Skills for Dating in 2011: A Guide for Psychotherapists working with the Singles Population

Janet Whitney, MA, MFT

Theravive Counseling


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Skills for Dating in 2011_ A Guide for Psychotherapists working with the Singles Population

Whether your clients are newly single or still trying to find their mate, dating in the year 2011, is difficult, at best. Many singles in the younger generation are not dating but “hooking up”. This term is used loosely for anything from hanging out together, to kissing, to having sex. It is not the traditional date of boy asking a girl to go to dinner or the movies. The two people involved usually text one another to see where they are going to be that night. Then they may meet at that place or arrange to go to one another’s apartment or home. There is simplicity in this new style because no one is expected to pay for dinner, or drinks or tickets to some performance. It is just a matter of spending time together for whatever purpose the couples agree upon. I have witnessed clients continue this casual “ hook up” into their 30’s. It implies very little commitment or monogamy and is definitely risky for the individual hoping for more than a casual encounter from the other person. Interestingly enough,  there is still a part of the younger generation following in more of the traditional pathways of dating, finding a monogamous relationship and working out the details of who is paying for what. These individuals appear more interested in a long-term partnership with a possible goal of marriage and children.

Divorced individuals come into therapy with so many questions and uncertainties about the new dating arena.  There is a surprising phenomena that concerns therapists as they work with singles. It is the pattern of men getting so hurt in the break up of a marriage or relationship, that they begin to lower their expectations and hopes to find   someone who is really their match. More so than women, men are experiencing severe symptoms of insecurity and lower self esteem because of the “failure” of a marriage or long-term relationship. It can be common for the man to find someone interested in them and committing to a new relationship quickly, in an attempt to fill the void and gain the security of having a life partner. If you look closely at these men, they often choose a women with less education, less financial success and less athletic interests but the feeling that someone will be true to them is more important than finding the quality match that can bring them excitement and fulfillment. This lowering of standards for men is leaving the women with emotional and physical strength and financial success, alone. As therapists, the role of helping the man to heal more completely from the pain and devastation of the break up, allows the man to stay focused on recovering his strength and self-esteem. In dealing with clients, many of my clients have admitted to marrying the first women who appeared interested, so that the pain he was experiencing would “go away”. They find themselves, bored, under-stimulated and unhappy. This adds to the high statistics of second and third marriages failing.

The role of the therapist can be paramount in helping both men and women learn more about what all they offer in relationships and what are their shortcomings. The best choice of a mate can happen when the individuals explore all aspects of themselves with an eye to embrace the traits that they feel are beneficial and then put some hard work into modifying or changing the character traits that interfere with success and happiness. This journey of self-discovery is essential for anyone wanting to be in an intimate relationship. Some children are raised in homes where the love, respect, role modeling and atmosphere in the home, foster this self-discovery as a natural part of growing up. In other homes, the opposite occurs. Children are taught what they are allowed to feel and what they are allowed to express. Only the “right” behaviors are allowed and punishment, judgment and criticism are the main energies within the home. These children modify their personalities in order to survive. As they enter into intimate relationships, they depend upon the “ mask” that got them through childhood. Honesty and authenticity are the most important keys to the healthy development of intimacy with another person. These personality traits can feel foreign to an individual raised in the second type of household. The good news is that they can be taught how to get back in touch with their truth and their natural gifts that have been stifled and repressed.

There is a strong force working within the modern women. She is evolving to become successful, physically strong, independent, aware and adventuresome. With this development, the role of the man has become blurred. Instead of watching the growth in women and developing more of their own strengths, many men have become threatened and misplaced by the new strength that is becoming more and more prevalent in the modern women. It is my contention, that instead of developing more of the feminine side in men, which they have been doing a good job of developing, we need men to step up the work on their part to stay strong and masculine. If this does not happen, men will continue to hide that natural strength that makes them so appealing to women. Decades ago women were asking men to “share their feelings”.     Men like to make women happy so they worked hard to develop their feeling side. Now women are asking” Where are all the real men?” How can we help men to be successful with these mixed messages? The expression of feelings is still important but more importantly, women need men to listen to their feelings. That creates the emotional bond that women are searching for. Listening to a man who feels compelled to express a great deal of feelings puts the women in the role of mother instead of partner. We need to work hard to correct this mistake. The work starts in childhood. The best treatment to assist a little boy to be the best man possible means that we provide trust, acceptance and appreciation for that boy and the man he grows to become. A solid male role model of strength and kindness, a father who can hear and sense the separate feelings of his son and support the son’s unique journey towards his own success and happiness is a skill that many fathers are just starting to develop. The mother needs to also trust, accept and appreciate the good qualities of their son and build on his strengths and to teach by example, not by punishment.

Focusing on women now, let’s help them in this dating arena. As strong as women have become, I find them to accept treatment that does not work for them. They either tolerate a situation without speaking their truth in a respectful and loving manner or they just leave a man hoping to find someone who will read their minds and provide them with the kind of support they need.  My new theory is based upon these 2 principles that I believe are necessary if we want successful intimate relationships. Men must man up and women need to speak up.  Both of these changes must be done respectfully in the atmosphere of love and kindness.

Coaching women about the fact that men do not read minds and are usually not a bit interested in trying to make guessing games of that female skill is important to recognize. We as women try to anticipate the needs of others but men do not do that. If a man needs something from another man, he will just ask. Women on the other hand can walk around with resentment because the man they care about is not sensing or reading her needs. If they realize this is just not going to happen, women can work on skills that will help her from her man. Men do need to develop the ability to listen without trying to fix, minimize or talk a woman out of her feelings. The needs of a woman are care, understanding and respect. As with boys, little girls need this kind of attention beginning in child hood, as a means of understanding and clarifying the abundance off feelings a female feels on a daily basis.  Parents of daughters need to understand that it doesn’t work to talk a daughter out of her feelings or to refuse to validate her feelings. The feelings may not always make sense but that is the beauty of feelings. They are just there. For women, there are feeling centers on both sides of the brain so there is no escape from the constant barrage of feelings. Men have the brain mapping to go to the logical side of the brain and just be logical, without the interference of feelings. This difference alone is something that must be brought to the attention of anyone entering the realm of dating or relationships.

There is a big movement towards role reversal in our culture in the past few decades. Now we are finding that the result of the more masculine -female and the more feminine- male is that attraction, desire and the sustainment of good sexual relationships between the sexes is facing a crisis. More and more couples are excepting that sex is no longer important or necessary to a good relationship. When a woman no longer looks up to a man and a man feels overpowered by a woman, attraction will naturally diminish.

Our roles of teacher and educator is to be aware of the current trends in our culture and then to educate and help couples and individuals work towards having all the passion, support, respect and positive tools as possible.

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