What happens when a divorce lawyer, marital therapist, and dating coach convene for lunch? A rich conversation, that's what. I invited Carolyn Byrne (a matrimonial attorney) and Aimee Hartstein (a marriage therapist) to join me (a dating coach) in conversation as to how people could be dating smarter.
Who better to query than two professionals who have witnessed hundreds of relationship successes and failures? We not only drew upon our professional expertise, but our collective wisdom as women who dated and found love in New York City (with all the incumbent trials and tribulations for which this city is notorious).
Almost everyone can relate to the fact that most romantic relationships move from "the honeymoon phase" at the beginning to a far less idealistic place later on. And while this is a natural progression, it doesn't mean that every relationship should turn sour.
Yet based on her experience in matrimonial law, Carolyn told us that approximately 90% of her clients said they knew their marriage would end badly before they took their vows. Alarmed by this anecdotal statistic, we then turned to our resident marriage therapist for an explanation: “People tend to ignore their intuition in the early stages of a relationship in an effort to accommodate and please the other person,” explained Aimee.
That makes sense, too, and is also probably something we can all relate to: we excuse the bad stuff early on when we're in the phase of excitement and novelty. But there are ways to be smarter about moving forward in a relationship.
So let's start with this question: do certain issues doom a relationship from the start? The answer is yes.
That's why we created the following list of questions that every person should ask about their romantic partner, especially if considering a long-term partnership or marriage:
1. Do they have addictions of any kind?
Addiction is a BIG red-flag, and doesn't only have to do with the usual suspects of drugs, sex and alcohol. “Addiction” is any behavior that is detrimental to a person’s work, health and primary relationships that they are unable to stop. While alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography and sex addictions are these "usual suspects," things like social media and other smartphone technology have given rise to a new form of relationship disengagement.
Addictions are often secretive. You may have a difficult time assessing the extent of the problem. Make note of subtle clues and changes in behavior. Use your intuition. Listen carefully when your partner’s friends and family speak about him or her.
Be wary of any partner who: (1) denies the existence of a problem, (2) states that they can stop at any time, or (3) claims the addiction is your fault. Addictions necessitate comprehensive and diligent treatment, including participation in a 12-step program, therapy or other support group. Also note that anywhere from 50-90% of addicts will relapse after a period of recovery, making stability in the partnership even more tenuous.
2. Do they have long-standing relationships?
I once dated a man whose phone never rang during our seven-month relationship. He rarely got invited to parties. No one ever vouched for his character. I got a very bad feeling and left, thankful to have dodged a bullet.
Healthy people have long-term relationships from different points in their lives. Relationships — with friends, family and colleagues — are the places where we all practice skills of communication, empathy, conflict-resolution and forgiveness. Further, friends add richness and texture to our lives, lessening our dependency on (and, ultimately, our unhappiness with) our romantic partner.
Be very careful about entering a relationship with someone who (1) has no friends, (2) has only superficial and/or “new” friends but no long-standing ones, or (3) cuts people out of their life. None of these factors bodes well for their capacity to be intimate with you.
3. Do they like themselves?
Healthy partnerships are borne of two people with good self-esteem. Conversely, individuals with low self-esteem view themselves in a negative light and typically project pessimistic thoughts onto their partner’s view of the relationship.
Take, for example, Daniel and Laura — a couple in their 40s. Cheated on by her previous spouse, Laura is deeply paranoid that everyone will betray her, including Daniel. She snoops through his phone, listens to his phone calls and points an accusatory finger toward his female friends. Laura is pushing Daniel away and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of an unsatisfying relationship.
Healthy self-esteem and self-love is a continual work in progress. By processing our past in a meaningful way, we can accept the love that we truly deserve. Be careful of investing in a partner who is mired in insecurities; he or she will suffocate the relationship’s potential.
4. Are they financially in sync with me?
Nate was born into a multimillionaire family. He married Tasha, who was raised in a solidly blue-collar household. They fight about money constantly. He buys J. Crew shirts in every single color in which they were manufactured; she reuses cottage cheese containers to pack her lunch for work. Underlying these differences are significant mismatched values about ambition, work, savings and the future.
Money is one of the biggest relationship killers. So talk openly about finances from the start. Are your values in alignment? If they aren’t, can you create a common game plan for the future? Make note of your partner’s debts and whether he or she has realistic plans (and the tenacity necessary) to tackle them.
5. Are they keeping their side of the street clean?
In a relationship, both partners need to be able to take responsibility for their behavior and way of communicating. A person who is constantly focusing on their partner's faults and blaming them will make it nearly impossible for the relationship to be successful. Any healthy relationship requires honest, productive communication — a commitment to working things out, together.
So ask yourself: does my partner point the finger at me, and everyone else, for perceived slights? Then face the facts: once the honeymoon ends, they will be pointing the finger at you.
Remember: the strength of any relationship is dependent upon the health of its least healthy member.
Monica Parikh cowrote this post with Carolyn Byrne and Aimee Harstein Byrne is an attorney with 16 years of experience, dedicated exclusively to matrimonial law. Hartstein is a licensed psychotherapist with 20 years of experience, specializing in relationship and couples counseling.