Meeting People, Dating, and
Tom G. Stevens PhD
* The Underlying Causes of Intimacy
* The Introduction
* The First Meeting
* First Planned Activity (or date)
* Continued Development of the Relationship
* 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
* Empathetic Listening Skills as Conversation Generators
* Non-Verbal Communication: Using Body Language to Build Closeness
* The Importance of Physical Attractiveness
* Invitations: How To Invite Someone to Meet Again or Go out with You
* Developing a Physical Romantic Relationship
If a Problem or Conflict Develops?
*What if some aspect of yourself or your past may upset
* What do you do if you are rejected or fear being rejected
Levels of Intimacy
* 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
RELATIONSHIP_RESUME (Make one for yourself to
help you present yourself to others more favorably)
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
If assertiveness in dealing
with interpersonal conflict or standing up to people is a problem, read my
Assertion Training manual at
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
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
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.
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.
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
1-Gve genuine compliments to your partner when
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.
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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
* 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
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
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
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
* 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
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
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
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
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
* Dominant-Dominant (or Aggressive-Aggressive).
* Submissive-Submissive (or
* 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
return to index
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
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?"
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.
"maturity," or correctness.
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.
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.
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
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
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
return to index
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.
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.)
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.
return to index
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
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
See asking questions
2. Use empathetic
listening which emphasizes feeling
words to summarize what your partner is saying even if he/she isn't using them
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.
return to index
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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;
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
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")
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.
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
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.)
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
return to index
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
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.
return to index
Empathetic Listening Skills as Conversation
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
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 "body language," statements, and your own feelings as ways of
identifying your partner's feelings. You can use the following simple
classification of emotions:
emotions: anxiety/confusion, guilt,
anger, or depression.
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 ..."
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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
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
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
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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
What do you do if you are rejected or fear being
=> Go to: Beyond Fear of
Rejection and Loneliness to Self-Confidence at
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?
self-acceptance process steps in You Can Choose To Be Happy,
Chapter 5: Develop Greater Self-Worth and Self-Confidence
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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
==> 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.
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.
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Physical Illnesses, Disability, or Similar
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
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
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Issues Related To Sexually Transmitted Diseases
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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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 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
Desensitization Technique for Reducing Fears and Anxiety
3. Improve Social
Confidence and Overcome Fears of Loneliness and Rejection (especially for dating)
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
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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
* Assertion Training: Be More Competent and Confident With Anyone!
* Overcome Anger and Aggression
* Relationship and Communication Tips Summary: Choose To Be Happy in
* Harmonious Relationships: Finding Intimacy and Independence
* Harmonious Assertive Communication: How To Achieve Intimacy and Resolve
* 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
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
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It takes a little time, but a thoughtful one will really pay off!
Make your own relationship resume
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
(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.
Name, age, ethnic, etc.
EDUCATION AND OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION
Accomplishments (Education, Work Experience,
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 )
- 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
- -optimism/positive attitude and point of view
- -sense of humor
- -complimentary vs. critical
- -assertive vs aggressive or non-assertive
- -good emotional control
- -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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