Last year, I found myself in an interesting position: I was a newly licensed counselor with a primary focus on couple counseling, and I was also newly divorced. This left me with a strange juxtaposition of being both a “relationship expert” and “very much not a relationship expert.” That experience is not what this post is about, however. (These, on the other hand…)
A Single Marriage Counselor
This post is about what I’ve learned about dating successfully by coming into it with my eye on having a truly successful relationship. And while I am currently in a very fulfilling relationship, there was a time when I had an online dating profile that emphasized my status as a “relationship expert”. Play to your strengths, as they say! So here are the things that I have learned about dating with a counseling degree.
Know Your Baggage
There is not a person alive who doesn’t have some sort of emotional baggage. For me, there’s a healthy dose of family dysfunction, a divorce, a dead parent, and student loan debt. And that’s just the surface. I am constantly juggling those issues, and it is important that any person that I choose to be in a relationship with is willing to accept that. That said, I do not necessarily advocate sharing everything on a first date. Just because you connect with someone does not necessarily mean that they are trustworthy with your secrets.
Take it Slow
As I just said, just because there is chemistry does not mean that the person is trustworthy. Trust is built slowly, and can be destroyed quickly. So in the beginning stages of a relationship, it is important to focus on building trust slowly. Do not assume that just because someone put in their Tinder profile that they’re good at keeping secrets that they will keep yours well.
On my first date with my now girlfriend, I told her only the things about me that I believe that she needed to know to get an honest picture of my general character: I am a marriage counselor, I’ve been divorced, and I enjoy playing video games as a hobby. And she did the same. All things that are important on a first date, but she didn’t need to know the nitty gritty details of all of those things. As our relationship has progressed, both of us have slowly but surely begun to reveal more intimate secrets that required a certain level of trust.
Be Honest About Your Intentions
Before I started dating my current girlfriend, I was not prepared for a committed relationship. I accepted that about myself, and dated accordingly. I was honest about my intention to not commit, and while I did not actually have a lot of success in dating around, I never got stuck in a relationship in which I didn’t want to be involved. Now that I do have a girlfriend with whom I have a committed relationship, I am honest with her about what I want in the relationship.
There are as many different relationship styles as there are relationships. If you want to have an open relationship, be honest about that. If you can’t fall asleep without soothing music, make sure your partner knows that before you spend the night together. If you want to be abstinent before marriage, be on the same page. And above all, don’t lead your partner on.
Learn to Communicate
Yeah, this one shows up here; it’s almost like it’s important! But this is more than just being able to communicate. I am talking about intimate communication. This is not something that we are taught growing up, even though it is a very important skill. Being able to express your emotions, accept feedback, and support each other is vital. Once, I gave my girlfriend a feelings chart so that she could tell me how she was feeling. And while this was more of a joke than anything, it is not a terrible idea to give yourself the opportunity to share your emotions, even if you don’t quite know what the word is.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of pointers for dating like a marriage counselor, I hope that it is a good start! If you have any thoughts or things you would add to this list, please respond in the comments! Like and share this post if you enjoyed reading it as well!