What to Look for in a Potential Partner

communication

When people are asked what aspects they value in a potential partner they tend to list physical qualities, socially desirable characteristics, and unrealistic expectations.  Furthermore, as we learned in the previous blog posting, we tend to make judgments about the other person’s trustworthiness, competence, and likability within the first tenth of a second, during the first glimpse of that person.1

We know that, for short-term relationships, physical qualities are valued but for long-term relationships, honesty, warmth and intelligence are valued.2 Other qualities typically valued are sensitivity, consideration, generosity, respect, responsiveness, and responsibility.  Yet none of us demonstrate these qualities all of the time.  We sometimes show the polar opposite, such as insensitivity, inconsiderateness, selfishness, rudeness, apathy, and irresponsibility.

Therefore, we should not expect these valued qualities to be fully formed and demonstrated all the time.  In fact, partners in growth-promoting relationships develop these qualities to a deeper degree as their relationship and they, themselves, mature.3 Yes, do look for these qualities but don’t expect them to always be present.

There are three qualities, however, that are especially important to look for in oneself as well as in a prospective long-term partner. They are so important that they actually predict the ability to form a lasting and growth-promoting relationship.4

These three qualities (some may even call them skills) are empathy, acceptance, and intimacy.  Empathy is the capacity to accurately understand others’ experiences and motivations, to appreciate others’ perspectives even if one disagrees with them, and to be aware of the effect of one’s own actions on others.  Acceptance is an unconditional love, a love without requiring oneself or the other to be a certain way or meet one’s expectations. Intimacy is the ability to engage in caring, close and reciprocal relationships; to strive for cooperation and mutual benefit; and to flexibly respond to the range of others’ ideas, emotions, and behaviors.5

Does your potential partner listen so carefully to you that he/she can acknowledge the essence of what you said?  Does your potential partner make you feel loved just for who you are or does he/she often criticize you for not meeting his/her expectations?  Does your potential partner spontaneously disclose what he/she is thinking and feeling at a given moment and respond to your thoughts and feelings in a way that helps you feel close to that person?

1. 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.

2.  Regan, P. C. (1998). What if you can’t get what you want? Willingness to compromise ideal mate selection standards as a function of sex, mate value, and relationship context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1294-1303.

3. Beck, A. T. (1988). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New York: HarperCollins.

4. Rogers, C. R. and Sevens, B. (1980). Person to person: The problem of being human: A new trend in psychology. New York: Pocket Books.

Block‐Lerner, J., Adair, C., Plumb, J. C., Rhatigan, D. L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2007). The case for mindfulness‐based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: Does nonjudgmental, present‐moment awareness increase capacity for perspective‐taking and empathic concern?. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 501-516.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14‐Year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41(1), 83-96.

5. Reis, H. T. (1990). The role of intimacy in interpersonal relations. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 15. doi: 10.1521/jscp.1990.9.1.15;

 

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

question

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.

 

How Romantic Are You?

2015-03-13 14.21.12

When two people are romantically in love they agree with many of the statements below. And even some of us who are not presently romantically attached would still like to feel this way. We all have at least a little bit of romance in our hearts.

To find out how romantic you are, check those statements you agree with.

Romanticism Scale *

Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements by circling the “A” if you agree or the “D” if you disagree.

When you are really in love, you just aren’t interested in anyone else.  A D

Somewhere there is an ideal mate for most people. The problem is in just finding that one. A D

Jealousy is a measure of how much you love a person. A D

Love will overcome all differences between two people. A D

When you are separated from your love partner, you are miserable.

To be truly in love is to be in an eternal state of bliss. A D

You would do anything to make your loved one happy. A D

You can always tell when two people are in love; it sticks out all over.

Love just happens; you can’t cheat it. A D

Love and hate are opposites; where one exists, the other cannot exist. A D

A person who really loves you would never do anything to hurt you.  A D

No one can love more than one person at a time. A D

Who Are the Real Romantics?

If your partner also responds to the Romanticism Scale in the previous section, and you compare your responses, you may be surprised. Men and women are both caught up with romance, but research in the 1970s showed that it is men who are the real romantics. Men tend to agree with more of the statements about romantic love in the Romanticism Scale;4.15 they fall in love more quickly; and they hold on to a waning affair more so than do women.4.16

* Rubin, Z. (1970). Measurement of romantic love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 265-273.

4.15 Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving: An invitation to social psychology. N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, p. 206.

4.16 Kanin, E.J., Davidson, K.D., and Sheck, S.R. (1970). A research note on male-female differentials in the experience of heterosexual love. The Journal of Sex Research, 6, 64-72.

 

What Makes Love Last?

Bev and Dick 2017 (3)

As my husband and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary I started to wonder what has caused not just our relationship but our love to last.

 The number one ingredient has been acceptance, which comes from not criticizing each other and valuing each other’s uniqueness. 

The second ingredient is being able to empathize and telling each other that we do understand the other’s perspective.

The third ingredient is letting each other know, every day in many different ways, how much we appreciate each other.

Of course, it probably helped that we also have some qualities in common, a curious intellect and an adventurous spirit.  And we learned the importance of acceptance, empathy, and appreciation early in our relationship.

“Well”, you may ask, “are those ingredients unique to my relationship or is there some scientific evidence that supports their importance in any loving relationship?”  The first two ingredients were demonstrated in the research of Carl Rogers.1   Appreciation, or gratitude, also has been shown to help love last.2

 

  1. Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person Boston. MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 342-344.
  2. Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425–429.

When the Unpleasant Feelings Emerge

love and hate

In a truly intimate relationship, the rejections, irritations, and disappointments are as much a part of loving as are the securities, pleasures, and dreams.  No marriage is made in heaven and no relationship is built on only the heavenly feelings.  But no one ever forewarns us about the trials and tribulations.     Instead we believe that if it’s really love it will be sunny days forever, with no dark clouds to muddy up the horizon.  After all, we were always told that love is never having to say you’re sorry.

So, with our trusty aphorisms tucked deep within our hearts, we rush off to find the perfect love or, at least, a lover who will never hurt us.  And we begin spending a lot of time and energy just trying to avoid any unpleasantness in our newly-found relationship.

What never bothered our partner before, nor bothered us about our partner can become exasperating.  We notice he isn’t paying attention when we are talking (has he ever?).  Or she has left the door open to welcome the flies again (such a generous spirit).  Each morning he leaves her lists of things to do (does he think he is her boss?).  She tells him he is headed for diabetes if he doesn’t lose some of that weight (as if she has any control over this).  These little quirks and sins against the relationship gradually slip out, with the cumulative effect being disillusionment, resentment, and hurt.  What was comingled starts becoming unmingled.

Often, when this inevitable unpleasantness creeps into the relationship, we don’t know how to deal with it.  We leave our lover (either emotionally or physically), hoping to find a new love, one which will finally measure up to our ideal. Anyone who has ever been left by a lover knows that love hurts but, by then, it’s too late.

But, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, nor does it have to be a relationship of shared misery. You could use your unpleasant feelings to begin a conversation with your partner.  This conversation can help each of you understand the other’s point of view, and even draw you closer together.  Or you could realize that you can get past the irritation into a more accepting attitude towards your partner and yourself.  Yes, sometimes your partner is selfish and sometimes you can be selfish.  So, it is important to let your partner know how his or her behavior affects you.  But it is up to your partner to change this behavior, not up to you to constantly complain about it. So why not just accept your flawed partner instead of trying to change him or her?

When Your Feelings Change Are You No Longer in Love?

Change

We expect our feelings never to change.  We are constantly presented with the image of true love as an unchanging state of bliss where the initial feelings of passion, togetherness, and tender caring are the only feelings we should have if we are in love.  Love becomes only the “lovey” feelings.  After all, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for no disappointment from broken promises nor ambivalence about our commitment.  Should it?  If it is real love, we expect we will always be “in love”.

Yet, the reality is that to be in love is to feel overwhelmed by a rush of conflicting feelings.  At the very moment we meet, and throughout the relationship, we feel both secure and scared, both needed and vulnerable, both valued and misunderstood.

Nevertheless, we resist recognizing all the feelings connected with loving.  We hide some of our feelings from ourselves as well as from our partner.  When we are feeling the excited high from passionate love, we don’t want to think about our equally compelling feeling of being out of control.  It is too scary to consider that falling in love also means falling into a state of vulnerability.  Therefore, we stroll together along new paths, not noticing the hidden holes we might fall into.

Moreover, we use one phrase, “I love you”, to describe all the feelings we are experiencing.  We connect these magical words with only feeling secure, needed and valued.  So, when the scared, vulnerable, and misunderstood feelings emerge we conclude we are no longer in love.  No longer do we say or hear those tender words.  We end the relationship and we end up being losers in love.

It is only belatedly that we discover that love is not what we were told it would be, nor just the feelings we had at the beginning of the relationship.  We begin to realize that the way to love is along a very rocky road and that our feelings when we are on this road will constantly change.

 

What the World Needs Now

world and heart

Love is what the world needs now.  But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different?  There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”. 

To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person.  Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1  That doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.

When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses.  And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her.  Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.

A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially.  It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathic communication.  And then empathy begets empathy.3

Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes.  We connect through acknowledging our common human needs and fears. 

The empathic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power.  It is a quiet revolution.5

References

  1. Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
  2. Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
  3. Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
  1. Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
  2. Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.

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

False-Fronts_art

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.

Why Judge?

overanalyzing

               Judging is a great destroyer of relationships, and it can destroy your self-confidence as well.    Yet we all do judge others.  When someone looks or behaves differently than we expected, we judge that person negatively.  We expect others to be like ourselves, do what we want them to do, or have the same standards that we have.  When they don’t, we push them away with a disapproving look or a criticism. 

               What’s more, we judge ourselves as harshly as we judge others.  We assess whether we are living up to our standards.  When we determine that we are falling short, we beat ourselves up.  Not so good for feeling self-confident.

               So why continue to judge?  Because we think we can control other people (or even ourselves) through our judgments.  We become impatient when a person is walking in front of us too slowly. We say, “Why don’t you ever listen”, when we want someone to listen to us.  We conclude that a person’s way of parenting is not the way we think it should be done.  We become angry when someone expresses an opinion we don’t agree with.  All of these judgments just make us or the other person feel bad. 

               To not judge just switch your focus.  Instead of seeing someone with your eyes, see them through their eyes.  They see the world differently than you do and that is ok.  These differences really do not have anything to do with you.  A person is not walking slowly, not listening, parenting a certain way, or expressing an opinion to purposely annoy you.  It’s just the way they see things.  So you can let them be and not react with a judgment (even one not expressed).

               Letting go of judging oneself is especially difficult but can be done if you take note of a behavior that you would have liked to take back but then not wallow in regret.  Everyone who is human makes mistakes and learns from them.  But not everyone beats themselves up because of the mistake.  Again, switch your focus to see the goodness that is still in you even when you have made a mistake. 

               Loving oneself and loving another is to let go of judgments.  A love that empathizes and accepts takes the place of judgments.

Listen to Your Heart

plush-toy-listen-to-my-heart

Valentine’s Day reminds us of hearts but when was the last time you listened to your heart? Is your heart racing?  It could be because you are in the presence of a new loved one.  The adrenaline hormone and the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love, causing their hearts to race for just a moment. 1

Losing a loved one through death or divorce also takes its toll on the heart. This stressful event can cause a temporary weakening of the heart muscle, especially in older adults.  The chest pain that is felt is referred to as “broken heart” syndrome.  Ironically, even a stressful happy event, such as a wedding or the birth of a grandchild can cause “broken heart” syndrome.

If you want to be happy and have good health, it might be more important to make your partner happy than trying to make yourself happy.3   Giving love from the heart in terms of social support makes your partner happy, which can help you have better health.

And, yes, go ahead and share that dark chocolate candy and a glass of red wine with your loved one this Valentine’s Day.  Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax.4   Flavonoids are present in red wine, and one glass a day is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Remember, though, you should always check out heart symptoms with a physician and do not engage in chocolate or wine immoderately.

  1. Loyola University Health System. (2014, February 6). What falling in love does to your heart and brain.  6 February 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2017 from, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206155244.htm.
  1. Ghadr, J. R., et al. (2016). Happy heart syndrome: Role of positive emotional stress in takotsubo syndrome. European Heart Journal, 37 (37): 2823-2829. DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv757