Dating is a great way to meet new people and get a feel for what you want and don’t want in a relationship. However, when it comes down to selecting a life partner, things can get a little tricky. How can you know for sure you’re choosing the right partner? The Cheat Sheet chatted with Dr. Stan Tatkin, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of his latest book Wired for Dating. He spoke to us about why many relationships don’t make it and what everyone should keep in mind during the dating stage. Here’s what he had to say.
The Cheat Sheet: What prompted you to write Wired for Dating?
Stan Tatkin: It seems that just about every day I hear somebody say how hard it is to find a partner, either online or offline. As a couple therapist, I see partners whose problems were evident way back to their dating relationship, and were never resolved. Now they threaten the life of the relationship. I would say there’s nothing like prevention. My desire is to help people with premarital advice, or even better, to start at the level of dating. That desire is basically what prompted me to write Wired for Dating. Most people are at sea these days with regard to how to be in a satisfying long-term relationship. There’s very little guidance in our culture. In fact, many cultural messages are downright unhelpful or even false. One such example is, “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” Part of my mission as a couple therapist is to undo these kinds of false ideas so that people can instead begin to create relationships based on the principle of secure functioning. Wired for Dating includes various sections in which I debunk these kinds of myths.
CS: Why are so many marriages failing?
ST: We live in a time of ever-increasing options for romantic and non-romantic pairings, including preferences, such as polyamory, that go beyond a two-person relationship. I’m not here to judge people’s orientations or to say what is “right” or “wrong.” However, I can say that most of the divorces or relationship failures I see are due to issues that existed from the very beginning of the relationship. Many people don’t have a sufficient grasp of the purpose of coupling. They don’t know how to forge a two-person psychological system that is based on collaboration, fairness, justice, and sensitivity. At least in my experience, many people come to a relationship operating out of one-person psychological thinking. Their stance is pro-self, rather than pro-relationship. With this kind of orientation, relationships are doomed to fail.
CS: In your opinion, what is the key to finding the right mate?
ST: I think one key is to have a grounded understanding from the get-go about what a right mate is. Or even more fundamentally, why even have a mate; what’s the purpose of coupling? The answers to these questions determine not only who is the right mate but also whether that relationship will stand the test of time. The bottom line is the right mate is someone you love and who shares your principled beliefs about what a good relationship should be. A right mate wants a relationship in which both of you feel safe and secure, and that is truly mutual and collaborative.
CS: What are some red flags that you’ve chosen the wrong person (as it relates to both a dating partner and a spouse)?
ST: The red flags I tell partners to look out for are all signs that a relationship is not based on secure functioning. For instance, one red flag is when partners do not agree to tell each other everything. Another is when they do not agree to protect each other in public and in private. Yet another is when they do not agree to put their relationship first, above all else. To my mind, compatibility in these types of agreements is more important than physical features, personality, shared hobbies, and so on. Even if a new date seems very attractive, if that person is disinterested in having a truly mutual, secure-functioning relationship, then in my view and experience, long-term happiness is unlikely.
CS: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
ST: I want readers to understand that how they approach dating — including how carefully they vet a future partner — can make or break the future of that relationship. Hopefully, readers will come away feeling more prepared and more confident in their success at choosing a future partner. Rather than viewing dating as an insurmountable hurdle or dreaded but unavoidable process, I’d like them to discover the pleasure of finding and getting to know a mate.
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