Red Flags: What to Watch Out for When You Are Dating

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Swipe right—swipe left.  When it comes to the first few minutes of sizing up a potential partner, both men and women rely mainly on physical attractiveness.3.46 In addition, people overgeneralize from appearance, assuming that those who are attractive on the outside are also nicer on the inside, a phenomenon that has been termed the “what-is-beautiful-is-good-stereotype”.3.47 During the first 100 milliseconds of seeing a person’s face, not only is attractiveness judged, but also being judged is likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness.3.48

So, after you have met someone, how can you be sure this is the right one?  Are there some personality characteristics that you may not see initially but are ones that can stop a relationship from becoming a loving one?

You can assess these red flags by noticing how you feel when you are with the other person.  Do you feel controlled, inadequate, or criticized when you are with that person?

Some of the red flags to watch out for come from the scientific literature documenting impairments in thoughts and feelings regarding one’s self and one’s interpersonal relationships.3.90 We all might show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the persistence and insistence of them that create problems in relationships.

Does he or she…

  • Want others to do things his/her way
  • Get bitterly upset when others disappoint him/her
  • Insist on being in charge
  • Get easily jealous or suspicious
  • Blame others when things go wrong
  • Get angry about even little things or perceived slights
  • Bully or flatter people into doing what he/she wants
  • Blow hot and cold
  • Get highly threatened by differences of opinion
  • Have difficulty acknowledging the other person’s point of view
  • Show a lack of awareness of the impact of his/her actions on others

If any of these characteristics are often present in a prospective partner, RUN!  You will not be able to change this person for the better because these personality characteristics have been shown to be stable throughout a long-term relationship.3.91 A person with these characteristics may begin, though, to recognize the difficulties they are causing and start to work on modifying them.  However, do you want to stick around long enough to possibly see these modifications?

But how do you find out about these characteristics during initial encounters, especially when the other person is trying to make a good impression and, perhaps hide them?  You could ask your partner how he or she would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you while you trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?”  Or “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone did not think and act like the way you expected them to do.”  Another way to probe a little deeper is to ask about why previous relationships did not work out.  If your partner only mentions what was wrong with the other person, you may need to persist by asking what part they think they might have played in the relationship not working out.  Someone who has no insight into the way they may have triggered their partner is prone to create the same relationship that they created in the past.

So, what are the things you should look for in a potential partner? The next blog will address that issue.

3.46 Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What Leads to Romantic Attraction: Similarity, Reciprocity, Security, or Beauty? Evidence from a Speed‐Dating Study. Journal of Personality, 77(4),933-964.

3.47 Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin,111(2),304. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.111.2.304

3.48 Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science,17(7),592-598.

3.90 American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). Washington, D.D.: American Psychiatric Press.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory. Psychological Assessment, 4(1).

Jacobsberg, L., Perry, S., & Frances, A. (1995). Diagnostic agreement between the SCID-II screening questionnaire and the Personality Disorder Examination. Journal of Personality Assessment,65(3),428-433.

3.91 Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1988). Personality in adulthood: a six-year longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,54(5),853.

 

WHAT MAKES US ATTRACTIVE AND TO WHOM DO WE BECOME ATTRACTED?

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Whom do we really fall in love with?  And what makes us lovable?  Whether we have a partner or are looking for one, we all want to know why we are attracted to one particular person rather than another.

When we choose a partner, it often seems like love is blind.  It feels like we enter a relationship with blinders on—falling in love with whoever happens to be in close proximity to us (e.g. Tinder).  However, love is not blind, only a little myopic.  Moreover, this myopia is extreme at the time of the first encounter.  For love at first sight, the most important factor is the way we look, our physical attractiveness, as a study of preferences during a “hurry date” session showed.1 During the “hurry date” sessions men and women interacted with each other for three minutes and then indicated which of the people they met they preferred. Certainly, physical attractiveness can be important during the first encounter but, surprisingly, this factor is equally important to both men and women when selecting a sexual partner although men tend to put more of a premium on physical attractiveness when selecting a potential marital partner.2 Maybe that is why so many social media and matchmaking website descriptions and photos present a somewhat false front. 

It might be only a one-night hook-up that the most attractive women get because what predicted whether a couple would go out on even a second date, was a couples’ similarity in physical attractiveness rather than the degree of physical attractiveness.3 

If we want an attraction that lasts longer than just one evening, we look for one built on mutually perceived similarity.  After all, even two supremely attractive people can spend only so much time complimenting each other on their good looks.  The sexual attraction of the first encounter gives way to an attraction built on similar interests, values, and attitudes.4 Potential partners’ conversation quickly turns to fishing for what they have in common. 

The similarity we seek and that holds us together is in our image of ourselves.  We are attracted to people who are reflections of ourselves.  Indeed, a survey of people who married after initially meeting online found that those couples who had similar personalities were more satisfied with their relationship up to four years later.5 So physical beauty may attract the eye but personality attracts the heart.

  1. Kurzban, R. and Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: Mate preferences in action. Evolution & Human Behavior, 26, 3, 227-244.
  2. Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D. & Rottman, L. (1966), Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior,Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4,5, 508-516.
  1. Folkes, V.S. (1982). Forming relationships and the matching hypothesis. Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 4, 631-636.
  2. Murstein, B. (1976). Whom will marry whom?: Theory and research in marital choice. New York: Springer, p. 180.
  3. Gonzaga, G.C., Carter, S. & Buckwalter, J.G. (2010). Assortive mating, convergence, and satisfaction in married couples, Personal Relationships, 17, 4, 634-644.

Don’t Just Say “I Love You”. Show It.

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You may think saying “I love you” is all that is needed in your relationship(s).  But, if you live each day as if it could be your last with the person(s) you love, you will find many ways to show your love rather than just announcing your love.

Here are some proven ways to show your love.

Give Reassurance and Emotional Support

               Both men and women feel loved when their partner gave assurances that he/she would always be there and supportive.1   Give your partner security by saying you are there for them when they most need it.  Show emotional support by being attentive though making eye contact and actively listening by repeating back a bit of what you heard.

Touch

Don’t let a day go by without touching your partner.  Maybe it is a hug or a kiss, or a shoulder rub.  Touch does not have to always signal, “I want sex”—it can signal, “I care about you.” 2   In fact, contrary to stereotypes, men in long-term relationships who get lots of kisses and cuddles report being more sexually satisfied.3

Be Positive

               When you are cheerful and optimistic, your replies are comforting for your partner.  This positivity also includes being patient and forgiving, showing a cooperative attitude during disagreements, and avoiding criticizing your partner.  Researchers have found that both men and women can show this equally in relationships and it is much appreciated by both genders.4

Do Things Together

               Sharing household tasks, working together on a mutual (fun) goal, walking and talking (but not about problems), and having a night out all communicate that you love to be with your partner.  Although one study found no difference in the men and women using this way of showing love, one other study did find that men tend to using this strategy more than women.5, 6

Show Appreciation

               When your partner does something you like, make sure you say so. And, often, just out of the blue, compliment your partner by saying what, specifically, you love about him/her. 

Do Things for Your Partner (Especially Surprises)

               Have a plant or flowers sent to your partner at work.  Wrap a warm blanket around your partner when he/she needs comforting.  Pack a suitcase for each of you and take your partner on a surprise weekend trip.  A lot of what love is all about is the attraction, caring, and intimacy you are showing through these actions.7

  1. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  2. Marston, P.J., Hecht, M.L. & Robers, T. (1987). True love ways: The subjective experience and communication of romantic love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 387-407.
  3. Heiman, J.R., et. al. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 4, 741-753.
  4. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  5. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  6. Schoenfeld, E.A., Bredow, C.A., & Huston, T.L. (2012). Do men and women show love differently in marriage? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 11, 1396-1409.
  7. Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.