In my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist most of my practice has been working with couples, because after experiencing divorce growing up as a child, and again after a ten year first marriage, I decided that my mission is to help people have successful marriages and families, and I thought the best way to do that would be as a marriage counselor. However, what I discovered over the years is that people generally make appointments with me when it’s almost too late; they’re on the verge of divorce or it might be a last resort, after there’s been a lot of irreversible damage done.
How relationships work and how to have a successful Life Partnership have always been fascinating mysteries to me. One thing’s for certain; times have changed and what used to work doesn’t work anymore. The biggest change in the past 30 years impacting relationships that I can see is that we have developed a need to be “happy”. This is a dramatic shift from our parents and grandparents who were quite satisfied surviving and achieving some measure of comfort and security. The need for happiness sounds very simple and innocent, but it’s the primary reason for failed relationships today, and the high divorce rate, single parent families, mental and physical health problems, juvenile delinquency, welfare, and so on.
While we seek to be happy in relationships, we don’t seem to know how. As a result I have seen many people make relationship choices and fall into traps that prevented them from getting what they want in their life, resulting in unhappiness and relationship failure. A trap is basically an unsolvable problem that results in unhappiness in a relationship. Getting out of the trap often means leaving the relationship.
When you’re single you can do a lot more than you realize to avoid these traps and prepare for a successful and lasting relationship, as you’ll see in this article.
- Marketing Trap
Believing you need to make yourself more appealing to attract a partner and “selling” yourself with attractive packaging and presentation. High risk of disappointment and relationship failure as people discover that the excitement and promise of the “sizzle” conflicts with the reality of the “steak”.
Solution: Authenticity. You will attract compatible people when you show them who you really are. At the risk of mixing metaphors, “Birds of a feather flock together”, so don’t try to look like a prize-winning chicken when you are your own breed of duck!
- Scarcity Trap
Believing there is a limited supply of possible partners, so you have to take what you can get or be alone. Results in relationship failure when you settle for less and compromise your Requirements. A self-fulfilling prophecy when you get less because you expect less.
Solution: Define your first choice of what you really want and persevere. Trust that if you apply yourself you can get what you really want in your life. You must be able to say “No” to what you DON’T want, to be available to say “Yes” to what you DO want. You have the power to choose who, what , where, when, and how, and can get what you really want if you make effective choices aligned with your Vision and Requirements.
- Compatibility Trap
Assuming that if you have fun together and get along well, you are compatible and a committed relationship will work. Results in relationship failure when discovering the vast difference between a fun-focused, recreational ” dating” relationship, and a serious long-term committed relationship. Being so different, the process and criteria for choosing a recreational relationship needs to be very different from choosing a Life Partner.
Solution: When you are ready for a Life Partnership, define your Requirements and use them to scout, sort, and screen potential partners. Do not try to convert a recreational relationshipinto a committed one, unless 100% of your Requirements are met.
- Fairytale Trap
Passively expecting your ideal partner to magically appear and live happily ever after without effort on your part. Believing that finding your soul mate will just “happen”. Results in disappointment when the frogs that happen to jump into your life don’t become princes.
Solution: Take personal responsibility for your relationship choices and outcomes. Have effective scouting, sorting, and screening strategies. Initiate contact and be the “Chooser”, don’t simply react to people that choose you.
- Date-To-Mate Trap
Becoming an “instant couple” as if giving each person you date an extended test drive. Believing that if you develop an exclusive relationship with someone you are dating, a successful committed relationship will eventually happen. Other terms for this are “Serial Monogamy” and the “Mini-Marriage.. This approach is a costly use of time and emotional energy. The inertia in this trap is pressure to make the relationship work, attempt to solve unsolvable problems, and fit the round peg in the square hole because breaking up and being single again is an undesired outcome.
Solution: Date a variety of people and have fun without being exclusive. When you are ready for a committed relationship define your Requirements and use them as tools to scout, sort, and screen potential partners. Make a careful relationship choice and consciously use a “pre-commitment” period to determine if this is the right relationship for you.
- Attraction Trap
Making relationship choices based on feelings of attraction. Interpreting a strong attraction to someone as a sign that the relationship is a good choice and “meant to be”. This approach results in relationship failure when unsolvable problems surface because you ignored the red flags while infatuated. Unconscious choices usually result in repeating unproductive past patterns.
Solution: Balance your attractions by defining your Requirements and use them to scout, sort, and screen potential partners. “Choose your life’s mate carefully. From this one decision will come ninety percent of your happiness or misery.(H. Jackson Brown, Jr. from “Life’s Little Instruction Book”).
- Love Trap
Interpreting infatuation, attraction, need, good sex, and/or attachment as Love. “If it feels good, it must be Love.” “Love is all you need.” “Love conquers all.” Results in relationship failure when you discover that love is not enough to meet your requirements and needs.
Solution: Make conscious relationship choices by defining your Requirements and use them to scout, sort, and screen potential partners.
- Rescue Trap
Hoping a relationship will solve your emotional and financial difficulties and bring you happiness and fulfillment, something like winning the lottery. You avoid taking responsibility for your life challenges, expecting to be rescued from them. Results in desperation, neediness, and relationship failure when problems multiply instead of disappear.
Solution: Define your Vision for your life and relationship and “Live your Vision” as a successful single person. Resolve emotional, financial, and other problems prior to seeking a lasting committed relationship. Seek to be in a position of “choice” and “want” rather than “need”.
- Co-Dependent Trap
Expecting someone to love you and give you what you want by giving them what they want. Attempting to earn love and happiness by acquiescing, giving and helping. Needing to be needed often results in unconsciously attracting and choosing a relationship with a person that needs you, but you later discover is unable to give you what you want.
Solution: Define your Vision and Requirements and choose a closely aligned partner. Learn to be assertive, identify and ask for what you want and need, identify and assert boundaries, and develop the ability to say “No”. Be the “Chooser” and cautious of people that choose you!
- Entitlement Trap
Believing you deserve to be happy and get what you want in your life without effort or changes on your part. Results in relationship failure as you rely on your partner to bring happiness and fulfillment and inevitably experience disappointment. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
Solution: Take personal responsibility for your life and relationship. Define your Vision and Life Purpose and live them when single.
- Virtual Reality Trap
Believing that “what you see is what you get.” Making hasty long-term relationship decisions based on short-term impressions and inferences instead of actual experience and knowledge. Results in seeing what you want to see and relationship failure when later reality doesn’t match.
Solution: Assume “you don’t know what you don’t know” and stay in a “pre-commitment” stage until you have solid experience and knowledge that this is the right relationship for you.
- Lone Ranger Trap
Believing that you don’t need anyone’s help in finding your Life Partner. You evaluate people you meet for their relationship potential and do not take the opportunity to cultivate new friends. Results in isolation, perception of scarcity of potential partners, and risk of settling for less than what you really want because you don’t want to be alone.
Solution: Develop a support network/community of friends of both genders and be supportable by enrolling them to scout for you.