often these dynamics happen in male-male and female-female relationships as well.

Let's return to the problem. Most women and most nondominant partners still want to solve the problem themselves. However the two types of partners differ in style. When the dominant partners are faced with a problem, they typically want to keep it more in their own mind. Often they fear other people will either see them as weak if they reveal they have a problem, or they may be afraid that the other person will influence their judgment too much. They tend to feel very confident about their problem-solving abilities and don't feel they need any help or support in reaching conclusions and acting upon them. On the other hand, nondominant partners often feel less confident about their decision-making abilities and value consultation more than self-sufficiency. They tend to want outside help and emotional support of their choosing. They want someone to listen to them as  they explore the problem and their feelings about the problem. They go through the same stages or problem solving the dominant partners do (exploration of feelings and gathering information, generating possible solutions, deciding, and planning). However, they prefer to do it publicly with a trusted partner who will listen and encourage them to continue the process.

After they explore their feelings and information and their own ideas, then (and only then) might they seek possible solutions from their partners. The clash in styles comes because the dominant partner hears the nondominant partner start to talk about a problem and interprets this statement to mean the nondominant partner want the dominant partner to take ver the problem and solve  it. When the dominant partner shoots out a quick fix-it answer, the nondominant partner feels interrupted, controlled, and discounted. The nondominant partner feels his/her problem-solving process was cut-off, that his/her partner has no confidence in his/her ability to generate a good solution, and that his/her partner wants get control and do it his/her way. When the nondominant partner responds with hurt, anger, silence, or some other negative response, the dominant partner also feels hurt. The dominant partner really may have just wanted to help, and now his/her partner is upset with him/her "for trying to help" and is often very confused about why the nondominant partner is so upset. The interchange may end with very hurt feelings on both sides.

This whole communication problem could have been easily prevented by the dominant partner (1) understanding the nondominant partner's problem-solving style, (2) deciding to support that person in his/her style, and (3) responding with mostly empathetic listening responses and exploratory (not too directive) questions.
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Empathetic Listening Skills as Conversation Generators


Have you ever wondered what the most important secret to being an interesting conversationalist is? In Dale Carnegie's best-selling classic self-help book,

How to Win Friends and Influence People,

he points out that good listening skills are the key. Anyone who is talking about something that is really important to them and actively exploring new insights into the topic is fascinated with the conversation. How could they not be?

How do you get someone to creatively explore a topic of vital interest to them? Use the empathetic listening technique below to follow a talker's strongest feelings to get to even more important, central topics of immediate concern to the talker. People only have strong feelings about topics of great importance to them. So following those emotions by summarizing them and asking questions about them will almost always lead to intimate, meaningful conversations. These conversations can quickly lead to a person talking about their innermost values, goals, interests, fantasies, and plans. It is such a powerful technique that I have to be careful how much to use it or how far to take it in casual settings-lest someone get too involved in exploring a highly personal topic that is inappropriate for that casual setting. However, this is rarely a danger for the untrained person. It is much more common to not use it adequately or at all. It is a vital skill for more intimate situations.

 

Empathetic Listening Responses-Step-by-Step

How do you make empathetic responses? Following are the steps.

Step 1--Identify your partner's emotions.

 Use your partner's "body language," statements, and your own feelings as ways of identifying your partner's feelings. You can use the following simple classification of emotions:
Negative emotions
: anxiety/confusion, guilt, anger, or depression.

Positive emotions: love, joy, relaxed, happy, or excited. How intense is the emotion? Find a feeling word that fits the right type and intensity of the emotions. "You felt worried and annoyed." "Are you feeling hurt about ...?" "You seem a little upset about ..."

Step 2--Mentally summarize content (your partner's main points).

State your summary in words they would use or agree with . If you state your summary in words that come from your frame of reference (or position) instead of your partner's frame of reference, then your partner may not accept that you understand their point of view. Consequently, your partner may begin to argue or stop constructive exploration of the problem.You must normally get their approval that you understand their position.

Example: NOT: "You're saying that you were really selfish about how you spent our money." INSTEAD: "You're saying that you spent the money on purchases that you thought were important."

Step 3-State your empathetic response to your partner.

Formula: "You feel (feeling), because (summary of content/causes)." Example: "You feel hurt because you think I was inconsiderate."

Step 4--Use their feedback to correct your response if necessary.

Positive feedback-your partner keeps exploring the problem: If your partner says that you understood and/or continues to explore the problem in a constructive manner, then you can be assured that your empathetic response was "on target." Your partner believes that you understand her/his feelings and content so far.

Negative feedback-your partner STOPS exploring the problem: If your partner corrects you, but continues, that is OK too. However, if your partner argues with you about your interpretation of their position or stops exploring the problem constructively, then it is crucial that you assume that you did not state your partner's point-of-view adequately.

Your partner is always right about what his/her feelings and thoughts are . If you believe your partner is being dishonest, you can still say, "I hear you saying that you feel..." (If you think your partner is not being open or truthful, tell them what you think later when it is your turn to state your position.

Finally, if you don't know what else to say, make an empathetic response to your partner.

I do this if I feel hurt, angry, or confused as a way to "buy time" to deal with my own feelings before saying something that will upset my partner more.
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Non-Verbal Communication: Using Body Language to Build Closeness

You may know that body language is a very important mode of communication and that there are cultural differences in body language. Following are a few tips about body language and meeting people.

Distance apart.

Find a distance that is comfortable for both. If the other backs away or moves forward, attempt to be relaxed with what makes your partner comfortable unless it becomes very uncomfortable for you.

Eye contact.

In the American culture the general rule is to look at the your partner's eyes or face when you are listening; and look at their face part of the time when you are talking. If you lock eyes for too long and it is uncomfortable, glance away, then glance back. In emotionally intense situations you might each stare into each others' eyes for prolonged periods of time.

Stand or sit squarely toward the person-face-to-face, body-to-body.

You would almost never talk to a person back-to-back. That is the opposite of communicating interest and intimacy. The closer your shoulders are to being parallel with each other, the more desire for interest or closeness is communicated. Being involved in another task while someone is conversing with you shows a distinct lack of interest and intimacy (and can be a major complaint in relationship counseling).

Voice modulation.

How loud and how fast you talk can make a difference in how you are perceived. If you are too loud, you may be perceived as dominating and aggressive. If too quiet, as too passive and submissive. The speed and pitch (tonal frequency) you talk can also be important. Talking in a monotone instead of varying your loudness, pitch, etc. can be a problem and may communicate disinterest or being aloof. Too dramatic of an approach can leave an impression of someone who is "too emotional." Often these impressions are as much in the eye of the listener as in reality. But be aware of the type of impression you tend to lead with people-especially your partner. If it is not an impression you want to leave, then try changing some of these non-verbal communication styles.

Dress.

Your dress also communicates something to your partner. For example if you dress too casually or sloppily, you may give the impression that your meeting or date (and therefore your partner) isn't important to you. Not a good message. Also, I must ask you what turns you on about someone of the opposite sex? Is it being dressed sloppily? Men tend to dress more poorly and give less attention to their appearance and grooming. Wearing clean, stylish, matching clothes of a formality that is at least as formal as the occasion, smelling good, being clean-shaven, having clean teeth and nails, clean/polished shoes, and wearing a coat that also looks good can help leave a good impression about you and contribute to turning on your partner. Isn't that what you want? If you are a guy and aren't sure what to wear, ask a woman who has reasonably good taste. Be cautious about asking your buddies, chances are their dates aren't so impressed with their dress even though they may like the guys.

A note to women. How sexy or provocative do you want to dress? You will probably dress according to your personality. If you want to be perceived as "sexy," you will probably dress sexier. Some women are very cautious about "leading a man on' or "giving the wrong message." However, from most men's point of view, you can go too far either way. Try to dress in ways that bring out your positive features, not ways that hide them. Do it in good taste, but if you have a good figure, don't wear clothes that completely hide it. Also, women tend to think that all men are looking for the same figure the women imagine is perfect (thin, big breasts, etc.). However, men vary far more in their tastes than women think. Also, many women have figures that they are more critical of than the men they date. They try to hide parts they don't like, and consequently wear clothes that hide too much. As you get to know a guy, ask him what he likes you to wear and compromise with him; just as you expect the same from him.
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The Importance of Physical Attractiveness

In research where neutral observers rated people on scales of 1-10 for overall physical attractiveness, there is a common finding that most people date and marry people who are within 1 or 2 points of their partner. So take a good look at yourself in the mirror. The bad news is that people who are much more physically attractive than you (that you have always dreamed of dating) may not want to date or marry you. However, the good news is that there are many people who are about your level of physical attractiveness who would love to date or marry you.

Of course there are many exceptions to this rule. However, one theory states that if someone marries someone who is much more physically attractive, then they need to have some compensating characteristics in which they may be much more attractive than their partner. The classic example is the rich, not-so-attractive man marrying the beautiful woman. Of course there can be problems with this type of inequality. He may always wonder if she married him for his money (maybe she did); and she may have to put up with being married to someone she's not very attracted to.
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Where Can You Meet People?

Surveys of people who have recently married find that singles matching services, parties, clubs, or other singles meeting places are the most common way people currently find their mates. Meeting people through friends and relatives and meeting people at work or school and in organizations such as churches follow closely behind. Relatively few marriages occur from meeting people in situations other than these. Some people also marry someone they met at the supermarket, shopping, on the street, or through some other chance (or not so chance) encounter.

To put the matching problem in perspective, ask yourself the following question.

Out of 1,000 single people of the opposite sex who are in your age range, about how many do you think you might be able to be happily married to?

When I ask that question in singles workshops, I get answers ranging from about 1 to 500. However, most people answer in the range of 5 to 100. That is 0.5% to 10%. Keep that in mind as we proceed.

Take a personal survey of the number of single, available people of the opposite sex within your age range that you will likely meet or interact with in the next year given your current efforts. If you are a college student taking four classes with an average of 10 available opposite sex members per class, that adds up to 40 for the next three months, 80 for the year. If you have an job where you don't meet a lot of new people as part of the job, then the number could be anywhere from zero to 20-30 for most people. What if we add in the number of people you will likely meet through your friends and family? Another 5 to 40? If you attend church or another organization regularly, how many more is that? 5 to 50? Then we add in 5-10 through chance encounters. What is the total? For most people those numbers would probably add up to between 40 and 160. The person meeting 160 might be in pretty good shape, but the person meeting 40 has a definite problem. How many of these 20 to 160 are available for a new relationship? That may cut the number to between 10 to 80. Suppose you have a pool of even 100 available people in a year to find the right person. If 5-10% of these meet your criteria for marriage, then that is 5-10 people. Out of that potential pool of 100, how many have you talked with enough to know whether or not they are one of those 5-10 potential partners. Chances are you may have had a class or been in a group with that person without even interacting with him/her. You become like ships passing in the night. How can you increase your odds? One of the best ways is to start interacting more with potential partners in your natural settings-especially those that seem available, attractive (to you), and otherwise interesting. Another way is to start meeting more people.

Meeting People on the Internet, Newspaper Ads, or other Matching Services

. Many people don't want to use singles events or matching services to meet people. A friend of mine made a study of the whole meeting people process concluded that everygood meeting people path had negative stereotypes about it. If you become blocked by those negative stereotypes and your own negative thinking, you may never meet the right person. My friend decided that she would simply ignore these negative stereotypes, because she reasoned that getting involved in singles routes to meeting people would greatly increase her chances of finding the right person. Meeting the right person was her goal, and it was more important to her than what others might think of her for pursing these routes. She wanted to meet and date a lot of men from which to make her choice. Therefore she tried every singles route she could think of, and she dated a lot of men including the one she eventually married. Her conclusion at the end of her "study" was that every singles activity she tried had some merit, but that newspaper ads and the Internet were the most efficient ways to meet men. She preferred to put the ads in and then she got to choose which men she wanted to go out with from the responses she received.

I have talked with many people who have used the Internet and newspaper ads. I suggest you try it if you find meeting people services whose clientele includes your age range and other characteristics that fit you. Busy professional people are especially likely to use these services. The stereotype that only "losers" use services like these is totally false. The feedback I get is that almost everyone my clients have met this way have been interesting, nice people who were serious about relationships. They usually end up dating about 10-30% of them. That is pretty good if you compare it to any other route to meeting people. Even when they don't end up dating the person they met, they almost always have interesting encounters, get to practice their meeting people skills, and learn more about people of the opposite sex, and learn more about what they want (or don't want) in a partner. Remember, when you explore a singles route, you will be meeting other people who are available and also looking for a partner.

How to maximize your chances of finding good matches with Internet or newspaper ads or matching services.

The best match for you is someone who is similar to you in your most important values, beliefs, interests, activities, background, physical qualities, relationship and communication style, etc. To find a person like that through a singles matching service, focus on these important dimensions. Before you look at a lot of self-descriptions to find someone to meet, make a list of the qualities that you want in a person you would marry (even if you aren't ready for marriage). Also make a similar list about what your positive qualities are. Make your Relationship Resume'. See the discussion about making such a list above and see the sample Relationship Resume' below.

Keep these matching factors in mind when looking at the self-descriptions of your potential date, and when you write your own self description. As you write your own self-description, keep asking yourself what a woman whom you would want (and who had similar values and interests to yours) would be attracted to in a self-description. You might write different variations and place them in different places or at different times to test your self-descriptions for responses. Get a good photo of yourself and make many copies for mailing and put a copy in a computer file for emails or Internet services.

If you are answering other people's ads, (1) include your photo (a must), (2) include a personal statement that is a compliment about the other person's self-description features that attracted you, and (3) include a self-description that includes all the main points in your relationship resume'. The last can be standardized for all parties, or standardized with a little editing for special cases. You can even call it your Relationship Resume' and send it as is. (An outline of a sample Relationship Resume' is at the end of this paper.)

If you receive a response and/or invitation from someone whom you are interested in, then respond as soon as possible to show interest. Otherwise, they may think they were last on your list.

 If you are to meet, meet in a public place, preferably during the day or early evening, for a definite, limited time of about 30-60 minutes (possibly allow for more time), be very specific about time and place so you don't miss each other, and use cell phones to adjust if there is a problem finding the right place, etc. Dress attractively and appropriately. When you meet, follow the suggestions elsewhere in this guide. The outcomes are either that you will never see each other again, you will become friends, or you will date. You don't have to decide on the outcome the first meeting, and if you haven't decided, don't agree to anything more than talking on the phone again. If you each want more contact, then I suggest you arrange the next meeting before you part. See the section on invitations.

If you want more contact, call the person and/or send flowers, a card (or emailed card) soon. Most women still expect the male to initiate the next contact. If you delay, you will not seem very interested (not a good thing). However, if you are nervous or very busy and do delay, don't let that stop you. Call and say you would have liked to call sooner, and give your reason. Your partner may remain unimpressed, but still glad you called. If he/she liked you and sees enough potential compatibility, he/she will still want to see you again.
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Invitations: How To Invite Someone to Meet Again or Go out with You

What type of invitation do you want to make? casual, date, etc. Try giving a compliment first, then following up with an invitation. "I really enjoyed talking with you, I'd like to get together again. Could we exchange phone numbers?" Some people carry personal or business cards and they exchange cards.

When you make an invitation for the first time, don't be too specific. For example if you ask someone to go out to eat next Saturday, what if he/she says, "I'm sorry, but I'm busy Saturday." You say, "What about Friday?" She/he, "I'm busy then too." You, "How about next week?" This line of questions could become very awkward. Instead try a general invitation first. "I've really enjoyed meeting you, and I'd like to invite you to dinner sometime soon." Then pause. She/he then must respond to your main question, "Do you want to go out with me?"

It prevents your partner from coming up with a lot of excuses and prevents your wondering if his/her responses are excuses or are the truth. If you are asked a question like that and don't want to go out with the person, try responding, "I enjoyed meeting you too, but I'm not interested in a dating relationship." With this statement, the truth is out and no excuse are needed.

What if you are on the other end: someone asks you to do something and you really are busy a lot. Tell them, "I am really busy those nights, but I would like to go out with you. Can we find another time?"

If you ask someone "to go out soon," and they respond positively, then negotiate a time and place. You could suggest possible dates first. If she/he is unavailable on those dates, ask your partner to suggest a date. Go back and forth until you find one. If it you are starting to reach too far into the future for one or both of you, then suggest exchanging phone numbers and say you will call in a week or so and try again. Then do it! It would also be a good idea to call once or twice before then. You could call and say, "I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed being with you the other night." and continue from there.
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Developing a Physical Romantic Relationship

People's methods of beginning a physical romantic relationship vary considerably, but there are a few common principles that work with most people. As liberated as our society is in male-female relationships it is still more common for the man to initiate more touching, romantic, and sexual contact. However, in many cases the woman initiates, and in most relationships men want their partners to initiate a significant part of the time (30-60% of the time).

Let's start at the beginning. How does a physical relationship start? It really starts from the first moment you see each other. Your body language will give messages about how you are feeling to your partner. If you are mostly nervous, that message will come across at least a little. Being nervous is not all bad. It can actually be attractive to many people, since it may indicate that you are nervous because you are attracted to your partner and want to please them. If you get that message from someone, how do you feel? That is why it is often a good idea to say, at some point, "I often get a little nervous around women/men I find interesting and attractive, so that's why I'm nervous around you. " or some such statement.

How does body language from two people who seem interested in each other differ from two people who don't? The former stand or sit closer together, sit so their shoulders are more parallel, lean forward, look into each other’s eyes more, and may do some mild touching. They may touch each other's hand, arm, shoulder, or even face or hair. The man may open doors, help her with her coat and chair, and do other things which not only appear "gentlemanly" but also bring him in closer physical contact with her. Therefore, if you are interested in a physical relationship with someone start "getting physical" from the beginning. What is the difference between a man who is considered romantic and "smooth" from one who is not? The word "smooth" probably comes from the fact that the smooth man leads the woman into a more intimate relationship (physical and emotional) in small steps instead of big ones. The smooth man uses intimate body language and manages to come in close physical proximity and to little bits of touching that eventually lead up to the first kiss. He may ask her for her permission to kiss her. The "clumsy" man may keep his distance all night and then suddenly grab her for a kiss that she is totally unprepared for.

Touching or holding hands is a nice way to start a physical relationship. You can hold hands that in a movie, at a restaurant, or wherever. You don't need to do it through the whole movie, just for short periods. Romantic movies with romantic or touching scenes are great for this, as is romantic music, talking about a romantic or touching subject, etc. You don't need to have a romantic stimulus such as one of these, but if you get the stimulus, don't pass up the opportunity.
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What If a Problem or Conflict Develops?

It is inevitable that you and your partner will not agree about everything. No matter how compatible you are, you will have some areas of disagreement or conflict. No two people are identical in their values, beliefs, etc. and those differences lead to some level of disagreement or conflict. The conflict could be very mild or it could be of greater magnitude. Even smaller conflicts can leave a bad impression, because people will often overgeneralize about the conflict. For example, if someone makes a statement that the other perceives as being prejudiced against some group, the partner may conclude that the other is a racist even though the first person never meant the remark the way it was taken. If the two never discuss this conflict, then the second partner may never agree to meet again even though there is no real difference. It is too sad that neither party initiated a discussion of the conflict; because it might have been easily resolved.

If the two partners had resolved the conflict, then not only would the conflict be resolved, but they would have reached a new relationship level. Every relationship has conflicts, and when two people resolve their first conflict successfully, it makes them closer and builds trust. This successful resolution enables the pair to reach a new level in the relationship. This advancement can happen even during the first meeting-a significant accomplishment.

If your partner gets upset about something you say or do, then how he/she responds will depend upon your partner's own individual style of dealing with conflict. Most responses can be grouped under the more general categories of aggressive, assertive, or nonassertive. The aggressive response is to be visibly upset and probably attack you in some way. The nonassertive response is to ignore the problem, withdraw, get quieter, become emotionally distant, or use some other passive response. The assertive response is to deal with the problem in an understanding, caring, and diplomatic manner.

How would you respond if you got upset about something someone you had just met said or did? Would it be different if you knew the person better? How would attraction to the other person affect your response? Would you like some tips for responding if your partner,

* criticizes you,
* gets angry,
* withdraws, suddenly becomes quiet or passive/nonassertive,
* becomes sarcastic or teases you harshly,
* blames you for something,
* becomes very "needy" and dependent,
* tries to make you feel guilty,
* constantly outtalks you or argues with you,
* won't take "no" for an answer,
* or tries to manipulate you in some other way.

=> Go to: Assertion Training article at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/assertion_training.htm
 

What do you do if you are rejected or fear being rejected?

=> Go to: Beyond Fear of Rejection and Loneliness to Self-Confidence at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/c-rejct.htm

 

What if some aspect of yourself or your past may upset others?

Have you accepted it yourself? Can you forgive yourself and feel forgiven?

Have you taken steps to make amends and/or changes? Are you having a problem with feeling good about yourself?

==> See self-acceptance process steps in You Can Choose To Be Happy, Chapter 5: Develop Greater Self-Worth and Self-Confidence

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Special Problems

Following are several problems that people often feel embarrassed and/or guilty about and which can pose problems for potential friends or romantic attachments as well. In addition to the above suggestions, I have included a few special tips for each.

Problems With Your Physical Appearance

Do you think you are too overweight, to thin, too short, too tall, too much fat here or there, to large or small here or there? We have all been conditioned to think we are only desirable to others if we fit some perfect mold. The first thing to do is take a survey of married couples. Are only people with perfect bodies married? Of course not. People marry each other with all sorts of flaws. It is true that people tend to marry people who are about the same "level" of appearance. So if you want somebody in good shape, it is important that you keep yourself in good shape.

Many people have a problem with self-confidence that is partially rooted in their feelings about not accepting their body adequately.
==> If this is a problem, go to the section on accepting your body image in You Can Choose To Be Happy, Chapter 5: Develop Greater Self-Worth and Self-Confidence.

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Physical Illnesses, Disability, or Similar Problems

I will not attempt to cover this complex topic in any depth. Instead I suggest that you go to websites concerned with the relevant illness or disability. Many of these websites provide information that is helpful for spouses and families coping with related problems.

If someone has a physical illness or disability, in some ways it is similar to any problem in the relationship. The same general guidelines for resolving any kind of problem also apply to coping with problems related to illness and disability. Partners must both focus on their love for each other. Both partners must learn to modify their expectations and accept limitations. Both must cope with their own self-esteem issues. They must communicate effectively with each other. If one partner has a more ability to be involved with the outside world, then both must learn how to allow adequate freedom and responsibility for each partner. Each partner must have an adequate degree of freedom and independence. Problems related to finances, chores, medical care, careers, family, and many others may have to be solved in ways that are different from most of their family or friends. They must do what works for them, and not try to just do what others expect.

If you are in a relationship where physical illness is an issue, then it is important to discuss all of these problem areas. It is important that both learn all they can about the best ways to cope with the illness or disability for both the individual concerned and his/her partner/family. Perhaps [preventive] counseling would be a good idea. If you have such a disability, it is wise to prepare yourself for a life without a partner; but don't give up prematurely. Many people with serious, life-threatening illnesses or disabilities find partners and have very happy marriages.
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Issues Related To Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Some people with serious (even not so serious) health problems feel ashamed or embarrassed about their health problem. If it is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), they may feel no one would ever want to have sex with them or want to be with them. Or they may feel too guilty about having sex and possibly transmitting the disease to someone else. Let's take the worst case first-AIDS. AIDS patients who are well enough to have sex have a difficult choice to make if they have a willing partner (and many do). However, many people with AIDS do continue to have sex with knowing, willing partners. Of course they should be very careful about protection and safe sex (as everyone should).

Even people with much less serious STDs have serious concerns about their desirability and fear of transmitting it to others. Over half of the U.S. population has some STD. If you think that people with STDs can't or shouldn't have sex, that belief implies that half of the people in the U.S. don't have sex or shouldn't have sex. Does that really make sense to you? A more reasonable and common approach is to have a discussion about sex with your potential partner before you get into a situation where sex is likely. The best thing to do is to agree to each get tested and discuss the outcomes of the tests frankly. In any case use safe sex procedures (condoms) when you have sex.

It is true that there is some risk of losing your partner when you tell him/her that you have an STD. My advice is to get to know each other as people first and go slow about having sex together. As you get better acquainted and build trust, then discuss STDs with your partner. Bring it up as a general discussion. "I feel very attracted to you and know that we have been cautious about getting physically involved. I think that is good. But I hope we are reaching a point in our relationship when we can consider it. [If partner agrees, then continue.] One thing we need to talk about is STDs. I have been tested and I know that I have ... How do you feel about that?

Then discuss implications of your STD, ways of protecting your partner, etc. Possibly arrange to discuss the STD with a physician together. Also, arrange for new testing see if any other conditions are present in either party. If your partner is serious about developing a relationship that can lead to a long-lasting relationship, then it is very unlikely that your partner will break up with you or refuse to have sex with you. One possibility is waiting longer to have sex until both feel more secure in the relationship.
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Mild to Moderate Psychological Problems


We all have some sort of problem that could be labeled as a "psychological problem." Psychology studies all human behavior, so all human problems and weaknesses could be labeled "psychological." Even the DSM-IV, the book that professionals use to "diagnose" psychological problems covers just about any problem a person could have.  [Almost anyone seeking professional care can be reimbursed by insurance for care, because any problem they have can be categorized in the DSM-IV. This is no accident.] There is a trend in psychological care fields to give DSM diagnoses to every client. Some psychologists would say the trend is to "over-diagnose." In any case a huge number of people have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders and depression. If these people could never marry, we would have a significant part of our population who remained single. Unless a person has a history of numerous suicide attempts or other repeated, serious problems related to anxiety or depression, the odds are that this person doesn't have so serious of a problem that it would make a successful marriage much more unlikely than the average person-especially if the person has had successful therapy. In fact most people who have had successful therapy are probably better than average candidates for marriage.

Psychological Medications. The drug companies of America are making huge profits from psychological medications, and have very expensive marketing campaigns to get almost anyone who is feeling depressed or anxious to take these medications despite the fact that the medications have negative side-effects and are very expensive. Also, people taking these medications may feel

better without dealing with underlying psychological and life problems that are the real causes of their anxiety or depression. Taking medication without getting real therapy [not just a visit to the psychiatrist for a refill] may be avoiding the real issues in their lives. My advice is, if you are dating someone who is long-term medication or who turns to them whenever they get very upset without getting real psychological help, strongly urge your partner to get good counseling/therapy. If they refuse, and if they are doing nothing else to make progress with their problems, that behavior is not a good sign that they will improve much beyond where they are now.

The bottom line. The bottom line in dating anyone with a "psychological problem" is how they function in their lives and in their relationship with you. In other words judge them as you would anyone else. If they are compatible enough with you and meet your criteria for what you are looking for in a long-lasting relationship, then go for it. If not, don't.
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Problems That Almost Always Destroy Relationships

While most psychological problems can be overcome, some problems are so severe, persistent, and/or damaging to relationships that they are definite red flags. Following is a list of what I consider to be problems that are so severe it is very rare or almost impossible for couples to overcome them. The only way that these problems can be overcome is if the party with the serious problem really wants to change for him/herself-not for the partner, gets adequate help to change, and works very hard at it for (probably) many years or the rest of their lives.

Substance Abuse Problems

Many people do not want to face the fact that people who have substance abuse problems can rarely function normally in relationships. Treatment programs combined with 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are essential. We won't even see substance abuse people for counseling until they get involved in treatment programs. A person should have at least one year of total sobriety before considering a relationship. That definitely includes marijuana use. People underestimate the powerful motivational effects of marijuana that cause high passivity, lack of taking responsibility, and a somewhat, mild paranoid reaction about being discovered or criticized. Chronic underachievement and dependency on family/partners is present with most marijuana users. Don't date anyone who has a substance abuse problem-even a "mild" one.

On the other hand, someone who has been sober for several years, has been actively involved in a 12-step program or church can make an excellent partner in a relationship. Many of these people have grown so much in their quest for a happier life that they have gone well beyond the average person in their development. If you are involved with someone like this, just judge them as you would anyone else. If that person is happy and doing well in life and you are happy together and seem like you could have a happy future, go for it. If not, don't.

Chronic Irresponsible Behavior

Someone who can't keep a job; who lets bills pile up; who won't do chores; who uses other people to take care of him/her; who cheats, lies, and manipulates; or who doesn't keep his/her word makes a terrible partner and a terrible burden for anyone in a relationship. Many of these people are extremely charming, fun, humorous, romantic, and extremely good at getting people to like them and feel sorry for them [when needed]. Some of these people are con artists; others are simply irresponsible and extremely selfish. Many are dishonest and have few moral constraints about using other people. They may think the world owes them a living or be grown up "spoiled" children. Beware of charming, irresistible, but irresponsible partners! If it’s your first time dating someone like this, my words may seem overly cautious. After all he/she is so fun and charming. However, after you've been used, cheated on, and put through an emotional roller-coaster, you may listen to these words before you engage in a second such relationship. I have seen too many clients whose lives became miserable from being in a relationship with such a person.

Aggressive and/or Abusive Behavior

What can I say that has not been said. No one can be very happy in an abusive relationship. This person will constantly be walking on eggshells and afraid of the next, often unpredictable explosion by his/her partner. No one likes being psychologically or physically beat up and abused. There are few if any real masochists. People don't go into these relationships on purpose. Instead they are led into those situations gradually. At first the abusive partner may seem charming, fun, and all you've been looking for. He/she may be devoted to you and sacrifice a lot for you. He/she may begin to build his/her whole life around you. That is all fine, and often happens in the best relationships. However, you may begin to notice a pattern of possessiveness, control, checking up on you, and jealousy. He/she may expect your total devotion in return and want you to give up all other people and activities. He/she may become upset when you resist or show signs of independence. He/she may belittle these other people or activities, or be very hurt.

The major factor is that the aggressive/abusive partner has a higher need for control and has a temper that gets out of control so badly that he/she launches very aggressive attacks on you and/or others. In addition to the tantrum frequency, it is the degree the person hurts or attempts to hurt others that helps define the extent of the problem. To what extent does your partner verbally tear you down and attempt to make you feel worthless? To what extent does he/she use physical force to hurt you, threaten you, or damage property? Any physical contact with you that hurts is a problem-grabbing, holding, shoving, and hitting.

An additional sign of a very domineering or aggressive person is that this person may never admit a mistake and always blame others. He/she may be very successful financially or quite impressive and "strong" in many ways. However, he/she may get that way by pushing, controlling, and manipulating others.

To the extent that the person acknowledges the problem, is working actively on the problem, and is getting help, you might have some hope that the anger/aggression problem can be eventually controlled to a large degree. However, anyone who is going to be in a successful relationship with such a person must be someone who can cope with a person like that. Such a partner must be very secure and not be threatened by the anger /aggression him/her self. This partner must consistently use effective, assertive ways of coping with his/her partner's aggressive behavior when it does occur. Almost no one who has an aggression problem will be able to entirely control it all the time. There will be slips occasionally, and his/her partner must be able to cope with these slips and not be threatened by them.

If you are dating someone and the beat you up psychologically or threatens or harms you physically, I suggest either breaking up or getting counseling together. If you continue to date this person, you may be gradually getting yourself so attached and controlled that you have a difficult time escaping later. In the worst cases, the aggressor threatens his/her partner's life if the partner leaves. We all read of murders that result from such situations. [Also examine my comments below under severe mental disorders.] The simplest, most effective solution is to break up and break off all contact with this person. That is what I would recommend in almost all cases.

Severe Mental Disorders.

These include schizophrenia, chronic suicidal behavior, severe manic-depression, and mental incompetency. Chronic anxiety or depression is not usually such a serious problem (see above). Most people with these severe disorders have their hands so full coping with their own problems, they can't be a giving, caring partner to someone else. Most need to take psychological medications indefinitely.

The diagnoses of borderline personality or severe narcism are usually predictive of very poor abilities to form close, long-lasting relationships. People with borderline personalities tend to be extremely insecure, emotionally volatile, extremely dependent, and often exhibit rather bizarre behaviors (such as real or fake suicide attempts, sexually odd or outrageous behaviors, extreme attention-getting behavior, etc.). Perhaps this description alone will help you see why this person makes a poor risk. Narcism is extreme selfishness. In both cases the person may be very adventurous, a lot of fun at times, and could be very sexy and physically appealing.

If you were to get involved with someone with a severe mental problem, I suggest that you have a long talk with the person's psychologist/psychiatrist about what you would be coping with. Also, go to websites that deal with these disorders and read advice for spouses and family. My general advice is to not get involved with someone who has these problems unless they are making so much progress that they really meet your criteria for what you want in a relationship. In addition you should get counseling to examine your own needs to take care of needy others, see if you have such a low self-esteem that anyone would do, or check to see if you have some other problem that keeps you from seeking someone who has a higher probability of engaging in a successful relationship.
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The pace of the relationship. What if you want to go slowly?

Many people want to proceed slowly and/or cautiously in a relationship or some aspect of a relationship-especially sex. We all know that some people meet and have sex on the first date while others wait until they are married. Most people want to get well acquainted or married before they have sex. Some delay sex for moral or religious reasons. Others want to avoid too much of the attachment sex causes before knowing each other well enough. Many delay to avoid risk of STDs or pregnancy. Others have ambivalent feelings about sex or their partners. Most experienced people agree that having sex too early isn't a good idea.

Often one person has been hurt in previous relationships, has been previously raped or abused, has been cheated upon, has "abandonment" issues, or has some other issue that relates to trust. This person feels vulnerable and wants to avoid being hurt again. They want to become very involved at an interpersonal level and feel adequate trust before engaging in sex.

If your partner wants to go slow for any of these reasons, then the only way this relationship will work is to respect his/her needs and let your partner control the pace of psychological and/or physical involvement. Rushing before your partner is ready can increase their anxiety and negative feelings about sex. For a person to increase their desire for sex and overcome their anxiety, go slow (take baby steps) and make each experience as pleasureful and anxiety free as possible (see below). You should communicate well and frequently about how you each feel; and you may need to seek relationship counseling for additional help. It is important that BOTH partners be actively working on improving the problem. The partner with the problem should be making active attempts to build trust and move toward greater involvement. That person may also need counseling.

If you are the person who wants to go slow for any reason, it is important that you be honest with your partner about what those reasons are and that you work consistently on overcoming any problems that may be inhibiting your involvement. If you are limiting sex for safety, religious, or moral or similar reasons, then try to find ways that you can have a satisfying physical relationship that respects your boundaries.
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What if one partner has a performance anxiety problem with sex?

Many people are anxious about having sex. One of the most common problems is performance anxiety.

Performance anxiety isn't anything weird or unchangeable, it simply means that some is anxious about how well they will perform. It is similar to speech anxiety, math anxiety, meeting people anxiety, etc. In short people worry about some kind of outcome goals-such as getting an erection, getting wet, achieving orgasm, or adequately pleasing their partner. Someone with less experience than his/her partner, someone who has previously had bad sexual experiences, or someone who feels guilty about having sex at all may be predisposed to having a problem with performance anxiety.

Most problems of performance anxiety are NOT serious, unchangeable problems at all. In fact they can usually be overcome with a partner who is very caring, understanding, and is willing to let their partner control the pace and nature of the sexual contact. In some cases, going to a therapist who knows how to help people with this type of problem is needed. In any case, sexual counseling may be helpful and speed the pace of progress. The key is that each sexual interaction needs to be a pleasant experience for both partners. Going slow and engaging in physical sexually-related behaviors that bring pleasure to your partner at each step help recondition the anxious partner and help that partner develop trust and confidence to go to the next step. Take many baby steps. Avoid assuming everything is fine after a good experience and taking too large a step the next time. Keep getting feedback from the anxious person. If you follow these guidelines, in a few weeks or months you should reach your goals. If there are setbacks, don't abandon the program. Just go back a few steps and use the same basic approach. You might need to make some adjustments or go slower for awhile. If this approach doesn't work, then seek professional help. I have never had a case where two people who loved each other and had a good relationship otherwise couldn't overcome a sexual problem such as this if they persistently worked on it in the manner described above.

For more help on performance anxiety go to:

1. Focusing "On The Ball" Can Help Us Overcome Anxiety http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/h87focus.htm, and

2. Systematic Desensitization Technique for Reducing Fears and Anxiety http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/Desensit.htm

3. Improve Social Confidence and Overcome Fears of Loneliness and Rejection (especially for dating) http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/c-rejct.htm

People have other kinds of problems with sex as well. Some people may be confused about their sexual orientation. Some people may have very unusual or unhealthy sexual fetishes. Unusual sexual tastes that don't hurt anyone usually cause no harm; but some can be harmful. One very serious sexual problem involves combining sex with violence. This should be a red flag. More complex problems should be dealt with in therapy. If your partner has one of these types of problems and it is causing too great a problem, then I suggest you insist upon therapy or get out of the relationship.
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How Do You Continue To Develop Intimacy and Overcome Difficult Periods?

This article focuses upon the early stages of meeting someone and beginning a relationship. For more information about developing and maintaining intimacy and overcoming disagreements and problems, see some of my other free articles on those topics. Following is a list of some of them. They may all be found my website at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens

* Assertion Training: Be More Competent and Confident With Anyone!

* Overcome Anger and Aggression

* Relationship and Communication Tips Summary: Choose To Be Happy in Relationships

* Harmonious Relationships: Finding Intimacy and Independence

* Harmonious Assertive Communication: How To Achieve Intimacy and Resolve Conflicts

* How to make an Assertive Request for a Behavior Change

* Factors Causing Relationship Failure and Success

 * Complete SHAQ--the (free) Success and Happiness Questionnaire.

 SHAQ has several relevant scales on intimacy, assertion, conflict resolution, sexual roles, relationship independence, romantic habits, self-esteem, and other scales. Go to my companion web site at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens/success.

My wife and I have a wonderful marriage. When I was young I didn't know most of what I have just written, and I lacked the confidence and interpersonal skills that I later learned. I learned them through reading, observing others, talking to people, helping others, and trial and error myself. Once you learn the lessons in this article well and put them into practice, your life will forever be different. You can never go back (thankfully). The client I mentioned in the beginning, myself, and all the other people I have seen make significant progress did so because they would honestly analyze their own thoughts, emotions, and behavior, the effects on others, and the behavior of others. Then they would put their new insights into practice, learn, and try again until they reached their goals. You can do this too. You don't need to believe that you can reach your overall goals. You just need to believe that you can do the next step. Develop a plan and focus on your behavior (not outcomes) for that next step. After you achieve that step, you will have confidence in the step after. Eventually you will reach your goal. Persistence is the key.

My best wishes for a happy relationship and for a happy life-whether or not you are in a relationship. If being terrified of not being in a relationship or being happy alone is an issue for you, then you need to work on that issue first. Start with chapter one of my book, You Can Choose To Be Happy at http://www.csulb.edu/~tstevens. 
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RELATIONSHIP RESUME'

It takes a little time, but a thoughtful one will really pay off!

Make your own relationship resume
(1)Complete each section, writing in some detail about who you are.  Your friends and romantic partners for lasting relationships will be people who (eventually) like you for WHO YOU REALLY ARE.  SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL LET THEM KNOW UP FRONT (though you don't have to reveal all your most negative parts right away).  Of course you want to focus on the positives and especially the parts they would be more interested in and the parts you want to share with them in a relationships (activities, conversation topics, values, beliefs, interests, etc.). It will help you become aware of  what you have to offer in a relationship as well as what you want from a potential partner. It may also help you identify problem areas or areas you want to develop more.
(2) You can use this as a guide to make a plan of what you want potential partners to know about you (as soon as possible) to help "sell" you to someone who has similar values and criteria for what they are looking for. These can also be useful for answering "dating ads."
(3)  If you sometimes have difficulty thinking of conversation topics, elaborate more on each of these items below. Outline and/or mentally role-play what you could say about yourself in each of the resume' areas (general and more detaild statements, anecdotes, funny incidents, how you got started, highlights, etc).  ALSO, think of questions you could ask your partner about their family, goals, interests, history, etc. relative to each area below.  Even record these (eg. on your smartphone) and check them for topics.  It's a good idea to have a conversational topics list you carry with you for times you have trouble initiating topics.

For each category below, fill in aspects of yourself that relate to that category.
 


BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION
Name, age, ethnic, etc.

EDUCATION AND OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION
Accomplishments (Education, Work Experience, etc.)

Goals (major) and why

INTEREST, FUN, RECREATION

  • Observer (TV, movies., cultural events, stereo music)
  • Active (aerobics, tennis, dancing, golf, biking)
  • Romanic (romantic walks, music candlelight, flowers, card, gifts )
  • Parlor games (Trivial Pursuit, cards)
  • Hobbies (photography, painting, computers, etc.)
  • Intellectual interests (science, history, literature, philosophy, religion, computers, psychology )

PEOPLE
  • Family (all about them)
  • Friends & social activities, interests

COMMUNICATION SKILLS and HABITS
  • - intimacy (openness, honesty)
  • - affectionate
  • - empathetic understanding
  • - assertive (friendly, fair, diplomatic)
  • - desire equality vs. traditional male-female

BELIEFS and PERSONALITY FACTORS
  • -honesty/integrity
  • -optimism/positive attitude and point of view
  • -self-esteem/confident
  • -independent/self-reliant
  • -cooperative
  • -friendly
  • -sense of humor
  • -hard-working/motivated/ambitious
  • -complimentary vs. critical
  • -assertive vs aggressive or non-assertive
  • -good emotional control
  • -reliability
  • -spiritual/religious values
  • -material/monetary values
  • -family or people-related values
  • -career/education-oriented values
  • -self-development values
  • -giving vs self-centered
  • -any addictions or bad habits

Add your own items

Fill in any items that you didn't include above.

 

Be more aware and articulate about who you are!

Being more aware and articulate about who you are, and what your strengths are relative to how the person you are with will perceive you can help the beginning of any relationship.  The less time you have to be with the person, the more important being able to summarize who you are can help get off to a good start. Don't use a single narrative, but drop in statements of free information about your goals, interests, anecdotes that illustrate your strengths, etc as appropriate.  Be sure to balance these statements by asking them about themselves; otherwise you sound self-centered.

You are probably looking for (and will be happiest with) someone a lot like you on these same characteristics, if so you're in luck--read below!

Research has shown consistently for many years that people with more similar values, beliefs, interests, attractiveness levels, and personality characteristics tend to be both more attracted to each other and have happier, longer lasting relationships/marriages.  Look over this resume' list after you finish it.  What if you met someone who matched the same things you wrote about yourself?  Would you like to be friends or lovers with that person?  If so, then the good news is that they will tend to look at you the same way!  In other worlds if you do well on your own criteria and want someone who also does well on them, then there is a very high chance that people like that will want to be your friend or lover.  Knowing these facts is a self-confidence booster.

 

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California State University, Long Beach Counseling and Psychological Services.
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