Sometimes I envy the preacher: when couples come to him, they’re in LOVE. When people come to me, it’s not because they’re in love. It’s because they’re in trouble.
I’m a family therapist, and when you’re knocking on my door, it’s because the two of you need to work something out. I love my work, because I get to make a change in people’s lives. Many couples—I would even say MOST couples–can work through their issues, and develop deeper trust, intimacy, and understanding.
But the sad truth is, there are some couples that are just not going to make it. And almost always, the signs were there from the start.
Here are three things you can do at the start of a relationship to make sure that you’re finding the person who is right for you.
Know Yourself—And Be True to That Knowledge
Part of the challenge of dating is that no two people are alike, and every person you date will bring forth different aspects of your personality. You need to know—BEFORE you get involved in a relationship—your moral code, your goals in life, and what you want in a partner. You need to know what you will accept—and what you won’t.
You need to look at your life, and your actions, and your motivations. You need to know who you are.
Understand, I said “You need to know who you are.” Not who you WANT to be, or who you IMAGINE yourself to be, but who you ARE.
If you are a religious man, don’t date the woman who’s never seen the inside of a church. If you are a man who is turned off by overly-religious people, don’t get involved with the beautiful woman who brings a bible to lunch.
The better you understand yourself, the more you will be able to make wise choices, and the better chance you have on long-lasting happiness.
Look for Signs of Crazy
We all have those friends who got stuck with a partner who overwhelms them. They’re the people who say, “I knew he was a drinker but I thought I could change him…” or “I knew she didn’t have any female friends but she said it was because no one understood her…”
Very often, you know from the start that the person you’re dating is a little “off.” You know that their behavior may be a little tough to explain to your friends, or that maybe you’re being a little more patient than perhaps you should.
So why do you get trapped into relationships with people who exhibit behaviors you wouldn’t normally tolerate?
In the therapist biz, we call that problem “the high hundred.”
The first hundred days of a relationship are the honeymoon phase of a relationship. You are intensely focused on the best aspects of a potential mate’s personality, and very quick—way quicker than normal—to dismiss or overlook their negative aspects.
The result? Six months in, you’re dealing with a person who controlling, or overly dramatic, or downright mean. All because you looked the other way during those first hundred days.
So be judgmental. Be cautious. Ask a trusted friend. And if things aren’t right, do the hard thing and break it off when things are new.
Take It Slow and Wait on the Big Decisions
When you meet that person who makes you feel truly alive, you want things to happen NOW. You want to declare yourselves, move in, get things started. Build the life with the person you’re in love with.
It is in our nature to want to take hold of a good thing. To grasp it and make sure it doesn’t pass. And while that instinct can help us in some areas (professionally, for example), it can be detrimental to our romantic affairs.
So what’s your rush?
If the relationship is real, it’ll be around in six months, twelve months, twelve years. If it’s real, it’ll last.
If I have a dollar for every couple who met, fell in love, and made big decisions before they really got to know each other, I’d be a wealthy man. Before you sign a lease for an apartment, before you buy that expensive gift on credit, and before you sign an sort of legally binding document, spend some SERIOUS time. Know all there is to know about your partner before you take any big steps. Take your time, and be certain.
There are many things we don’t choose in life. Luckily, the aspects of our lives that have the potential to bring us the most happiness—our relationships and our careers—are largely within our control. Know yourself, be on the watch for crazy, and take your time—so you can visit the preacher, and never need to meet me!
Bio: Matt Morris is a social worker and family therapist. He runs a site a website about barber schools as his side hustle, and helps stylists in his adopted state of Illinois. You can check him out on Twitter at @BarberCareers.