by Alisa Goodwin Snell
Sometimes singles feel turned off by a dating partner for reasons they can’t explain. The cause is often something basic: pressure. Too many of us forget to have fun when it comes to dating. Instead, we overanalyze what we or our partners are thinking, we fear wasting time, we rush commitment, or we run away to avoid feeling trapped.
The unnecessary pressure singles feel can be avoided by thinking of dating in stages. The following are some guidelines I suggest for each stage of dating. By communicating early on that you believe the best relationships are built on having fun, getting to know each other, and taking it slow, you’ll be surprised by the relief you and your partner feel. You’ll also find it’s easier to get repeat dates and to advance to later stages.
Relax and enjoy the stage you’re in.
Stage One: The First Six Weeks or Dates
In this stage singles should be having fun. Warning signs (of a significant lack of empathy, self-control, or personal responsibility) should never be dismissed, but this is not a time to overthink the process. Worrying about what the other is thinking, getting excessively excited (or critical), and becoming exclusive right away usually triggers people to shut down. Don’t worry if you aren’t comfortable sharing deeply personal information yet. Be mindful of the physical aspects of your relationship in order to avoid over-complicating things.
Stage Two: Before You are Exclusive
This is a time to explore deeper connections, fundamental compatibility differences, and whether it makes sense to consider being exclusive. This is a great time to meet friends and family, but without the pressure of being boyfriend and girlfriend. Real feelings and needs should be expressed. If both of you understand that this is just a time to get to know each other better, you’ll find it easier to relax. If your affection is simple and your expectations are clear, there should be few hurt feelings (even if things end).
Stage Three: Dating Exclusively
At this stage, a secure foundation is solidified. This is not a time to fix (or obsess) about each others’ quirks. It’s a time to establish a pattern of being available, responsive, and emotionally engaged. Fun, appropriate affection is important at this stage. Communicating is even more essential. Acknowledge real problems and learn how to resolve them. These challenges will build your faith and confidence in the relationship. At this stage, the focus should be on becoming secure together. If you can’t feel secure (or significant warning signs emerge) you may want to discuss breaking up. Remember that even if things fall apart, the skills you develop in this stage will benefit you in the future.
Stage Four: Resolving Issues
Let this stage last as long as necessary. The relationship should feel stable and secure, making it an appropriate time to work together as a couple on issues including finances, mental health, parenting views, and extended family relationships. As singles work together on these things to create their plan for the future, they prove they are ready to consider marriage because they can maintain a fun, positive relationship, even in the face of challenges.
Stage Five: Planning for Marriage
When a couple is engaged, they are preparing for marriage (not just a wedding). This is a time to keep the relationship at the center of their planning. They are a companionship, building a joyful future, not individuals fighting for what they want. The ability to selflessly create win/win solutions is a lifelong skill no couple can afford to neglect.
As you discuss these stages with your dating partner, you may find it easier to enjoy in the stage you are in. Fully engaging in each stage will help you create a stronger emotional connection and greater enjoyment in the relationship overall.
For more articles on dating and building emotional connections in relationships, click here.
Alisa Goodwin Snell spent 17 years as a marriage and family therapist before becoming a dating and relationship coach. She’s written several books for singles, been on over 100 TV and radio programs nationwide, and is a sought out public speaker.