The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 6: The Act of Commitment

Merriam-Webster defines commitment as, “An agreement or pledge to do something in the future.” Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? I commit to having breakfast, lunch, and dinner most days. I commit to getting up on time every morning for work. I commit to always wearing a helmet when I ride my motorcycle.

Sooner or later, everyone commits to something. Even if they decide to commit to being uncommitted. So why do so many of us fear commitment in romantic relationships? People commit themselves to work, to God, and to family and friends. They even commit themselves to marriage, and yet, statistics demonstrate how that turns out poorly half the time.

Folks, commitment should be something we aspire to, not something we run from. Commitment should not imply a grin-and-bear-it attitude, where we tough it out in a bad relationship for the sake of logging another day with a partner we might be better off without. If we share romantic chemistry, effective communication, and work toward positive compromise, then commitment should be something we desire. Commitment implies a willingness to stick with our partner through the good times and the not so good times. I’m not talking about marriage necessarily, or even monogamy in some cases, but a common need to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance versus flirting with an endless pool of candidates. Unlike chemistry, where we either experience a connection or we don’t, commitment invokes certain relationship skills, much like communication and compromise. But before we peel the onion on this rather contentious topic, let’s begin by defining commitment within a common relationship cycle.

The Relationship Cycle

Commitment takes time to evolve, usually during the latter stages of the relationship cycle. Numerous research studies define the relationship cycle in a five-stage model. Slight variations of this model persist between researchers and behavioral therapists who analyze how couples interact with one another, but overall, the following phases occur:

Relationship Stage 1 – Head over Heels

In the head over heels, or “romantic stage,” our bodies produce enormous amounts of testosterone, dopamine and endorphins, which help us feel unusually happy, positive and excited about everything in our life. We’ve all been here. The sun is shining to illuminate the halo above our partner’s head, as everything about them speaks to us in a pleasing manner. We stroll hand-in-hand through the garden of Eden, blissfully caught up in the rapture of love. We experience minimal conflict with our new partner and we have a tendency to idolize one another. We believe this new person in our life will satisfy all our needs and desires. Unconsciously, we seek partners who share characteristics with one or both of our parents. Research also holds that the person we’re most attracted to, shares some of the momentous traits or characteristics of the parent who troubled us the most in childhood. During the head over heels state, our loosely formed, chemically-induced bond, provides an almost euphoric state replete with happiness, laughter, and sexual energy.

Relationship Stage 2 – Disillusionment

In the disillusionment, or “welcome to reality stage,” partners begin to realize their shortcomings. As we learn more about each other, we begin to identify our imperfections and idiosyncrasies. This stage involves learning to communicate and resolve conflict as we begin to disengage and re-evaluate our position in the relationship. In this stage, the initial rush from our chemically-induced bond starts to wane. We become bored, disconnected, and emotionally withdrawn. At a minimum, our core values of trust, respect, honesty, and reassurance are tested.

Relationship Stage 3 – Power Struggle

In the power struggle stage, partners begin to pull away from each other as they become increasingly aware of their differences. More conflict ensues. Resentments build in the absence of open, honest communication. We fear a loss of control or loss of interest in one another. We remain in love, but the romance fades as we begin to realize the consequences of spending time with someone who resembles our most problematic parent.

Relationship Stage 4 – Transformation

In the transformation stage, or “reconciliation phase,” couples discover a deeper connection and trust with one another. In this stage, our ability to resolve conflict improves. Compromise becomes an integral part of this stage, and we learn to accept our differences and establish boundaries between our own independence and our need for togetherness. We begin to reengage in our own outside interests and friendships. An overall feeling of comfort and contentment persists.

Relationship Stage 5 – Commitment

In the commitment stage, or “acceptance phase,” couples look out for each other’s best interests. Partners establish boundaries and become completely vested in the relationship. In this stage, we have learned how to balance our needs for togetherness and alone time, how to maintain a mutually beneficial sex life, how to compromise effectively, and how to communicate successfully with one another.

As the relationship continues to mature, some couples become increasingly committed to one another. They completely accept one another for who they are, faults and all. At this stage, partners no longer coexist because they need each other, but because they have chosen each other to be part of a team. Couples become adept at conflict resolution. Chip Weiner, a licensed mental health and cognitive behavioral therapist, defines this stage as primary commitment. In his words, primary commitment involves “an enjoyable and delusional state characterized by ecstatic feelings toward communication, sex, and time together.”

Some couples formalize their partnership, or commitment, through a long-term relationship or marriage, which Weiner defines as a secondary level of commitment. For some of us, this more formalized secondary commitment phase paves the road less traveled. In this secondary commitment state, reality kicks in. Sometimes for better; often for worse. Motives are questioned. The initial intimacy that raged so strongly in the beginning starts to fade. Lines of communication begin to falter as emotional distance creeps into the relationship. Negative emotions run high, motivated partly by fear and grief from the loss of the initial infatuation. Research suggests less than five percent of couples reach this phase with an established commitment to core values like trust and respect. To coexist with one another in an exclusive romantic relationship is one thing, but to make the jump from here to a long-term commitment or marriage can exhume a host of commitment issues and fears buried in our subconscious. I’ll discuss many of these commitment issues in a later segment.

On the upshot, if we embrace the secondary commitment stage, we find ourselves among the few and far between who’ve endured a sort of couple’s learning curve in the early stages of their relationship. But this secondary commitment stage shouldn’t feel like the last leg of an iron man triathlon, when one is physically spent and psychologically fatigued. Although romantic relationships are not perfect, they shouldn’t be arduous, either. It’s true that building and maintaining a committed romantic relationship takes work, but if you feel like you’re slaving away in the salt mines instead of enjoying the companionship and love you share together, then it might be time to reevaluate your relationship.

Commitment should not imply the need to abandon who you are fundamentally. It should imply a willingness to bridge the gap between a casual association of two partners and a more meaningful and deeply-rooted relationship. But are commitments simply obligations? Or should we distinguish between the two?

Commitments vs. Obligations

From a distance, obligations and commitments might appear as one in the same. And although their definitions seem to parallel one another, a closer look reveals some important distinctions. Both obligations and commitments can be self-imposed, but typically, obligations are imposed upon us by persons of influence or specific circumstance, whereas commitments describe decisions we make without restraint, based on our need to devote our time and energy for the benefit of our relationship. Obligations dictate what we have to do. Commitments dictate what we choose to do.

Since my divorce in 2008, I’ve had an obligation to pay child support for the care and wellbeing of my twin sons with whom I share joint custody with their mother. The law imposed the child support obligation. More importantly, I self-imposed a personal commitment to be the best father I can be for my sons. The obligation to pay child support carries little emotional weight. I write a check that gets spent accordingly to support my boys’ needs. Like my obligation, my commitment remains ongoing, but unlike my obligation, my commitment to my sons carries substantial emotional weight derived from my high priority need to see my sons thrive in every aspect of their lives.

If we snap the chalk line between obligation and commitment in our romantic relationships, the line begins to blur when we look at the different dimensions of commitment. A multitude of variables support various aspects of commitment between a man and a woman engaged in a romantic relationship. Commitment can mean slightly different things to different couples, where some remain together out of obligation; others out of reward. For many, the relationship persists to avoid the high emotional, and sometimes financial costs associated with ending the relationship. Other couples persist for a combination of reasons. The next segment helps describe why.

Dimensions of Relationship Commitment

To gain a better understanding of commitment issues in romantic relationships requires a basic understanding of key commitment variables, or dimensions, which include:

  • Personal/Attraction
  • Moral Obligation
  • Constraint/Structural
  • Additional Relationship Variables

These commitment variables describe our motives for remaining in a long-term relationship. Similar to our communication styles, our personalities may encompass more than one dimension.

Personal / Attraction

The personal / attraction dimension describes how we feel drawn toward our partner. In this dimension, rewards and satisfactions drive our commitment to the relationship. Our physical attraction to one another fuels this dimension. We remain committed, to a large extent, because we like what we see and hear from our partner. We feel a certain chemistry and contentment with one another.

Moral Obligation

Moral obligation describes how some of us stay in a relationship out of obligation or duty, even in the absence of happiness. For many people, commitment to marriage stems from religious or family obligations. Some individuals feel a moral obligation to their partner on a very personal level. This speaks less to our physical attraction and more to our intellectual state of mind. We feel the moral obligation as a code of conduct more than a physical or emotional need to commit.

Constraint / Structural

The constraint or structural dimension describes how we feel constrained to remain in the relationship despite a low level of personal or moral commitment. This dimension describes how we feel trapped in a relationship for the sake of our children or because of potentially damaging social or financial consequences. People who feel constrained by their commitment remain emotionally trapped in their relationship. Whatever chemistry that initially existed to bring them together has evaporated. Partners no longer feel their commitment to the relationship is the right thing to do. Instead, they perceive it as the only thing to do as if no other options exist.

Additional Relationship Variables

Aside from personal/attraction, moral obligation, and constraint/structural commitment dimensions, additional variables can impact our level of romantic relationship commitment and include:

  • Relationship agenda—or the degree to which we want the relationship to continue over time.
  • Relationship primacy—or the priority level we give to our relationship over other activities in our life.
  • Couple identity—or the degree to which we think of our relationship as a team more than separate individuals trying to maximize our individual gains.
  • Sacrifice satisfaction—or how our attraction to other potential partners can diminish our commitment to our current partner. This element relates to availability of partners, which refers to our perceived availability of other suitable individuals in the event our existing relationship dissolves.

Collectively, these variables of relationship agenda, relationship primacy, couple identity, and sacrifice satisfaction, compel us to remain with our partners despite other personal or moral obligations.

Whether your commitment derives from personal, moral, or structural dimensions, it requires freedom of choice, not obligation. We aren’t bound by commitment as a mandated requirement. We derive commitment through our shared experiences, emotions, and vulnerabilities expressed during social and intimate contact with our partners. Unlike obligations, commitment provides our romantic relationship a sense of security and wellbeing—a safety net of sorts to fall back on when unforeseen issues or events overwhelm us.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 5.5: The Promise in Compromise

Family Obligations

Family obligations can be defined any number of ways, such as parents and children sharing dinner together at home, chauffeuring kids to school or extracurricular activities, helping with homework assignments, taking care of a live-in grandparent, visiting in-laws, or anything involving a time commitment to family. For the purpose of this discussion, I focus on family obligations defined by parents or childless adult couples interacting with in-laws or adult relatives. Within this context, family responsibilities can run the gamut from minimal to overwhelming. Some couples view family commitments as less of a burden and more of an opportunity to introduce or facilitate an existing relationship between one partner and another partner’s relatives.

When I think of family obligations, I picture Chevy Chase and his Griswold clan enduring one disastrous holiday event after another with the kids in tow. I suspect the seemingly endless, and hysterical confrontations between all parties involved hits close to home for a lot of American families. All kidding aside, this Hollywood portrayal pokes fun at a serious issue couples often face.

Consider the many variables in the family equation: Are both partners equally committed to family in terms of regular involvement? What are their individual expectations toward family commitments in terms of who visits whom and how often and by what means? Do the in-laws come to us, or do we go to them? Are we committing to major holidays or every other month? If we choose to visit relatives, do we pack up the car and spend days on the road or fly instead? What type of relationship, good or bad, do we have with our parents or extended family? Is the requirement for family involvement a deal breaker in our relationship? At what point is it acceptable to beg for mercy from the mother or father-in-law who’s driving you crazy?

I was fortunate in my marriage to have wonderful in-laws who brought nothing but support and love to my former wife and I. My father-in-law was always willing to listen and share his thoughts. And I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother-in-law who assisted for several months after my twin boys were born. Little did my infant sons know what a Godsend the extra help would be for brand new parents juggling twin babies without a user manual.

I’m not a child psychologist nor do I pretend to understand all the intricacies involved with how our childhood shapes our lives as adults. I do believe, however, the first step toward compromising on family obligations should involve an honest dialogue between partners regarding their family upbringings and beliefs. Secondly, I feel both partners should engage in frank discussion about things like cultural differences and expectations, where one culture might require or encourage significantly more extended family interaction than another. Financial considerations bring out another issue with the price of gasoline and airfares always rising. There’s also the cost of time to consider, as one partner may have more difficulty leaving work for extended periods of time. Most people only accrue a limited number of vacation days, allocated across the calendar to cover everything from actual vacations to sick days or child emergencies. If family obligations involve relatives visiting your home for extended periods of time, discuss an emergency exit strategy—or at least an agreed upon length of stay. A nice hotel can spread comfort for everyone involved, particularly if your guest accommodations involve a pull out sofa with busted springs and nocturnal pets running wild throughout the night.

If family obligations involve taking care of an elderly parent or permanently sharing your home with a relative, talk it over with each other. If you’re married, hopefully these discussions occurred before you took your marital vows. If not, you could be in for a bumpy ride both financially and emotionally. If, on the other hand, your relationship is relatively new, you should consider whether or not your partner’s predilection toward family obligations parallels or conflicts with your own. As with many compromises, family obligations can be tough to agree to disagree on.

Personal Goals and Ambitions

Oprah Winfrey said, “Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own.”

Whether or not your personal goals require time apart from your partner to pursue your own aspirations, a balance exists—and for some, a very delicate one, between too much independence and spending too much time together.

Too much time together? Is there such a thing? Of course there is. Most healthy couples don’t spend every minute of every day joined at the hip. We all crave personal time now and then. And some people enjoy more time alone than others.

Ask yourself: Does the time and energy required to achieve your personal goals interfere with your relationship? Or does your relationship impede your ability to achieve your dreams? If you answered yes to the former, you have an opportunity to compromise on some personal issues for the benefit of your relationship; however, if you answered yes to the latter, then you might reconsider your romantic relationship. Sound harsh? Perhaps. But it goes back to defining your needs and desires. If your romantic relationship blocks your need to attain your personal goals in life, then maybe you’re better off going solo for a while. To ignore your inner conflict and press on with the relationship will likely cause more personal strife and incur a rift in your ability to compromise. I believe this partly explains why so many “Hollywood marriages” end in total disaster, some in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. Any time two people in a committed relationship go full bore to achieve their personal goals—with their romantic relationship a constant obstacle—the relationship will always suffer. In a perfect world, both partners share common personal goals and objectives. But few people share exactly the same goals or how to go about achieving them.

Whatever personal goals and ambitions keep you fired up all day or awake at night, spend some time to reflect on their significance to you. This might involve asking some tough questions about your needs and your relationship, the honest answers to which might surprise you. Moreover, you may find you can compromise on your work or hobbies to spend more time with your partner without significantly impacting your personal goals and objectives. So it takes you a little longer to finish your project or plan your dream trip around the world. You might discover your relationship is more important. In the end, the best way to approach a compromise on personal goals and ambitions involves balancing the time you spend doing things alone with the time you spend doing things together.

Parenting

When it comes to parenting and compromise, various parenting styles exist. We all have opinions on parents we perceive to be too strict, too lenient, or indifferent altogether, but well-known research conducted at Berkeley by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind in the 1960s has been used for decades to categorize Western parents into one of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Authoritative, or Permissive. Baumrind’s research involved the study of middle class preschool children and their parents. Subsequent studies have upheld Baumrind’s conclusions on parenting styles, and as Western society has evolved since the 60’s era, two additional parenting styles have been documented: Over-Parenting and Neglectful/Uninvolved.

In the following paragraphs, a cursory explanation of each Baumrind style helps identify our own parenting approaches and casts the spotlight on some pros and cons of each. This short discussion on parenting styles presents a broad-brush perspective on a topic largely beyond the scope of this book. Nonetheless, I feel it’s important to understand the definitions of these parenting styles before we attempt to compare our own style to our partner’s in an effort to compromise on our parenting approaches.

As you read these short descriptions on various parenting styles, it’s likely you’ll discover your own parenting methods constitute more than one of these styles—and how your particular approach to parenting can be subject to change, slightly, based on household dynamics, the age of your children, lack of sleep, temporary loss of sanity, momentary bouts of dain bramage, afull moon, or any number of existential influences real or imagined.

Baumrind’s Authoritarian Parenting

The authoritarian parent observes a restrictive parenting style. These parents impose lots of rules with little or no explanations and expect their child to abide by the rules without question. Violation of the rules results in harsh punishment. Baumrind found that authoritarian parenting produced children who were “fearful, apprehensive, moody, unhappy, easily annoyed, passively hostile, vulnerable to stress, aimless, sulky, and unfriendly.” Moreover, Baumrind noticed children raised by authoritarian parents were likely to comply with parents’ expectations when the parents were present, but act out behind their backs.

Baumrind’s Authoritative Parenting

The authoritative parenting style offers a less restrictive and more flexible approach to the authoritarian style but still imposes rules. Authoritative parents set expectations for appropriate behaviors and provide reasons for their expectations. These parents listen to their child’s point of view. According to Baumrind’s research, the authoritative parenting style helped parents raise children who were “self-reliant, self-controlled, cheerful and friendly, coped well with stress, cooperative with adults, curious, purposive, and achievement oriented.” In Baumrind’s conclusion, children raised by authoritative parents succeeded well in life, with the fewest instances of substance abuse, superior grades, and eventually better jobs. In more recent times, Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, points to studies on authoritative parenting that correlate authoritative parenting with stronger psychosocial development and mental health across all cultures, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

Baumrind’s Permissive Parenting

The permissive parenting style, or “indulgent parenting style” as some describe it, represents warmth and nurturing but with few expectations for the child. Children have free rein over their own behavior with minimal parental supervision. Parents with this style rarely discipline their children and often assume the role of a friend more than a parent. According to Baumrind, permissive parents tend to be more responsive than demanding and often avoid confrontation. Their children grow up to be more rebellious, impulsive, and low in achievement.

Baumrind’s Over-Parenting

The over-parenting style, or “helicopter mom” as some describe it, places the needs of the child first. Parents who exhibit this style believe children must be protected from unpleasant or sad experiences in order for children to be happy and secure. This style of parenting takes away the child’s sense of autonomy, where the parent makes decisions for their child and attempts to solve their child’s problems. Over-protected children typically lack confidence, have a low self-image, and remain averse to taking risks or confronting new situations. Parents who conform to this style do their child a disservice, despite good intentions, by treating their child like a “bubble boy” without allowing the child to handle life’s challenges. In my opinion, children who fail to learn how to cope with life’s up and downs eventually grow up to become adults who have difficulty handling stressful situations, including conflict resolution. Of course, most good parents probably over-parent their children to some extent, on occasion—myself included.

Baumrind’s Neglectful / Uninvolved Parenting

The neglectful or uninvolved parenting style applies to parents who fulfill their children’s physical needs but remain emotionally distant, isolated, and detached. This parenting style places few demands on the child with limited communication and low responsiveness to the child’s needs. Children of neglectful parents grow up with low self-esteem and poor social competence. These children suffer to various degrees on physical, emotional, and psychological fronts.

Beyond the Baumrind Styles

New research from a three-year study concluded in 2012 by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, describes parenting as an outgrowth of who we are rather than a system we consciously choose. Over the course of the study, researchers examined three thousand parents who participated in an online survey and interviews. This study of school-aged children across the United States examined the origins of American parenting styles across the country and classified American families into the following four groups:

  • The Faithful
  • Engaged Progressives
  • The Detached (or Laissez-Faire)
  • American Dreamers

The Faithful

According to the University of Virginia study, the Faithful comprise twenty percent of America’s total parent population, and place heavy emphasis on morality with religion at the center of their world. When faced with a morally unclear circumstance, eighty-eight percent of the Faithful would decide what to do based upon what God or scripture tells them is right. Roughly seventy-five percent believe “faith is more important than their children’s eventual happiness and positive feelings about themselves.” The Faithful pray daily and look to pastors or spiritual counselors for parenting advice. They feel secure as parents and have control over their children. Nearly eighty-eight percent are married with average education and larger than average family sizes. Their ethnic group includes sixty-seven percent Caucasian, sixteen percent Hispanic, eleven percent Black, and six percent other.

Engaged Progressives

The Engaged Progressives comprise twenty-one percent of America’s total parent population and place heavy emphasis on personal freedom. They view tolerance more than faith in their moral code. Over half believe that as long as they don’t hurt anyone else, they should live however they want. Engaged Progressives tend to emphasize honesty and generally maintain an optimistic view of the world. They prepare children to be “responsible choosers” and believe in the motto of “doing what would be the best for everyone involved.” Engaged Progressives maintain higher than average education with smaller than average family sizes. About eighty percent are married within an ethnic group, including seventy-one percent Caucasian, seventeen percent Hispanic, two percent Black, and ten percent other.

The Detached (or Laissez-Faire)

The Detached comprise nineteen percent of America’s total parent population and place heavy emphasis on “freedom of retreat.”They feel “marginalized, reticent, and unsure of themselves and their place in society.” The majority of detached parents consider practical skills as important as book learning. The Detached hold less than average education and most have only one child. Their philosophy on parenting is to “let kids be kids and let the cards fall where they may.” Roughly two-thirds are married and about half spend less than two hours a day talking or spending time with their children. Their ethnic group includes sixty-seven percent Caucasian, seventeen percent Hispanic, ten percent Black, and six percent other.

American Dreamers

The American Dreamers comprise twenty-seven percent of America’s total parent population. These parents share the low economic and education levels of the Detached but have much higher aspirations for their children. Most hold less than average education, and one in four live below the poverty line. American Dreamers invest heavily in their children to give them a competitive advantage in later life. Roughly two-thirds are married and remain optimistic about their children’s opportunities and schooling. Their ethnic group consists of forty-six percent Caucasian, twenty-six percent Hispanic, twenty-two percent Black, and six percent other.

Coping with Different Parenting Styles

According to Barbara Frazier, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist, our parenting styles derive from the first-hand experience of the parenting styles our parents or parent displayed. From our childhood, we subconsciously internalize our parents’ style, which helps lay the groundwork for the development of our own parenting style as we enter parenthood. This parallels the work of researchers at Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture who describe parenting as an outgrowth of who we are rather than a system we consciously choose.

So how do you compromise between different parenting styles? The same way you kiss a porcupine—very carefully. Experts believe parenting conflicts are normal. They also emphasize the importance of striving for conflict resolution versus ongoing disputes of who’s right or wrong. Different partners bring their own unique perspective on child rearing based on their own childhood experiences. Working through parenting conflicts benefits the children but also the marriage as well. Once we recognize how different parenting styles can emphasize cooperation over conflict, we can begin the process of compromising on our parenting styles. With this goal in mind, Barbara Frazier offers the following advice:

  • Engage in cooperative parenting compromise only when your child’s best interests are the primary consideration.
  • Define values and parenting strategies by listing the primary values you wish to impart to your child and what you hope to accomplish in the years they will be living with you. Next, list major categories of parenting strategies and the specific activities or practices you will use.
  • Identify conflicts and compromise areas by listing the areas of disagreement.

Dr. Connor Walters, a Certified Family Life Educator at Illinois State University also recommends the following approach to dealing with different parenting styles:

  • Keep communication open to address small issues as they arise, rather than waiting for the issues to get worse.
  • Discuss differences based on specific behaviors not individual personalities.
  • Settle problems one at a time by coming to an agreement on the most important issues first.
  • Stay in the present and don’t rehash old conflicts.
  • When disagreements arise, don’t wait for days on end to discuss them.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Allow each parent to express their own views.
  • Speak respectfully to one another and control your nonverbal communication—i.e., don’t send mixed signals by nodding an enthusiastic “Yes!” while you’re rolling your eyes to express your disapproval.

Compromise in Summary

This chapter covered a lot of ground on a topic many people find hard to discuss. Instead of hiding from compromise in your romantic relationship, I hope the information I’ve provided will encourage you to look at compromise from a different perspective across a variety of issues. Compromise involves empathy for your partner’s needs and desires with the objective of settling differences through mutual concessions to reach agreements through reciprocal modification of demands. Compromise derives from equality and respect, and not power and control. Positive compromises keep your relationship in balance. Negative compromises do more harm than good. Only you can decide where to draw the line between negative compromise—unhealthy compromise that prompts you to sacrifice your core values—and positive compromise—healthy compromise that keeps your relationship on track.

Not everyone shares the same ability or the same desire to compromise. As we grow older, some of us become more set in our own ways and less willing to change for the benefit of our relationship. This can lead to conflict, which is a normal part of any healthy relationship as long as both partners can keep their emotions in check and focus on the issue at hand. Try not to overanalyze things, but do set guidelines and follow them. Listen to each other. Maintain eye contact. Be flexible where you can. A stiff branch breaks; a soft one bends.

Whether you are in a new relationship or involved with a long-term partner, consider making a hierarchical list of all the things important to you, starting with the most essential. Then compare this to your partner’s list. Hopefully most of your priorities coincide. If not, you now have a way to help identify areas of concern. When broaching a specific compromise, consider asking yourself the following questions:

1. Will this compromise make me happy?

Many compromises involve relatively minor changes in our lives or our daily routines and have little impact on our overall satisfaction. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. Will this compromise change who I am fundamentally?

Ask yourself if this compromise will have an adverse effect on your core values, your beliefs, or your personal goals and objectives. It’s one thing to try and work through an impasse with your partner through mutual concessions you can both live with. But it’s never a good idea to try and change someone or ask them to become someone they’re not.

3. Is my partner also compromising or am I simply giving in?

Compromise goes both ways. Compromise isn’t always fifty-fifty, but if you find the scales constantly tip in your partner’s favor, it might be time to renegotiate your position.

4. Am I really willing to make this compromise?

Be honest with yourself and decide if you’re willing to live with the compromise. If you’re not willing to make the compromise, then don’t offer it.

5. Is this compromise for the benefit of our relationship?

Are you compromising exclusively for your partner’s sake to make their life more convenient or enjoyable for them? Or will this compromise be beneficial for the overall health of your relationship?

6. Am I ready to be in this relationship?

If there are high priority issues causing too much conflict in your relationship, and you or your partner are not willing to compromise on any of them, then it might be time to reevaluate the long term viability of your relationship. Better to be happy and single—even lonely and single—than stuck in a miserable relationship.

A strong romantic relationship thrives on our ability to compromise on the smallest of issues as well as those that loom large in our own minds. If two people truly love each other, and truly accept each other for who they are as individuals with important needs and desires, then compromise for the benefit of the relationship should be something to espouse. Meaningful and lasting don’t have to imply mutually exclusive descriptors for romance to thrive. We aren’t bound by the notion of meaningful or lasting when we love someone. We are bound by our desire to give and take in equal measure, to seek balance in our lives together without sacrificing our own core values and beliefs.

If you’ve made it thus far in the book, you should have a better understanding of the first three ‘Cs’ and how the art of compromise involves the use of many skills, including communication, conflict management, and sacrifice. The fourth and final ‘C’ describes something many people shy away from, but if you’re willing to keep an open mind, you’ll find there’s nothing to fear with commitment.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 5.4: The Promise in Compromise

Surviving the Tough Compromises

With a better understanding of some gender-specific approaches to compromise, we’re more equipped to explore some critical issues men and women face together over time in their relationships, namely:

  • Finances
  • Sex
  • Household Chores
  • Family Obligations
  • Personal Goals/Ambitions
  • Parenting

Finances

Of all the contentious issues couples struggle with in their romantic relationships, the almighty dollar causes more friction between two people than almost all other challenges combined. Even for the super-wealthy, famous celebrities, lottery jackpot winners, and career politicians, money always finds itself at the center of attention. For many of us, sex, love, happiness, and companionship can be had for the right price—but two things money will never buy: immortality and a meaningful and lasting romance. Numerous studies support financial conflict as a leading source of friction among married men and women. David Bach, author of Smart Couples Finish First, describes how money remains one of the most significant areas of marital conflict and consistently among the top four reasons for divorce. In his book, he emphasizes how couples who constantly disagree about finances are less happy than those who function as a team when it comes to making and managing money. In line with Bach’s perspective, Dr. Daniel Mathews, a Human Development Specialist, states, “According to marriage counselors, conflict over money is one of the primary reasons given by couples for seeking professional help.” Furthermore, Dr. Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and author of, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, draws insight from a recently concluded twenty-five year study on marriage, divorce, and love. Dr. Orbuch’s findings cite money as the number one point of conflict in the majority of marriages, good or bad. Her study also identified that forty-nine percent of divorced people fought over money so often with their spouse—due to different spending styles, lies about spending, income inequalities, or an effort to control one another—that these divorced individuals expect money to be a problem in their next relationship as well.

Shakespeare said, “To be or not to be.” For the rest of us it’s, “Spend or not to spend.” And when we spend, the issue becomes how little or how much? Should we borrow or save? Buy new or used? Invest short term or long term? Splurge for a big vacation or pay down debt? Keep the old sofa or remodel the entire room? A new Harley or a used Honda? Downsize our home or upsize our wardrobe?

No matter who you are or how your financial situation looks, money will always factor into your life. Love it or hate it, the almighty dollar is here to stay. Some people want what they want and won’t settle for less. Others become so tight with their money, they squeak when they walk. But even couples who see eye to eye on money matters, eventually collide over one financial issue or another, often disagreeing where money gets spent.

Why are financial compromises so hard to stomach? Because we place so much importance on money. And while it serves to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, money is not the panacea so many people make it out to be. Remember this the next time you squabble with your partner over a petty impulse buy. Of course, it’s up to you and your partner to define what things you need to spend money on versus those you want to spend money on.

One financial strategy that has worked for many dual income couples I’ve known involves establishing a joint checking account used exclusively for all revolving and necessary expenses shared by both partners like rent/mortgage, utilities, joint loans, etc. Both partners itemize these expenses and split them fifty-fifty. Then each partner deposits the requisite funds into their common expense account. Afterwards, each partner can spend the remainder of their income on whatever they want—clothes, car, furniture, travel, dining out, etc. This system of setting aside money up front for major common expenses provides consistent coverage for the revolving, non-negotiable bills. Then, with each partner free to spend or save the rest of their money however they like, the potential for financial conflict declines significantly. If one partner wants to spend all of their discretionary income on clothes or gadgets, they can, without getting an earful from their significant other every time they pull out their purse or wallet. On the downside, this approach doesn’t always address long-term planning or how one partner might be more or less inclined to save their portion of discretionary cash flow, causing potential friction when one partner claims they’re always broke while the other always has cash to spare.

Regardless of who earns how much, there needs to be a mutual understanding of how the money gets spent. This starts with a mutual definition and understanding of our needs versus wants. Once we agree—hopefully—on the things we need, like food, shelter, and clothes, we can negotiate on the wants. There’s no secret formula here. According to Diane McCurdy, author of How Much Is Enough? Balancing Today’s Needs With Tomorrow’s Retirement Goals, financial compatibly is not about having the same spending habits; rather, it involves a willingness to accept the differences in each other’s approach to money—and the inclination to work together to decide on a budget that accommodates the needs of each person, despite their individual spending preferences. I agree with McCurdy’s philosophy, where both partners must be involved in the decision-making process, even if one partner takes the primary reins on the checkbook balancing or long term financial planning. Regardless of who does what or how different our spending philosophies appear, we should approach financial decisions with the same trust and respect we would otherwise give our partner regarding any other aspects of our relationship.

Another national study, conducted in 2012 by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), sampled one thousand and five U.S. adults aged eighteen and older by landline and mobile phone. Among the results from this study, twenty-seven percent of those married or living with a partner stated money issues provoked arguments more often than conflicts over children, chores, work, or friends. Roughly forty-nine percent of those surveyed in the study claimed they argued most often over unexpected expenses compared to thirty-two percent who squabbled over insufficient savings. Perhaps even more telling, the study concluded that fifty-five percent of study participants who were married or living with a partner didn’t routinely devote time to discuss financial matters.

In 2012, TODAY.com and the women’s well-being magazine, SELF, conducted a joint survey of twenty-three thousand online users to explore the notion of “financial infidelity.” According to results from the survey, forty-six percent of people have lied to their partner about money, confessing to a wide range of money secrets, including lying about purchases, hiding them in the attic or covertly withdrawing money from joint accounts. Interestingly, roughly sixty-three percent of the male respondents and seventy percent of the female respondents stated honesty about money was as important as remaining monogamous, despite the revelation that more than thirty-four percent of men and women surveyed confessed to keeping money secrets. Furthermore, thirty-two percent of women said they have hidden purchases from their partner, compared with only seventeen percent of men.

The TODAY study aside, other researchers claim financial infidelity now trumps sexual infidelity as the largest threat to stable relationships. Adrian Nazari, founder and CEO of Credit Sesame, offers the following red flags a partner should look for if they suspect financial infidelity:

  • Your partner wants to control the finances with no input from you.
  • Your partner makes suspicious withdrawals from investment accounts.
  • Your partner changes the subject when discussions about money come up.

Author Bernard Poduska, an associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, underscores the value oflove and security in successful marriages. From his perspective, lying about debt and expenditures makes money of greater significance than the marriage itself, ultimately undermining the relationship. Furthermore, he describes the importance of understanding the value each partner places on money and how financial harmony within the relationship is critical for “validation, freedom, power, respect, security, and happiness.” He proposes both partners should have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to controlling finances, and by doing so, will strengthen the marriage bonds. In line with Poduska’s philosophy, author Diane McCurdy’s definition of financial harmony has less to do with partners having comparable spending habits and more about accepting each other’s approach to money, whether similar or not, with a goal of working together to resolve financial issues.

Talk openly and honestly about financial decisions. Work together. Negotiate your differences with a spirit of love and respect. In the end, the issues shouldn’t focus on who likes to spend money on what or debating the pros and cons of joint versus separate accounts. Money might be a necessary evil in today’s society, but it doesn’t have to be the boogeyman hiding under your bed.

Sex

Of all the tough compromises couples face, sex and money vie for first place. I’d venture to say more books have been written on these two issues than most other topics combined. With money merely a commodity we exchange for goods and services, sex represents a powerful physical and emotional component of a meaningful and lasting romance. The pressure to engage in sex too often can cause strife with one partner as much as not having sex often enough can frustrate the other. Women prefer romance. Men prefer sex. Not to say that women don’t enjoy sex and men aren’t capable of romance, but somewhere therein lies a balance between the two.

Most sexual compromise centers around the frequency of the act itself. Men usually want more. Women tend to want less. According to Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author of The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life, the average rate of intercourse for married couples is one point seven times a week. Dr. Saltz also points out there’s a wide variability among ages and individual couples. Other research indicates the frequency of sexual activity with one’s partner typically declines steadily as the relationship continues, reaching roughly half the frequency after one year of marriage compared to the first month of marriage, and declining more gradually thereafter.

Michele Weiner-Davis, a family therapist and author of The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple’s Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido, confesses how women are not always the partner with the lower sex drive. In her book, she writes, “Most marital therapists would agree that low desire is a bigger problem for women, but men are right behind them—they just don’t talk about it because there is so much shame involved.” Regardless of gender, an overall lack of time and energy from over-burdened schedules remains a systemic problem, at least in America, where we place too much emphasis on work and not enough on enjoying the simple things in life.

Great sex, as with love, can strengthen a relationship, particularly when couples discuss sex openly. Everyone’s libido dances to a different beat, and often, couples struggle with mismatched sexual desire. When this happens, one partner prefers to have sex more frequently and feels rejected and unwanted if the frequency of sex fails to meet their needs. The other partner who prefers to have sex less often starts to feel pressured and frustrated from their perceived obligation to perform when they’d rather not. To counter this libido mismatch, some experts suggest scheduling a portion of your sex life in advance instead of counting on the sparks to fly for both partners at a moment’s notice. By planning ahead, sex becomes something to look forward to. But don’t just “plan” for sex like you’re planning to finish the laundry. Create a romantic setting with candles, a warm bath, flower petals, soft music, sexy lingerie, a cozy dinner, a glass of wine, or anything you both enjoy to help you relax and set the mood. This will help ease the tension from seeing sex as merely an act you’ve scheduled to accomplish on a certain day and time—and more like an invitation to a special event. Because it is a special event.

Laura Brotherson, a marriage and intimacy expert and author of, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, reminds us that for men, sex is more reaction-based; for women, more decision-based. As Brotherson describes, women approach sex from a mental preparation standpoint as opposed to the man’s more instantaneous physiological response to sexual stimulus. Brotherson also emphasizes the importance of creating the right mood. Whether sex evolves spontaneously or through a planned event, women prepare mentally and physically for sex with “talk, touch, and time.”

Michele Weiner-Davis recommends pressing ahead if you’re not in the mood. In her opinion, partners with lower-levels of sexual desire find themselves turned on, and enjoy sex more than they thought they would initially, once things get started. And of course, sex doesn’t necessarily have to involve intercourse. It can also involve touching, kissing, and other forms of physical affection.

Marty Klein, a marriage and family therapist and author of Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex—and How to Get It, concurs with Weiner-Davis’s philosophy about not always waiting for an overwhelming urge to seize us. For those times when one partner has absolutely no desire for sex, Klein suggests a compromise by replacing “no” with “when.” As Klein describes it, telling your partner “not now but after I finish some chores” is more warmly received by the initiating partner than a flat-out rejection, which increases the level of anxiety and frustration for the initiating partner.

The majority of research focuses on married couples who’ve sought therapy for a variety of marital issues, but whose problems may or may not be unique to the long term nature of their relationship. Unlike most unwed couples, married couples typically deal with additional stressors in their lives such as parenthood, joint finances, and more extended family obligations. Not to say that divorced individuals don’t endure their share of sexual challenges as well, especially with demanding careers and potentially complex dynamics from custody arrangements, single parenthood, and other pressures to commit. Regardless of our marital status, a willingness to share each other’s concerns and remain flexible and understanding goes a long way to achieving the sexual compromises we seek.

Household Chores

I will wash dishes, scrub toilets, and do laundry all day long. But when it comes to ironing clothes, I’d rather endure a second root canal procedure than iron wrinkles out of wrinkles on a shirt I know will look worse when I’m finished than it did when I started. I know I’m not alone. I also know division of labor can maintain harmony in the household and avert undo confrontation. I propose a simple compromise to household chores involving division of labor and shared responsibilities: talk it over and make out a list of who does what. Then abide by it. Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Well, who said chores had to be complicated?

If there’s a particular chore you both find distasteful, then look to outside help. If neither of you care to clean house, then hire a maid. Can’t agree on who does the yard work? Hire a lawn service or the neighbor’s kid next door. Hate doing taxes? Hire an accountant. Adverse to ironing? Find a good dry cleaner.

The more time you spend together doing chores, the more money you save on paying someone else to do them for you. Trouble arises when the see-saw’s out of balance because one person’s doing everything and the other partner’s doing nothing. In today’s society, I find more men are willing to cook and more women are willing to manage the finances. I’ve also met a lot of women who prefer to never cook. With more women maintaining professional careers and more men taking an active role in their home lives, it’s not surprising to see traditional gender roles swap places when it comes to household chores.

Still not convinced? Then consider this: In 2009, the Journal of Family Issues published a study on the relationship between household chores and sexual frequency—yes, some people clearly have too much time on their hands. The study, derived from monitoring the lives of nearly nine thousand married couples with similar age, income, and marital satisfaction, concluded that for men and women, the more housework they do, the more often they are likely to have sex.

The study defined housework to include nine chores: cleaning, preparing meals, washing dishes, washing and ironing clothes, driving family members around, shopping, yard work, maintaining cars, and paying bills. Researchers hypothesized that husbands would benefit more from this housework-sex connection because wives tend to do more housework and would therefore be motivated to engage in “thank-you sex” if their husbands helped out with house duties. Instead, researchers found the effects applied to both genders.

Other research also supports this connection between doing housework and experiencing an increased desire for sex, including a study in 2003 by University of California, Riverside’s sociology professor, Scott Coltrane, who linked fathers’ housework to greater feelings of warmth and affection in their wives. In addition, Neil Chethik, author of VoiceMale, linked a wife’s satisfaction with the division of household duties with her husband’s satisfaction with their sex life. And Robbie Babins-Wagner, CEO of the Calgary Counselling Centre and a marriage and family therapist, wrote in the Calgary Herald, “Doing chores together brings forth a sense of a joint project and a sense of connection (which) women feel more than men. But a younger, newer generation of men is seeing the value in that as well, which I think leads to more closeness and people feeling more committed to the relationship.”

Laura Brotherson, explains how men often underestimate the power of their participation in the home and family as an aphrodisiac. She also describes the importance of the husband’s role—or boyfriend I would argue for those unmarried couples engaged in a long-term relationship—in sharing household responsibilities to lessen the demands on a woman’s time and attention, which in turn helps her ability to engage sexually. Furthermore, as author Michele Weiner-Davis argues, “Nothing turns a woman off quite as effectively as the feeling that she’s doing most of the work at home. I can guarantee that you won’t find her burning the midnight oil dreaming up ways to please her husband sexually. When a low-desire woman feels burned out, the first thing to go on her to-do list is sex.”

Now where did I stash that ironing board?

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 5.3: The Promise in Compromise

Temperament Theory

Where conflict management styles help us identify specific behavioral responses to contentious situations in our relationships, temperament styles reveal another layer of our personalities by describing how we respond to each other or how approachable we appear to other people. Temperament styles describe our responsiveness to one another as less or more. Less responsive individuals exhibit colder demeanors toward others who initiate unsolicited interaction—i.e., interaction resulting from another person’s approach without invitation and for no particular reason other than to socialize. On the other extreme, a more responsive person readily accepts others for social interaction and imparts a warmer attitude. Whereas the Thomas-Kilmann conflict management styles help us describe how a person reacts to conflict, temperament theory helps us understand what they are likely to express along a continuum from somberness to indifference to amicability—i.e., are we emotionally distant from our partner, emotionally attached, or somewhere in between? Within this field of study, Dr. Phyllis Arno and Dr. Richard G. Arno endorse five modern temperament styles:

  • Choleric
  • Sanguine
  • Melancholy
  • Phlegmatic
  • Supine

Choleric

Cholerics remain emotionally detached unless they have reason to approach you. They maintain a strong sense of leadership with desire for control, power, and authority. They are task-oriented and independent. They thrive on appreciation but can come across as mean, arrogant, authoritarian, and callous.

Sanguine

Sanguines prefer emotional closeness in a relationship. They are people-oriented and tend to exhibit a fun-loving, carefree attitude, prospering with lots of recognition from peers. They thrive in social circles with a need to feel popular and at the center of attention. Their attitudes can range from warm, kind, and outgoing to unreliable, disruptive, and arrogant.

Melancholy

Melancholies maintain emotional distance in their relationship. Driven by a search for “intimate perfection,” they strive to be understood, respected, and accepted within their self-imposed morally appropriate boundaries. Like the Cholerics, Melancholies tend to be task-oriented. Melancholies display a creative bent prone to genius with supportive, considerate, and selfless behavior. On the downside, their highly introspective personalities and quest for perfection can make them temperamental, disparaging, and indignant at times.

Phlegmatic

Phlegmatics lead a quiet, reserved lifestyle with a take it or leave it outlook. They tend to steer away from conflict with a need to create and maintain a peaceful environment. Phlegmatics make good listeners, remain calm in times of crises, and display high levels of self-control. For the most part, their diplomatic nature serves them well, but their overriding need for tranquility can make them vacillate on issues, shy away from confrontation, and be prone to procrastination.

Supine

Supines maintain an emotional closeness but only if you reach out to them. They are motivated to serve a higher cause beyond their own self-interests. They tend to yield their own needs to the interests of their chosen causes. Supines tend to be organized, compassionate, gentle, and faithful, but rely on acceptance from others and sometimes have issues with guilt. They can also be anxious, timorous, and wavering in their commitments. Supines share a common fear of rejection with their Sanguine counterparts. Supines also share a tendency with the Melancholies to harbor anger.

The following graphic summarizes the field of temperament styles. Note how the supine and sanguine styles are at opposite ends of the introverted and extroverted spectrum with sanguine and choleric on opposite ends of the people oriented / task oriented scale. As the temperament figure indicates, phlegmatics strike a balance between responsive / introverted and expressive / extroverted.

Temperament Styles

We all relate to certain aspects from each of these four temperament styles, the way we all associate, to some extent or another, our core traits with the five conflict management styles covered in the previous section. While our natural affinities direct us toward certain styles more than others, we tend to make adjustments based on circumstances and needs within our relationship. At worst, we can choose to ignore our own latent tendencies and those of our partners. At best, we can learn to identify certain temperament characteristics to help us improve our understanding of our partner’s perspective and work with them, more than against them, to address relationship conflicts. Despite some of the negative attributes associated with the different temperament styles, there are no right or wrong approaches, only alternatives when it comes to effective conflict management. The more we understand ourselves and our partners in terms of our core values, needs, desires, and general philosophies on life, the more we’re able to adjust our styles to work together and reach an acceptable compromise.

Gender Perspectives on Compromise

I once read, “A compromise is an agreement whereby both parties get what neither of them wanted.” In the previous chapter on The Art of Communication, we examined gender differences to understand how men and women differ with unique feelings, beliefs, behaviors, and needs. With respect to gender perspectives on compromise, the key theme is perspective.

Look at the following images and ask yourself what you see.

Do you see this in two dimensions or three? Or both?

Do you see an angel, roads leading into a tunnel, a skyscraper, or something else?

Do you see a three-toed claw, a gorilla, a dog, or Jimmy Hoffa?

Do you see the elephant?

Time and again, we see what we want to see, a consequence derived partly from past experiences and learned behaviors. Much is left to interpretation, as no two people will view the same images, or relationship issues, from the same perspective. This ties into our gender views on relationships, where we see things one way based on our preconceived notions of how things should look from our own perspective. More specifically, our gender differences often skew our ability to understand and respect the value of each other’s needs.

In the book, Difficult Conversations, authors Stone, Patton, and Heen describe how we “often go through an entire conversation—or indeed an entire relationship—without ever realizing that each of us is paying attention to different things, that our views are based on differing information.” The authors also describe two important factors that determine how we interpret what we see, namely our past experiences and the inherent rules we’ve learned about how things should and should not be done. I believe our past experiences and lessons learned shape our individual value systems as well as define our needs.

According to Dr. Willard F. Harley, Junior, a psychologist, marriage counselor, and author of His Needs, Her Needs, a husband and wife each have five basic marital needs they must fulfill. And according to Dr. Harley, when a husband and wife exhibit all five of their respective qualities, a man and woman become irresistible to one another. I assert that, for the most part, these gender-specific needs, as Dr. Harley describes them, also apply to unmarried couples engaged in long-term romantic relationships. The following table compares a husband and wife’s five basic needs, while the subsequent paragraphs elaborate on the significance of each:

Husband’s Basic NeedsWife’s Basic Needs
Sexual FulfillmentAffection
Recreational CompanionshipConversation
An Attractive SpouseHonesty and Openness
Domestic SupportFinancial Support
AdmirationFamily Commitment

His Need for Sexual Fulfillment / Her Need for Affection

Let’s begin by comparing a man’s need for sexual fulfillment with a woman’s need for affection. Most people would agree a man’s need for sexual fulfillment and a woman’s need for affection derive not from a marriage certificate but in how both genders perceive what it means to feel loved. In many ways, affection and sexual fulfillment coexist like a double helix, where the best outcomes derive from a combination of the two combined.

Dr. John Gray expands on this notion in, Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, where he explains how women require a sense of belonging and affection from their partner to feel closer to them and awaken a strong desire for physical intimacy. Men on the other hand, require sexual fulfillment as a way to achieve a closer bond with their partner. At face value, these two approaches appear contradictory. Yet many thriving romantic relationships abound. Why? Because these couples find a way to compromise.

Age plays a role as well for both sexes and their willingness to compromise. Studies show women are more likely to make romantic compromises at a younger age, whereas men tend to compromise more at an older age. Research also supports this notion from a biological perspective, where a woman’s declining estrogen levels have been linked to a stronger desire for independence. Conversely, as testosterone declines in older men, they become more “prosocial” and eager to make deeper connections with the opposite sex.

In Mathew Kelly’s, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, the author underscores the importance of trying to balance the amount of sex with the amount of quality time not involving sex. In Kelly’s words, “If we overvalue our physical intimacy and begin to judge and value our relationship on the basis of physical intimacy, then over time, we neglect the nurturing of the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of the relationship.”

For all of us, the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional components of our relationship constitute three quarters of our relationship pie, so to speak. If we recall the see-saw analogy and how compromise can be achieved where we negotiate to balance our needs and desires, a relationship with disproportionate emphasis on physical intimacy would outweigh the other components and cause a tilt, or rift, in our relationship. And from the opposite perspective, the same logic holds true for relationships disproportionately based on spiritual, intellectual, and emotional needs, where these needs might outweigh the intimacy component and cause an imbalance.

His Need for Recreational Companionship / Her Need for Conversation

Men seek recreational companionship as a way to engage in what they perceive to be common interests. In many instances, this serves a two-fold purpose. First, men prefer to talk less and do more. No surprise there. It’s in our nature to engage in recreational activity, whether it involves camping, surfing, live sporting events, boating, hiking, riding motorcycles, or anything else that satisfies our desire to share the recreational experience. Secondly, men often assume if they involve you in a favorite recreational activity, you’ll grow to love it as well. Case in point, the endless boating excursions I enjoyed years ago along the Potomac River in Virginia with my girlfriend straddled on the back of my personal watercraft. From my perspective, I lived for those rides on sunny days with calm water and gas for a buck twenty-five a gallon—my sweetheart clutching my life jacket while we skimmed across the river at highway speeds. I’d always assumed she loved every minute of our waterway adventures, only later to discover she merely tolerated those rides because she knew they made me happy. A caring and considerate note in my book, but an important lesson learned as well. For me, the experience was more about adventure through recreation time together. For her, the experience meant tolerating my thrill-seeking needs for the opportunity to spend quality time together doing something she knew I enjoyed.

From a woman’s perspective, conversation serves to strengthen the relationship by communicating thoughts and feelings. This emotional connection helps bond the relationship, and for many women, channel their primary language through words of affirmation. Unlike most men who view conversation as a method to understand a particular problem and formulate a solution, conversation provides women with a way to share or vent. Women also use conversation as a way to increase intimacy in their relationship—a nuance frequently overlooked by men who incorrectly assume women always prefer conversation over sex, when in reality, appealing conversation often stirs a woman’s desire for sex.

His Need for an Attractive Spouse / Her Need for Honesty and Openness

Men often seek the “trophy girlfriend” or “trophy wife” in an effort to fulfill their desire for recognition. No man prefers to have a homely woman on his arm when he’s out in public, but that’s not to say all men define physical features as their highest priority need in a romantic relationship; although, many of us do. A man’s desire for an attractive partner stems from his desire to feel good about himself, to boost his ego, and to remind himself that despite the pool of available single women on the market, he doesn’t have to play the field any longer. Women like to dress sexy to feel sexy. Men like to hold attractive women to feel sexy and masculine.

In general, men focus on physical features more so than women, who remain prone to look inward and see the person behind the mask. This partially explains why women have a stronger need for honesty and openness rather than a need for an attractive boyfriend or husband. Like their male counterparts, this doesn’t imply that women prefer to date unattractive men. Quite the opposite. Nonetheless, women prefer honesty and openness because these characteristics help build and maintain a suitable relationship. Women perceive men who display honesty and openness as less likely to stray from the relationship and more likely to give their girlfriend or wife the time and attention she deserves.

Men also prefer women who are open and honest, provided of course, they light up a room when they enter. Studies show both men and women prefer individuals who maintain a combination of physical attractiveness and pleasing personality over attractiveness and wealth. The extent to which men and women will compromise on traits such as attractiveness, intelligence, sensitivity, and age, often varies. Studies also show men are more willing than women to compromise their general standards for a casual sexual encounter than a long-term relationship; however, when a measure of attractiveness becomes the sole criteria for the desire to be with someone, women tend to hold a higher minimum attractiveness standard for a casual sex partner than for a long-term relationship. Furthermore, for women, casual sex isn’t always as “casual” as men believe.

His Need for Domestic Support / Her Need for Financial Support

From my experience, the need for domestic and financial support more closely aligns with married couples and monogamous couples who cohabitate in a less formal, but a strongly committed, relationship. In the case of married couples, a husband’s need for domestic support derives from his need to have someone share the load of daily chores—namely cooking, cleaning, shopping, and assistance with children, or other commitments requiring a second set of hands. In contrast, wives possess a greater need for financial support to ensure financial security for themselves and their families. In the most traditional sense, the husband brings home the paycheck, and the wife decides the most prudent way to spend it, thus ensuring the persistence of basic needs like food and shelter. This theme also persists for many modern families as well, where both husband and wife work full time jobs.

His Need for Admiration / Her Need for Family Commitment

As with the need for domestic and financial support, the needs for admiration and family commitment more closely align with married couples and monogamous couples who cohabitate in a less formal, but a strongly committed, relationship. A husband’s need for admiration represents a core value, as men tend to measure their worth through their achievements. This notion of self-worth and the feeling of accomplishment drives a man’s desire to support his wife’s needs. Without admiration, a man loses this desire, and with it, his ability to maintain an emotional connection to his partner.

For married women, the need for family commitment draws from the need for security and stability in a relationship. With the family taken care of, all is right with the world. Women want their husbands to take the initiative and lead. This means involvement with the children beyond casual conversation with the little people running around the house.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 5.2: The Promise in Compromise

Personal Compromise

Whether you’re in search of your next relationship or enjoying the early stages of a new one, you must learn to gauge your willingness to compromise on your own needs and desires before approaching a compromise situation within your relationship. I call this personal compromise.

Personal compromise defines which, if any of your needs or desires you are willing to compromise versus those you are not. Unlike your core values and beliefs that are cast in stone, your lower priority needs and desires have a certain elasticity to them. Meaning, in the right circumstance, you may be willing to concede certain lower level needs and desires to effect a compromise. In one personal example, I have a need for at least seven hours sleep, due to my work demands and exercise routine. If I’m on a date, and I’m enjoying the company I’m with, I will ignore my seven hour rule and stay up later than I prefer to. That said, I’m only willing to compromise so far on this need for seven hours of sleep, because ultimately, my overall physical and mental health, which I consider a high priority need for myself, requires sufficient rest to achieve. If I’m involved with someone whose biological clock prompts them to stay up late every night, I might forgo my seven hours on occasion but not routinely. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this personal compromise as one I’m willing to make for the right person. In another example, I love the ocean and water-centric activities, but I’m willing to compromise my desire to spend time on the water for someone with whom I share a nice chemistry with but who happens to prefer dry land. I’ve defined for myself, the lower priority needs and desires I’m willing to compromise on so long as doing so does not negatively impact my higher priority needs and desires. I encourage you to think about this and decide where you might be open to personal compromise. If you don’t define where you’re willing to give and take, you’ll have a hard time making compromise work in your relationship.

Conflict Management Styles

In the words of William Ellery Channing, “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” When I cycle in gusty weather and have to struggle through every mile in conflict with Mother Nature, I tell myself strong winds make strong legs. In our romantic relationships, our approach to conflict resolution should focus on productive negotiations with a spirit of love and respect to resolve differences rather than clinging to preconceived notions of how our relationship should appear. Or to paraphrase my cycling analogy, conflict can actually strengthen our romantic relationships if we approach it the right way.

In terms of conflict management, each person brings different personalities and past experiences to their romantic relationship. They also bring their own behavioral perspective to conflict resolution. In a perfect world, we should always strive to air our disagreements in an open forum to encourage a healthy discussion with active listening, or authentic listening, defined by authors Stone, Patton, and Heen in Difficult Conversations, as “listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you’re supposed to.”

If you find the perfect world, let me know, and I’ll book a flight. Until then, we can only work with what we have. Mahatma Gandhi said, “True strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.” In this case, our indomitable will to maintain a meaningful and lasting romance through more proficient conflict management starts with a willingness to learn and adapt what we learn without prejudice. So far, we’ve touched on the concept of balancing our needs through negotiation and personal compromise. Now let’s go a little deeper and examine conflict management from personality and behavioral perspectives.

Personality Perspective on Conflict Management

Personality traits represent our unique ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, which influence how we respond to any given situation. Within this context, several theories represent multidimensional constructs describing the psychological type of individuals. Research in the field of personality theory associates personality with the quality of our social interactions and social relationships. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, developed three dimensions of normal behavior types to explain how normal, healthy people differ from one other. According to Jung, people think and act differently from one another in a manner he categorized with the following personality types:

  • Introverted/Extroverted—describes how people prefer to focus their attention and derive their energy.
  • Sensing/Intuitive—describes how people prefer to take in information from the world.
  • Thinking/Feeling—describes how people prefer to make decisions.

Studies suggest introverted people prefer accommodation or avoidance and extroverted individuals prefer competition or collaboration. Studies also show how personality attributes like dominance, authoritarianism, aggressiveness, and suspiciousness increase tension in a conflict situation. Conversely, personality attributes like trust, open-mindedness, and equality instill a more manageable conflict situation.

Behavioral Perspectives on Conflict Management

From a behavioral perspective, our conflict management styles will vary from person to person, but according to behavioral scientists Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, we respond to conflict in one of the following five ways:

  • Competing
  • Collaborating
  • Compromising
  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding

This Thomas-Kilmann model of behavioral conflict management also identifies two conceptually independent dimensions of interpersonal behavior associated with each of the conflict management styles, namely: assertiveness—defined as behavior intended to satisfy a person’s own concerns, and cooperativeness—defined as behavior intended to satisfy another’s concerns. The following graphic correlates each conflict management style to a range of assertive or cooperative interpersonal behaviors. As the figure indicates, the compromising conflict management style strikes a balance between assertiveness and cooperativeness.

Conflict Management Styles

Competing (assertive, uncooperative)

According to the Thomas-Kilmann model, individuals who exhibit a competing style respond to conflict in an assertive and uncompromising manner. This conflict management style attempts to gain power at the expense of the other individual in a “win-lose” approach.

Collaborating (assertive, cooperative)

The collaborative approach to conflict resolution seeks creative solutions by identifying primary issues in an effort to understand the other person’s perspective. This conflict management style encourages mutual respect and trust to help build a healthy relationship through a “win-win” approach.

Compromising (intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness)

The compromising style demonstrates a willingness to surrender some goals while convincing our partner to do the same. The Thomas-Kilmann model labels this a “lose-lose” scenario where neither partner’s needs are met. I would argue this personality type leans more toward a “win-win” outcome, through balanced assertiveness and cooperativeness. As the previous figure on conflict management styles illustrates, a compromising conflict management style offers a balance between concern for one’s own needs and concern for those of others.

Accommodating (unassertive, cooperative)

The accommodating style emphasizes relationship preservation over meaningful conflict resolution with one partner discounting their own needs in an effort to gain accord. This conflict management style can work against our own goals, objectives, and preferred outcomes.

Avoiding (unassertive, uncooperative)

The avoidant style advocates the intentional disregard for conflict by withdrawing from the conflict itself rather than addressing the issue straight on. This conflict management style expects the problem to resolve itself or disappear altogether.

Research shows we are capable of using all five conflict management styles but that we tend to use some styles more effectively than others, and therefore tend to rely on these more than others. Furthermore, research shows that conflict management styles are not mutually exclusive. We typically employ a particular style as our dominant style in a given situation, but we also adopt other styles depending on the nature of the conflict and the circumstances surrounding it. Collectively, our behaviors toward conflict resolution develop from a combination of personal characteristics, requirements defined by a given circumstance, and our behavioral disposition toward conflict.

In addition to behavioral responses identified by conflict management styles, we also employ physical, emotional, and cognitive responses to conflict, which I address in the next segment.

Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Responses to Conflict

Physical Response to Conflict

Our physical response to conflict includes irregular breathing patterns, rapid heartbeat, increased perspiration, hunched shoulders, body tension, and altered facial expressions. We communicate these physical responses nonverbally and involuntarily. These physical reflex actions often meet with heightened anxiety and a diminished capacity for articulating our position in a calm, rational manner. Our physical response to conflict also influences our emotional reactions.

Emotional Response to Conflict

With emotional response to conflict, our feelings can span the gamut from elation to despair or placation to anger. Our range of emotional responses correlates to the level of conflict or perceived conflict from our point of view. Where some people fly off the handle in a stressful situation, others maintain poise and calm. This explains, in part, why some people function well in law enforcement or emergency rescue occupations while others find themselves more suited to less stressful work environments. Our partners read our emotional responses either directly, by observing our physical reaction to conflict, or indirectly through the negative vibe we give off. But unlike our physical responses, which signify our mood through body language, facial gestures, or tone of voice, our emotional responses can send mixed signals. Are we sarcastic or sincerely irritated? Simply tired or mad as hell? Engrossed in the conversation’s content or bored out of our skull? The high potential for misinterpretation can make a confusing situation worse, especially for couples with poor communication skills. The trick is learning to gauge our partner’s emotional response and engage them accordingly.

Cognitive Response to Conflict

Our cognitive response to conflict portrays itself as our conscience or inner voice telling us to back off or step out. We channel these cognitive responses through our continuous monitoring of environmental cues as well as our own behavior and that of our partner’s. Our moods and motivations influence our cognitive responses, which derive from our personal significance of emotionally relevant events in our conscious or subconscious mind. Our cognitive response contributes to our physical and emotional responses to conflict. Think of the cognitive response as a gut feeling to a given situation that elicits a response from our personal library of catalogued emotions and behaviors.

Armed with an awareness, and a deeper understanding of our physical, emotional, and cognitive responses to conflict, we gain a more focused insight into the myriad of thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions derived from conflict in our romantic relationships. Ultimately, we can pave the way for potential solutions through the application of intelligent reasoning over knee-jerk reactions.

Although some research suggests a strong correlation between our personality types and the behavior-oriented conflict management styles, other research suggests a weak relationship between the two. Despite the research ambiguity, our given personality traits and our approach to conflict management are influenced by the choices we make on how we elect to deal with certain conflict situations.

Take a moment and reflect on your own conflict management style—competing, collaborating, compromising, accommodating, or avoiding—and compare your approach to your partner’s. By recognizing your individual conflict management styles, you can improve your self-awareness of how you and your partner respond to stressful situations. Perhaps your behavioral responses are similar or completely different. Either way, focus on recognizing your similarities and differences with a goal of improving communication and compromise through problem solving that involves a clearer understanding of your individual approaches to conflict resolution, rather than applying brute force power struggles that often end badly for everyone involved.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 5.1: The Promise in Compromise

Mick Jagger said it best when he first crooned, “You can’t always get what you want.” The act of compromise involves a give and take. You don’t always win, but you don’t always lose either. For some couples, compromise denotes a four-letter word; for others, compromise strengthens their romantic relationship.

Compromise means letting go of control and recognizing our partner’s needs and desires. If we remain committed to an open, honest relationship with the right chemistry, then compromise should be something we embrace, not something we shun. With that said, an important distinction exists between compromising certain needs and desires for the benefit of our relationship versus compromising our core values. Remember, our needs define things we strive for in our lives; they are vital and necessary; they support our core values.

Compromise provides balance in a romantic relationship. When two people care deeply for one another and share a mutual respect for one another, they can learn to compromise with one another. The notion of a fifty-fifty compromise implies a utopian state. No relationship maintains a perfect balance at all times, but couples should strive to give and take in equal measure. Compromise doesn’t frolic on easy street. It involves effort, commitment, and sacrifice. But compromise doesn’t have to be arduous either. If you practice open, honest communication, you can find a mutually beneficial approach to almost anything. Be receptive to your partner’s needs and try to see things from their perspective. The more you understand and appreciate one another, the easier compromise becomes. As Doctors Olson, Olson-Sigg, and Larson point out in The Couple Checkup, “Strong relationships strive for a balance of intimacy, loyalty, sharing, and independence. Happy couples strive to accommodate each other’s needs and make time for both individual and shared activities.”

We all have needs we must fulfill for ourselves. These might include exercise, eating healthy, attending religious services, volunteering, entertaining friends, and so forth. In other ways, we look to our partner to fulfill certain needs such as personal attention, evocative conversation, or a shoulder to lean on. Try to recognize and differentiate between needs you require yourself to satisfy and relationship needs that require your romantic partner’s involvement. Compromise can be a daunting task if we don’t know where we stand in terms of our needs being met and how far we’re willing to bend—or negotiate our position. The best way to keep our relationship in balance is to not let it teeter too far in the first place. If only it were that easy. In some ways it is. We always have a choice: give up a little to support the care and feeding of our relationship—or stand firm and pay more later when tensions mount and tempers flare.

In a June 2011 Psychology Today article, Dr. Mark D. White posed the question, “How much compromise is too much?” In his article, he asserts that small compromises are expected and manifest in our relationships. I concur. I also agree relationships should not require both persons to change who they are fundamentally in order to meet the needs of one another. Or as Dr. White explains, “Be careful not to give up too much of what is important to you for the sake of the relationship.”

Only you can define what’s important to you. Together you and your partner define what’s important to your relationship. This introduces the notion of cooperation, which some psychiatrists view as a polar opposite ideology to compromise. I disagree. I believe cooperation signifies an elemental component of compromise, not a mutually exclusive philosophy. To put it a different way, you can’t have one without the other.

In Keith Ferrazzi’s book, Who’s Got Your Back, the author promotes collaboration over compromise, where partners work together to develop a solution without requiring either partner to sacrifice or give something up. The notion of couples collaborating on solutions together to solve problems speaks to the heart of compromise. Romantic relationships represent partnerships of love and respect built on trust and intimacy between two individuals who share a common desire to share their lives together. Although occasional conflicts are inevitable, the strongest relationships involve a spirit of collaboration and compromise.

Where I depart from Ferrazzi’s motto of “collaborate don’t compromise” is the notion of not having to sacrifice something for your partner for the benefit of your relationship. By definition, compromise involves mutual concessions, and only you can decide how far you’re willing to extend your concessions. If you’re not willing to sacrifice something for the benefit of your relationship, then you’re not willing to compromise.

The Negotiation Fulcrum

Think of negotiation as a fulcrum, or the point about which a lever turns. Now imagine the fulcrum on a see-saw, a fixed point that remains stationary and allows one person to go up and one person to go down from either side. Observe the simple graphic in Figure 1, which depicts a relationship in balance with both his and her needs met in equal proportion with a fulcrum in the middle. In this instance, the needs are perfectly balanced. No compromise required. The fulcrum, or negotiation, remains in neutral, signifying a copasetic relationship.

Figure 1: Relationship in Perfect Balance

Now look at Figure 2 and pretend one person’s needs and desires weigh more than their partner’s, causing an imbalance where one side is favored more than the other—an untenable position due to the fixed, unmovable nature of the fulcrum in the middle. In this case, our fulcrum represents a stubborn, unmovable position in our relationship, derived from minimal, if any, effort to compromise. In terms of satisfied needs, one partner gets more, and one partner gets less.

Figure 2: Relationship Imbalance Without Negotiation

But if we adjust our fulcrum position—signifying our willingness to negotiate—then we can change the mechanical advantage of our see-saw—working toward a compromise—and allow the heavier side to move up a bit and the lighter side to come down, resulting in a more balanced position without sacrificing our core values or highest priority needs. In Figure 3, we see the effect of negotiation and how both sides can balance their position in spite of the apparent disparity between his needs and her needs. Of course this doesn’t happen by magic, and in this example, his needs are sacrificed to some extent.

Figure 3: Rebalanced Needs After Negotiation

Our weights—or needs and desires in this analogy—don’t have to be significantly compromised to keep our balance in check because our moveable fulcrum—our willingness to negotiate—performs this function for us. Notice I said significantly compromised, implying that at times, we have to be willing to sacrifice some part of our needs and desires to reach a compromise.

When we avoid negotiations and ignore each other’s needs altogether, we infuse a negative compromise, resulting in an out-of-balance relationship. Instead of striving for a fifty-fifty position, our relationship maintains a sixty-forty, seventy-thirty, eight-twenty ratio, or thereabouts, where one partner enjoys most of what they want—with their needs consistently met—while the other partner settles for less—with their needs consistently unmet.

Now consider Figure 4 drawn to demonstrate a win-lose position through negative compromise. Note the yellow and red sections along the bar. In Figure 4, the loads are balanced—i.e., both his and her needs appear to be met—but in reality, the negotiation has gone so far left or right of center, that one person must sacrifice—i.e., move their fulcrum—an inordinate amount to achieve a balanced position, or compromise.

Figure 4: Poorly Balanced Needs

According to Herbert Kelman, a Harvard psychologist who specializes in negotiations, “The process of negotiation itself restores cooperation between conflicting parties. Solving their problems together transforms their relationship. This requires each side to be able to understand not just the other person’s point of view, but their needs and desires as well. This empathy makes each side better able to influence the other to their own benefit, by being responsive to their partner’s needs to find ways in which both parties can win.”

Romantic relationships are fluid. They have their ups and downs. In human relationships, conflict is inevitable. Partners represent different genders, behavior patterns, beliefs, and personality styles—causing relationships to become discordant at times. In the beginning of a new romantic relationship, disparities can be workable, but only to a certain extent. Eventually, the twenty percent partner in an eighty-twenty relationship will start to feel slighted. The chemistry might persist, but the excitement from the new relationship will diminish when the twenty percent partner starts to resent the constant absence or suppression of their own needs. Eventually, when the see-saw doesn’t balance, it breaks.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.5: The Art of Communication

I begin with the assumption you’ve subscribed to an online dating site, drafted your own written profile, uploaded a few tasteful, candid photos of yourself, and made a personal commitment to invest some time and effort in this new endeavor. Like almost everything else in life, you will only achieve as much as you’re willing to put forth. A concise profile with an honest portrayal of yourself and the type of person you would like to meet will enhance your chances of success.

From here, the process begins when you find a profile that draws your attention the way a book cover catches your eye. The primary photo, the one your potential match used to promote himself, plants the hook and prompts you to read his profile—hopefully. Assuming you like what you see—and read—you start to imagine what he’s like in person. At this point, you know only as much about him as he wants you to. Despite how the pictures portray him—shirt off with muscles flexed in the mirror or well dressed in a handsome setting—you have no inkling if any chemistry exists. Don’t fixate on the pictures and try to surmise a dream date with a knight in shining armor. For all you know, the pictures aren’t even his—happens from time to time—and his online description, despite the strong prose, could be rooted in half-truths. Remember, at this stage, you’re dealing with one-dimensional communication, which provides limited information from which to draw an accurate conclusion about this person and whether you share any chemistry or not. Nonetheless, he’s piqued your interest and brought you to step 2.

[2]

In step 2, you enter what I refer to as The Zone of Disillusionment. To some extent, this artifact of the online dating process is unavoidable, like trying to cross a shallow stream without getting your ankles wet. Fortunately, you decide how long to persist, or not, in this zone of disillusionment. What exactly do I mean by this? Keep reading. It all makes senses in a moment.

You send a short email to your match to introduce yourself and maybe compliment his profile. Assuming you receive a response, you start an email dialogue to get a sense of your match’s style. You can learn a lot in a few short email exchanges. Can he spell? Does he use proper grammar? Does he write in a light-hearted manner or convey a more serious tone? Does he ask questions or volunteer personal details about himself? Are his emails abrupt and lack sincerity, or are they long-winded and hint of desperation?

Listen to your intuition, but try to refrain from making snap judgments about his personality type based solely on his written correspondence. Some people would rather talk than type. Others might be less inclined to share via email and more open to a candid dialogue in person. Worst case, you learn a little more about each other as your email exchange continues but ultimately decide to end your potential love connection for any number of reasons. Best case, you learn a little more about each other and agree to continue corresponding.

Granted, everyone has a different comfort level with online dating, and some people will spend more time in this email phase than others. But be careful. At this early stage of the online dating process, it’s easy to languish in email. Assuming you feel some initial sense of romantic chemistry and a genuine interest in getting to know this person better, you build an emotional investment as the email exchange continues. Pretty soon, every day starts to feel like TGIF. You believe you have a real connection with the man you’ve met online. With every email exchange, the illusion of a love connection grows stronger. You start to imagine what a future together might entail. You develop a false sense of intimacy and ignore the reality that you don’t really know this person at all. You’ve been engaged in one-dimensional communication with someone you perceive to think, act, and behave in a certain manner. As the email exchange continues, you let your guard down further and share more personal information.

If you’re not careful, you’ll linger in this cycle of endless emails, content to perpetuate the illusion of an authentic connection with someone you’ve never met in person. If you elect to persist in this zone of disillusionment, a high probability exists for one of two things to happen:

you solidify a new pen pal relationship with someone you’re unlikely to ever meet—or your new online beau grows weary of the never-ending email and abruptly breaks off all communication. Instantly, the ties are severed without explanation. Suddenly, you feel deflated, sad, and emotionally exhausted from a perceived love connection that never really existed in the first place.

No one knows your comfort zone better than you. And everyone progresses toward a new relationship at a different pace. With online dating, you have to adjust your way of thinking, somewhat, and progress to Step 3—the first phone call—before you let yourself become too emotionally involved with what amounts to a mannequin on paper. This means moving beyond the email exchange as soon as you can. I’m not saying drop your number on every guy who sends an email your way. Hopefully common sense and intuition prevail. Remember, email and text messages are only one-dimensional. You can read what someone sends you, but you learn very little about their personality or whether any authentic chemistry exists. For some women, as well as men, the jump from email to an actual phone call can be a nervous leap. Think about it this way: if you struck up a conversation with a cute guy you met in person, would you give him your email address?

[3]

In my opinion, and I suspect the majority agrees, you will learn more about a person in a few minutes on the phone than you will after weeks of endless email. The human voice reveals much about our personality and our character. Unlike email, a phone call makes it hard to hide one’s true self. Though not an ironclad assessment of who we are and how we act at different times, a phone conversation paints a picture of our personality and the way we perceive ourselves. After a short phone call, you will have a stronger indication of your potential partner’s general demeanor. Does he talk fast or slow? Does he sound nervous or confident? Is his voice deep or shallow? Does he use proper grammar? Diction? Does he seem upbeat or depressed? Introverted or extroverted? Laid back or aggressive? Soft spoken or gruff? Aggressive or passive? Articulate or speechless? Polite or arrogant? Sympathetic or uncaring? Indifferent or desperate?

You might talk for minutes or hours at a time. Women tend to talk more. Men tend to talk less. If you don’t feel the right chemistry—and a short phone call will quickly confirm or dismiss any chemistry you thought you felt during your email exchange—consider moving on to your next potential match. Our first instincts about someone are usually on target. The first time you spend two months in an email exchange only to lose interest on the first phone call, you’ll begin to appreciate what I’m trying to say about moving expeditiously through the zone of disillusionment toward a face-to-face introduction.

For now, let’s assume you both like what you hear. When this happens, you reach a decision point: continue with more phone conversations or plan a first date. There’s nothing wrong with spending time on the phone to get to know one another through several conversations; however, just like the endless email loop, at some point you either fish or cut bait.

[4]

Phone conversations will only reveal so much about the chemistry you feel for someone and whether they share the same interest in you. Don’t spend forever in the loop of endless phone calls or you’ll persist in the zone of disillusionment. Plan a first date. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Most women prefer the man to take the lead and plan something special. In today’s modern world, more women should feel empowered to suggest a first date as well. Maybe coffee, tea, or drinks somewhere casual. Dinner is always an option, but I advise both parties to move ahead with cautious optimism. In other words, don’t plan an extravagant evening until you’ve had a chance to connect in person and determine if any mutual chemistry exists. There’s nothing more disappointing than setting high expectations only to have them shattered when you realize in the first few minutes of your date you’d rather bolt for the exit than endure the next few hours counting the seconds before an awkward goodbye. Remember, verbal interactions account for only seven percent of our communication bandwidth. This implies nonverbal interactions account for the remaining ninety-three percent. Think about it: how much nonverbal communication do you perceive through a phone call?

Online dating is a trial and error process. You might meet the man of your dreams the first time out, but most likely, you will cycle through many profiles to find someone with whom you share a mutual chemistry and a strong desire to see again. This means moving as efficiently as possible through the zone of disillusionment to meet in person.

On one extreme, I’ve met women who insist on indefinite phone calls with no desire for a first date. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met women who insist on meeting ASAP and refuse to engage in anything beyond a curt introductory conversation on the phone. These women have been through the zone of disillusionment so many times they’ve grown weary of the endless cycle and want to establish up front, in person, whether any real chemistry exists or not.

You have to decide what works best for you based on your own comfort level. If you can avoid, or at least minimize your time in the zone of disillusionment, you’ll enjoy a more rewarding online dating experience. If you can’t bring yourself to move through the zone of disillusionment, than online dating might be a page better left unturned at this point in your life.

[5]

Once you’ve entered Step 5 and engaged in a first date, you’ve made it further than many singles do. By this stage in the online dating process, you’ve survived the zone of disillusionment. Now that you’ve met someone in person, you reach another decision point because one of two things has happened: either you’ve been duped by a bait and switch, where the hunk you coveted from online pictures looks much different in person, wears a rug, has breath worse than Dracula, dresses like a slob, drives the same jalopy his grandmother left him in her will, or for whatever reason, doesn’t rock your world; or two, you feel a nice sense of chemistry and look forward to a second date.

[6]

You enter Step [6] high on life as you see your online match in an angelic light, a gentlemen or bad boy or a little bit of both you’ve always dreamed about. A man who holds every attribute you could want. He’s a perfect representation of his profile and every bit the smooth-talking, funny, articulate, compassionate, caring person you’ve grown fond of over days or weeks of emails, texts, and phone calls. If you’re lucky, the attraction’s mutual, and you’re off to a splendid start. Unfortunately, there’s always a chance your McDreamy doesn’t feel the same way. And now, whatever chemistry you felt after days or weeks of correspondence that finally brought you to a first date has evaporated like a drop of water on a hot skillet. Welcome to the reality of online dating. Unlike meeting someone on the street where you have the immediate advantage of nonverbal communication, and either feel a certain spark or not, online dating requires you to navigate the zone of disillusionment in hopes that the person you’ve found online lives up to your expectations and vice versa. It’s not a perfect system, but statistics show it works for many singles. It can also work for you, if you let it.

Take a chance and see for yourself, but be mindful of the subtle hazards as well. Case in point, several years ago I gave online dating a try for the first time and made more honest mistakes in my approach than I care to admit. Looking back, I can laugh about one of my most embarrassing phone calls with a lovely woman who reached out to me online a few days after my subscription went live.

This misadventure began when she introduced herself with a short email. I read her profile and glanced at her pictures, all two of which were taken at dusk along the beach, slightly out of focus and a little too dark to make out specific details in the photo—mistake number one for me. From the photos, I perceived an attractive Asian woman in a sundress and sandals standing along the shore.

Within a week or so, we exchanged several emails, and eventually she offered her phone number. On the following day, I called her on my cell phone from an outdoor mall with loud construction nearby and poor reception, which made it difficult to hear one another clearly—mistake number two for me. I pressed the phone to my ear, wondering why she sounded different than I thought she would. Instead of ending the call and proceeding to a quieter location with stronger cell coverage, I persisted in my attempt to discern what she said between an intermittent, garbled connection and noise from the construction workers—mistake number three for me. Long story short, when I asked her what she did for a living, I thought I heard her say, “I’m a nurse in training. Is that okay?” In reality, she’d replied, “I’m a nurse tranny. Is that okay?”

By tranny, she meant transvestite. And since I thought I’d heard nurse in training, I’d replied, “That sounds exciting.”

Our conversation continued for a few minutes before I finally put the pieces together and acknowledged the communication gaffe. I made a mental note to delete our email correspondence. Then I made an appointment to have my eyes checked. Honestly, I’m not judging that person’s lifestyle, but she, or rather, he, was not going to fulfill my needs for female companionship. In the end, no harm, no foul. A lesson learned on the road of life.

Communication in Summary

Communication touches every aspect of our lives, and within the province of this book, our romantic relationships. In many ways, communication represents an art form unto itself, as no two individuals—regardless of gender—communicate exactly the same. The essence of open, honest communication has less to do with a particular communication style and more to do with our willingness to be ourselves, to express our own thoughts and feelings without expectations. Communication helps us share who we are with others, and in turn, gain a better understanding of ourselves in the process.

The late Peter Drucker, a prestigious author of management theory, wrote, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” This management philosophy applies equally well to romantic relationships. Yet ironically, the seven percent rule of verbal communication remains the hardest nut to crack for most couples. With the marvels of modern technology, our communication preference has shifted in favor of email and text messaging. Through our mastery of these nonverbal tools, we’ve diluted the value of more personal phone conversations. This diminished capacity to verbally articulate how we feel and what we’re thinking remains a systemic roadblock to achieving a meaningful and lasting romance. To counteract this, we should focus on conversation skills. These are critical and often undervalued, as the human voice provides a powerful communication tool. In many ways, it conveys a lot about us. It hints at our personality. Quiet or extroverted. Loud or soft-spoken. Articulate or tongue-tied. Friendly or abrasive. Pleasant or rude. And yet, ironically, verbal communication can only take us so far.

In this chapter, I’ve touched on a number of ways to improve both verbal and nonverbal communication, starting with a look at proxemics and the importance of body language, in addition to various communication styles and specific gender differences to help bridge the communication gap between the sexes.

Online dating brings a new frontier to the dating world, one some might be reluctant to experience for themselves without a little prodding. If you’re single, and your schedule demands prevent you from pursuing traditional dating means, the Internet offers a robust alternative to meet single people in a safe, controlled environment without expectations beyond your own comfort zone.

We don’t have to be mind readers to communicate effectively, but research overwhelming supports the advantage of face-to-face communication, where both verbal and nonverbal cues help us determine our level of romantic chemistry. Yet despite the significance of communication and the critical role it plays in our quest to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance, communication remains but one part of the equation—for without the third ‘C’ of compromise, even a romance with the best intentions will eventually lose momentum and stall.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.4: The Art of Communication

This inventory of online personas derives from behavioral traits, cultural backgrounds, and individual needs that drive our expectations for online dating. Wherever applicable, I’ve tried to remain gender neutral, though certain behaviors, beliefs, and needs don’t always apply uniformly to both men and women. Single adults aren’t permanently cast as one particular type and could change their persona at any given time—whether women change their minds more often than men is an argument I’ll defer to another author. You’ll also notice some overlap between personas, the way common personality traits coincide between seemingly different people.

The Friend

This type of persona defines exactly what it sounds like: a friend. Individuals with this mindset typically state up front in their online profile that they’re looking to make new friends and aren’t interested in exploring a long-term relationship. Some people state their intention to hang out or socialize. In my experience, women display this persona more often than men. But beware. Some individuals promote this friendship persona to hint at their desire for a “friends with benefits” relationship. Not an issue, per se, if you seek the same. Sometimes it takes a keen eye to discern the difference between a woman’s online profile seeking true friendship and one advertising a booty call. From a man’s profile, the difference between the two intentions is almost transparent.

The Maternity Minded

This type of persona pertains mostly to women; although, I’ve talked to women who’ve met older single men online who are eager to have a baby and start a family as well. If not explicitly stated in a woman’s profile, you can glean the desire for a baby from the half-dozen pictures with an infant niece or nephew cradled in their arms. Men interpret this in one of two ways: a beautiful expression of maternal desire if you share the same longing to start a family; or a giant red flag that says “run” if you’re not in the family mindset.

The Browser

The Browser defines both men and women who halfheartedly pursue a potential match due to any number of reasons, including a preference for friendship over romantic involvement, fear of commitment, low self-esteem with a fear of rejection, high self-esteem with a narcissistic tendency, or simply a desire to test the waters and see what’s out there. Women who browse with no interest in exploring a potential relationship typically keep their emails brief and often withhold their real name. Most people involved in online dating will spend a large amount of time browsing dozens of profiles, but this persona differs with their lack of desire to engage in any revealing dialogue or pursuit of an actual date. On the flip side, it’s easy to label someone as a browser, when in reality, they do harbor an interest in exploring a romantic relationship, just not necessarily one with you.

The Socialite

Similar to the Browser, the Socialite describes someone who craves attention—typically an extremely attractive man or woman with professional photographs to highlight their flawless features. This persona savors the attention from the hundreds of emails and flirts he or she receives but displays no intention of getting to know someone on a more personal level. Sometimes the socialite lives several states away from your geographic search radius, often residing in a big city like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and so on. Their physical distance from your location, matched by their emotional detachment from the online dating process, makes them poor candidates for a potential romantic relationship.

The Timid

The Timid enter the realm of online dating with sincere intentions of seeking out a compatible match and paving the way toward a long-term relationship. The Timid engage you in meaningful email and polite phone conversation. Unfortunately, they rarely bring themselves to leave their comfort zone and actually meet you in person for any number of reasons, such as fear of rejection, low self-esteem, a guilty conscience about falsely advertising their age, weight, height, etc. For some people, this reluctance derives more from a safety concern, where they convince themselves it’s too dangerous to meet someone in person. Perhaps they had a bad experience with online dating in the past or suffered with an abusive relationship. Whatever the real reason, they will use every excuse in the book to postpone a planned date and string you along with indefinite calls or email.

The Serial Dater

The Serial Dater, stereotypically associated with men—although I’ve come across a lot of women who fit this profile as well—enjoys the thrill of simultaneously dating as many people as their time and energy allows. The Serial Dater represents a “player” or someone driven by the urge for sex or emotionless connection. This type of person displays great charm, charisma, and good looks—traits employed to engage in one shallow relationship after another. Serial Daters frequently establish profiles on multiple sites and claim to be something they’re not—an unfortunate and pervasive theme of online dating. The Serial Dater has no desire to get to know you at a deeper level. He or she will tell you what you want to hear, take what they need from you physically and emotionally, and then throw you under the bus before they seek out their next target to fulfill the emotional void inside them.

The Rookie

Let’s face it, we all have to learn the ropes at some point. Online dating is no different. The rookie persona describes someone who’s never tried online dating before and struggles at first to feel comfortable with how the system works. It can be easy to mistake a rookie persona for someone who comes across as timid, aloof, or even overeager. Online dating isn’t hard to learn, but for the uninitiated, and especially for those coming out of a long-term relationship, the prospect of viewing and being viewed by an extensive Internet community of single adults can prove overwhelming. Any doubts or insecurities the rookie feels are compounded by the numerous personality types they encounter in the online dating world.

The Matrimony Minded

The Matrimony Minded have a single purpose in mind, and it’s not hanging out as friends or serial dating. As the name suggests, their primary mission involves snagging a husband or a wife. In my experience, this personality type either latches on and won’t let go, hoping to exchange vows after a brief courtship—or they won’t give you the time of day unless you fit every single criteria they’ve defined for their perfect match. The notion of spending the time to really get to know someone takes a back seat to their pursuit of wedded bliss. Perhaps I’m exaggerating things a bit, but I’ve met a few women who had no qualms about their desire to find a husband and came across as unwilling to compromise on their non-negotiable list of must-have qualities.

The Vengeful

No one wishes to endure a bad breakup or be treated poorly in a relationship. Unfortunately, it happens to all of us at one time or another. Some of us more often than others. Even worse, some people decide to spread their misery. The Vengeful, as I’ve chosen to label them, represent men and women who lack the ability and/or desire to let go of the past. Instead of learning to forgive and forget, they derive satisfaction from toying with potential matches. I’m not necessarily talking Fatal Attraction here—at least I’ve never experienced a dating scenario that extreme. More common examples include men and women who rant about miserable experiences with other members of the opposite sex. The Vengeful espouse a negative attitude on relationships in general. Their personalities come across as aggressive or passive-aggressive, and their disdain for the opposite sex sabotages any chance at a meaningful romance. I’ve found this behavior common for women—and I suspect the same for men as well—with the ink still wet on their divorce decree. This type of persona will use you for their own benefit, if you let them. But like a Florida hurricane, you can always see them coming and have plenty of time to get out of the way.

The Real Deal

The Real Deal represents the most elusive and most sought after of all online personas. Real Deal people are genuine, honest, sincere, polite, respectful, intelligent, attractive, and full of life. They exude a positive energy and enjoy a variety of interests. They may or may not have children. They may or may not have been married before. They come from all walks of life. Different races. Different ages. Different religious beliefs. Different needs to fulfill. But they all share a common desire to find a compatible partner with the right chemistry and a bright outlook on life. They’re not online to play games or make themselves feel important. They seek more than friendship, yet they are willing to take the time to get to know someone without prejudging them or drawing false conclusions based on previous bad experiences. They garner strong communication skills. They know what they want in life and work hard for it. They have the capacity to love, to reason, to respect, to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, and to disagree constructively. They have morals and a sense of decency. At the same time, they’re not afraid to let loose and go crazy once in a while. They represent almost everything we seek in a perfect partner, yet they are not perfect. They are more precious than gold and harder to find.

Is Online Dating Right for You?

Online dating holds no secrets for success; only guidelines to follow and pitfalls to avoid. Without going overboard on this topic, I’ve tried to illustrate some of the major pros and cons associated with this prevalent, new-age forum for single adults looking for love. In the right circumstance, and with the right attitude and reasonable expectations, I do believe that online dating can be worth the time, money, and effort to help you in your pursuit of finding “the one.” To improve your chances of success with online dating, by which I define success as experiencing more positive outcomes than bad, I’ve compiled the following guidelines to help you survive the gauntlet of dating sites, profiles, and previously mentioned personalities you’re likely to meet along the way:

  • Ask Yourself an Obvious Question
  • Select an Online Dating Site
  • Photo Advice
  • Crafting Your Written Profile
  • Email Tips
  • Phone Etiquette
  • Coping with Polygamous Courtship and Serial Dating

Ask Yourself an Obvious Question

Before you decide to give online dating a whirl, decide for yourself if you’re ready to date at all. Dating can be an ordeal no matter how you go about it. Online dating presents its own unique challenges. It also takes time and money. Sometimes it can be more rewarding to wait for the right person to come along. Other times, life seems too busy, or too lonely, to leave your next rendezvous to chance.

Select an Online Dating Site

There’s no need to treat your dating site selection as a life or death decision, but do put some thought into your decision. Of all the online dating sites I’ve come across, I’ve found eHarmony and Match to be the most reputable in terms of offering a quality site with quality people enrolled. For various personal reasons, I consider sites like Plenty of Fish and Singlesnet at the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Not because these sites are poorly maintained or lack some of the bells and whistles offered by bigger sites, but because in my experience, the caliber of single adults who subscribe to these two sites is not on par with the single adults I’ve met through eHarmony or Match. Not to say honest, intelligent, attractive singles don’t frequent Plenty of Fish or Singlesnet, they’re just harder to find, in my opinion, than on other sites. If you’d like a second opinion, No1Reviews.com provides a comprehensive look at their top ten dating sites as well as an A-Z list of nearly every mainstream online dating site available. Check it out if you’re interested, and decide for yourself which sites appeal to you. Regardless of which site you select, I recommend starting with a short subscription of thirty days. And be cognizant of your subscription start date. Once an online site has your credit card in their system, it’s easy to lose track of time and inadvertently have your subscription automatically renewed. Lots of sites will try to persuade you to sign up for sixty or ninety day subscriptions, advertising a cheaper monthly rate with the longer subscriptions that cost more over time. Keep in mind, the longer you subscribe to any online dating site, the greater your chances of getting bogged down in the merry-go-round of emails and phone calls from multiple matches. Better to limit your initial subscription and test the waters. After a month or so, you will start to cycle through the same profiles with fewer new singles to meet. If you resign for a few months and sign up again, you’ll discover new matches searching for their other half. Not to mention, you might come across a site you find more suited to your tastes. Then again, if a longer subscription makes sense for you, then go for it.

Always Keep Safety in Mind

In today’s world, there are, and always will be, nefarious individuals living among us, especially in cyberspace. Fortunately, over the last several years, I’ve come across very few unscrupulous characters online, aside from the occasional prostitute posing as the “girl next door” while pretending to search for an honest love connection. Nonetheless, never post your real name, phone number, home address, personal email address, pictures taken by your car with the license plate in the photo, or any other private information in your profile. Remember, unlike Facebook or other social media sites where you can more or less control who sees your private information, any personal information you post to an online dating site becomes available for every subscriber to see.

Concerned about giving out your personal phone number to strangers? Buy a cheap, anonymous, disposable phone. As another alternative, some online dating sites offer an anonymous, secure, call routing option that protects your true identity and can’t be traced to your residence. These sites charge an additional fee per month for this feature, but it’s usually nominal and provides an additional measure of personal safety.

Photo Advice

If I had a dollar for every time a woman asked me, “Why do guys’ pictures always show them posing with their shirts off in front of the mirror?” Good question. Now that I think of it, I’ve never come across a photo of a woman posing with her shirt off in front of the mirror. Seriously, the more tasteful the photos, the more you’re likely to find a genuine match. I don’t mean you should hire a professional photographer to snap glamour shots—although many people do. I’m suggesting you post recent photos of yourself in a natural setting at home, at work, at a park, or anywhere you feel comfortable. I define recent to mean within a year or two. If you’re middle aged and you’re posting pictures from your high school year book, chances are, you’re setting yourself and your potential partner up for disappointment. When you finally meet in person and your date turns a blind eye toward you because you only vaguely resemble your profile picture, you’ll understand what I mean. Of course, not everyone ages the same way. Some people maintain their previous appearance from strong genes, good health, or some of both. I find it prudent to be honest and hope for the best rather than pursue a new relationship under false pretense. When you post a photo of yourself to an online dating site, keep the following in mind:

  1. Smile! Don’t pose with a frown, scowl, or otherwise pained or angry expression on your face. No one wants to meet a mean, angry, uptight, sad, lonely, dejected person—or someone who looks like they just found a turd in the punch bowl.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in.
  • Make sure your face is well lit and in focus. That applies especially for guys, as women tend to focus on the eyes and smile.
  • Use photos that depict you as a positive, fun-to-be-around kind of person. A happy photo from a social situation or family gathering works well.
  • Guys, keep your shirt on. Ladies, be careful with the gratuitous cleavage shots. Contrary to popular belief, not all men will find this attractive. There’s a fine line between tasteful and tawdry.
  • Post recent photos, not pictures of what you looked like five years, thirty pounds, or a full head of hair earlier.
  • Don’t post photos of a friend or relative pretending to be you.
  • Don’t post one picture of yourself and five pictures of your pets.
  • Don’t make your only photo a group pose unless it’s obvious who you are in the picture. For women, the group pose can backfire if you’re surrounded by an entourage of beautiful friends, which can cause an information overload for some men who suddenly find themselves interested in four women at once. Make sure you stand out as the center of attention. With hundreds of singles on any given dating site, you have to catch someone’s eye before they move on to the next profile. The more difficult to discern who you are in the picture, the lower your chances of success.
  1. Don’t obscure your features with a long distance shot. Most people try online dating because of various constraints on their personal time. If it’s too hard to tell what you look like from a shadowy silhouette at dusk taken two hundred feet from the camera, chances are, your potential match will ignore your profile and move on.

Like it or not, people will always judge books by their cover. Online dating is no different. Without at least one good picture of yourself to highlight your written profile, your chances of success with online dating decrease dramatically. Most people don’t feel comfortable on blind dates. Amplify this sentiment ten-fold when it comes to online dating. You don’t have to be a movie star, but you should follow some basic guidelines and convey a happy, confident image in your photos.

Crafting Your Written Profile

When it comes to writing an attention-grabbing profile, start with honesty—particularly about your marital status, age, the number of children in your custody, your smoking and drinking habits, and any other pertinent information a prospective match would consider important. It’s one thing to fudge how well you play piano or your prowess in the kitchen, as those abilities are subjective. But when it comes to citing your fundamental attributes—e.g., height, weight, age, martial status, etc.—or critical preferences—e.g., desire for a long term relationship versus making new friends to socialize with, wanting children, etc.—the dishonesty will only hurt you in the end.

If you’re like many people and find it difficult to write about yourself, then write less about you and more about the type of man or woman you’re hoping to find. Either way, keep your profile short but informative. You don’t need to write an autobiography to convey who you are and what you like to do in your spare time. Remember, you can always go back and add more detail later if you decide. From my experience, women tend to read more and men tend to read less when it comes to parsing online profiles.

Before your profile goes live, do yourself a favor and hit the spell check button. Better yet, ask a trusted friend to review your personal essay. Honest feedback will only improve your profile and avoid embarrassing typos or grammatical errors you’ll find prevalent with other profiles written in haste. Also, avoid the temptation of making negative comments about the dating process or the opposite sex. These downbeat remarks won’t offset your gorgeous smile or all the positive qualities about you.

Email Tips

The rules about honesty and brevity in your profile apply equally as well to email communications. Keep initial emails short while you’re still in the getting-to-know-each-other phase. Written correspondence serves a purpose to introduce ourselves and share a little more about each other. Consider the following:

  1. You don’t have to write eloquent prose. Just be candid and honest. Keep it simple at first and go from there. And check your spelling!
  • If someone poses an honest question to you, send them a short reply. Don’t keep them hanging for days or weeks, wondering if you’re still interested or whether you decided to blow them off in favor of another match. If you’re not interested, simply say so, or click the button that sends a canned, but polite, message declining the invitation to communicate.
  • Refrain from using slang or pet names in your correspondence. After all, you barely know this person, and presumably, you still haven’t met!
  • Refrain from using your last name or personal email address until after you’ve met in person and established some measure of your match’s credibility. Online sites offer a secure email exchange within the confines of the site itself without having to divulge your personal email address.
  • If you decide to “go off the reservation” early on and exchange personal email with someone you’ve never met in person, don’t send pictures you wouldn’t feel comfortable finding on the cover of the New York Times. The Internet can be a wonderful place to visit. It can also be unforgiving when it comes to futile attempts at retrieving risqué photos you wish you’d never sent.

Keep in mind, the sooner you feel comfortable engaging in a phone conversation, the better—as you will learn more about your level of chemistry with someone in a two minute phone call than you will after weeks of one-dimensional email or text message exchange.

Phone Etiquette

Keep the first call short. You’ll both get a sense of chemistry early on. Everyone has a different sleep schedule, work schedule, daily routine, etc. Respect each other’s time. Don’t get long-winded trying to tell your life story. Treat the first call like an introduction, as if you’d just met in public for the first time, and see where things lead. You might hit it off and talk for hours, or you might realize you don’t share the same connection you felt through your email correspondence. If you feel inclined to meet, don’t rush. Swapping a few phone calls before planning a first date allows you to get to know someone a little better and gauge their level of sincerity. When it comes to phone etiquette, heed the following:

  1. Sound excited and optimistic. Don’t drone on about your miserable boss or the horrible traffic you sat in coming home from work. If you give off a negative vibe from the start, the first conversation you have with the man of your dreams might very well be the last.
  • Don’t swear.
  • Don’t yawn.
  • Don’t eat or chew gum.
  • Don’t distract yourself with dishes, laundry, the vacuum cleaner, email, a ball game, or reprimanding your kids while you’re trying to introduce yourself and convey a nice first impression. If you sound distracted, you are distracted. Your emotional absence from the conversation will be obvious.
  • Refrain from being too judgmental about previous dates or the online dating process in general.
  • Don’t talk over a bad connection. If you can’t hear each other over cell phone garble, then move around, or drive around for a better signal or politely hang up and try again. If that doesn’t work, try a different phone—landline if you still have one—or agree to meet in person. Don’t try to guess what you thought you heard the other person say. Sitcoms recycle this gag all the time. Not so funny on TV. Even less in real life. Trust me on this one, as I have a story to share!

Coping with Polygamous Courtship and Serial Dating

Under the right circumstances, online dating provides an avenue to meet other single adults in a casual, unassuming environment from the comfort of your own home. The mechanics of online dating make it easy to introduce yourself to several individuals at once. This affords you the opportunity to mingle online and get a feel for those you share the strongest chemistry with. On the downside, online dating connects you with multiple individuals at once, tempting you to form meaningful attachments simultaneously. Even individuals with the best intentions find themselves drawn into the notion of “there’s always someone else” or “why should I settle for one particular person when I still have a dozen profiles to review?”

A point of demarcation exists between dating socially to test the water before committing to one person—and dating several people under the false pretense of exclusivity. Many online dating fans join multiple dating sites simultaneously to increase their chances of finding “the one.” And although this approach might work for some, juggling dozens of emails, texts, phone calls, and first date plans can become overwhelming. I’m not excusing or rebuking this practice, as everyone is entitled to their own style. But from my perspective, I find this “wide net approach” much like buying multiple lottery tickets at once in hopes of stacking the odds in your favor. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but in reality, it does almost nothing to improve your chances of winning.

When you do meet the right person who stands out above the rest, and you share a romantic chemistry with common interests and a desire to spend time together, put your profile on hold. Notice I did not say “delete” your profile. Another judgment call here. If you pull the plug too soon on your profile, you risk losing out on a portion of the financial investment you made when you subscribed. More importantly, your first date might not pan out the way you hoped it would. When you find yourself committed to a happy, healthy, and exclusive relationship, then terminate your subscription. Think about it. Would you want to continue dating someone exclusively while they’re dating other people?

Despite the prevalence of online dating, it’s not for everyone. There are always other means to meet attractive, intelligent single people. Often, the best opportunities become the ones we create for ourselves through acquaintances, friends, or even friends of friends. Or, as Milton Berle quipped, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

The Zone of Disillusionment

I’ve tried to preface the subject of online dating with a discussion about some of the major pros and cons involved with meeting single adults in an online forum. I’ve also tried to enlighten you about the various personality types you’re likely to encounter, should you elect to try online dating, followed by a cursory look at the online dating process with some guidance on phone and email etiquette. In this segment on the Zone of Disillusionment, I present advice meant for those who are serious about making the most of their online dating experience by explaining how to avoida common cycle of disappointment and emotional withdrawal inherent in online dating.

I start by illustrating what I call “the process of online dating” with a simple numbered flowchart on the following page. The numbers within the flowchart correspond to numbered paragraphs that follow, providing a step-by-step progression from the moment you find a profile you like to the excitement of a first date.

I’ve written this section from the perspective of women seeking men. But the formalized online dating process I describe in subsequent pages remains gender neutral. Glance at the flowchart first to familiarize yourself with the basic content of this useful roadmap. As you read further, you can reference the numbered paragraphs against the flowchart, where I’ve shaded the Zone of Disillusionment in yellow.

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.3: The Art of Communication

Invasiveness

I can remember a time when trees were the only large obstruction in the wooded areas between the Interstate and the back of neighbors’ homes. Now it’s hard to drive anywhere without spotting a cell phone tower. The proliferation of these terrestrial behemoths remains a necessary evil to feed the wireless bandwidth demand and ensure every mobile device has sufficient coverage from remote locations. Now people can text and talk during movies or live theater, at their favorite restaurant, the gym, the back of the library, or any other public place. Sure it’s convenient. But we can all do without the disruption to our personal time, not to mention the gory details of someone’s personal problems. When I go online to check my email or update my website, I don’t want to be pinged with instant message requests—especially late at night when I’m trying to squeeze an hour’s worth of writing into a ten-minute sliver of time before I salvage the last few hours of sleep I have left.

Am I alone in this thinking? Or has the world gone nuts with its insatiable desire for instant-access, always-on communications? In many ways, less is more. Or as Dr. Goleman points out, “Being flooded with intermittent messages puts people in a reactive mode, as though they are continually putting out small brush fires. The cumulative effect of the message deluge is chronic distractedness.” This chronic distractedness wastes our time and wreaks havoc on our ability to think constructively and focus on the more important tasks at hand, like working to foster a meaningful and lasting romance.

Complexity

Sometimes I just want my phone to be, well, a phone. With more features than I can use, it’s easy to get lost in the maze of menu options, settings, and preferences associated with the phone’s operating system or the various software applications. Maybe the phone is smarter than I am? Or maybe it’s just not worth the time and aggravation involved. Simple is better. An old-school notion, perhaps, but one that has served countless successful engineering designs. Complex is a relative term. Given enough time, even the most sophisticated process can be broken down into simple steps. Time being the operative word here. So often, the complexities of modern technology cost us more time than they save, despite the onslaught of marketing influences to the contrary. Aside from maybe Apple, when was the last time you found any computing system truly “plug and play?” Technology should serve to simplify our lives, not make them harder.

Online communication requires more passwords and PINs to remember for every site, or service, or account we create. The easier you make your own security credentials to remember, the easier for someone to hack into your personal information. The harder you make passwords and PINs to hack, the more prone you are to forget them. We’re humans not machines. We think in words, not in binary code. To some extent, technology advances have moved us two steps forward and one step back. Software can make life easier when it works, and drive us mad when it doesn’t. I’m not advocating a return to the dark ages of dialup connections and 600 baud modems. I’m saying technology for the sake of technology often serves to impede our progress, not further it. Technology should serve our romantic needs, not govern them. Treat technology like a tool you can use, not a tool that uses you. Remember, you don’t need a sledgehammer to drive thumb tacks—the way you don’t need a smartphone to have intelligent conversations with your romantic partner.

Wasted Time

In many ways, modern communication technology helps us save time. Then again, driving a Lamborghini in rush hour won’t get us there any faster. Instead of checking one email account, I check three to segregate my personal life from my professional obligations or online shopping confirmations that often come with spam attached. Social networking is fun, but it can be a huge time gobbler if we let it. Time spent tracking the personal status of our friends online or constantly updating our Facebook page could be time better spent on the care and feeding of our romantic relationship. Technology rocks when everything works in harmony; not so much when we lose signal strength, the network goes down, our application chokes, the battery dies, or our login fails to authenticate for the third time in two days, prompting another marathon phone call with a help desk person we’re more acquainted with than our spouse.

Technology can rob us of valuable time in other ways as well. Consider phone applications. Some provide valuable time-saving advice, but many play out more like video games. Using a smartphone application to kill time now and then while we’re waiting for an oil change can offer a pleasant distraction. But if we find ourselves consuming hours a day on what amounts to brain candy in a four hundred dollar container, then we’re squandering time better spent on something more productive. Add to this the hours spent at home troubleshooting computer glitches with software patches, malware issues, virus definition updates, wireless router configurations, bad hard drives, phishing attacks, Internet service provider problems, and so on and so forth—all in the name of new technology supposedly designed to make our lives easier and more productive. Be creative in your use of technology, but don’t let it own you.

Health Hazards

I won’t touch the debate about the potential for developing brain tumors from excessive cell phone use or exposure to cancer causing radiation from close proximity to cell phone towers, but talking or texting on your phone while driving is an undisputed hazard. I’ve also seen macho men on big motorcycles text one-handed while they steer with their throttle hand. If you’re on a bike, put the phone away. If you’re in the car, go hands free or put the phone away. The life you save might be your own.

Communication and Online Dating

From its humble beginnings in the early 1990s, when the percentage of couples who met online was negligible, the business of online dating has burgeoned from a niche industry to one shaping the way millions of single men and women socialize with one another. The decade between 1995 and 2005 saw an exponential growth with people who met online. In 2009, the Internet became the third most likely method for heterosexual couples to meet. Around the same time, the research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey, conducted studies to investigate America’s dating behavior. One study, which focused on seven thousand recently married American adults age eighteen or older, revealed that in recent years, one in six married couples met each other from an online dating site. In another study with a sample population of more than two thousand five hundred single American adults age eighteen or over and in newly committed relationships, one out of five dated someone they met online.

Most recently, statistics from the market research organization, IBISWorld, indicate online dating services achieved two billion dollars in revenue for 2012 with a predicted annual growth rate of online dating companies at two percent over the next five years. According to recent census data, the United States boasts nearly one hundred million single men and women age eighteen or older. From this population, roughly forty million have tried online dating.

The proliferation of online dating sites implies a paradigm shift from the traditional dating scene. Where adult men and women once met each other on a college campus, at work, at a local bar, or with friends, many now flock to the Internet, hoping to find a love connection. And there are plenty of sites to discover, with eHarmony, Match, Chemistry, Single Parents, ChristianMingle, Matchmaker, Plenty of Fish, Singlesnet, OKCupid, and more, ready and waiting to enlist your profile. Most of these sites go beyond online personal ads, providing the capability to ingest, analyze, sort, filter, email, text, chat, flirt, and categorize your favorite potential suitors like a pack of online trading cards. Depending on the service you select, you either complete an exhaustive questionnaire designed to target your personality traits and compatibility criteria—or you simply jot a few words about yourself and the type of person you’re hoping to meet. Then you upload a photo—presumably a recent one—throw your credit card number in the mix, and start browsing.

Some sites “deliver your matches” based on their algorithmic selection process, which automatically pairs you with compatible matches and precludes you from surfing random profiles. Other sites display a galley of headshots associated with a pseudonym and a short profile you can read. You have the choice to share as much or as little as you like within your own profile. You can upload multiple pictures to sweeten your own honey pot. You can also stay connected to most of the popular sites from your smartphone and receive real time acknowledgements from potential matches.

The concept of a dating service is nothing new. Boutique companies have been in business for decades, usually catering to a more exclusive subset of the singles population represented by professionals who work long hours and lack the time to socialize and/or prefer to have an agency prescreen potential partners to increase the likelihood of a successful match. However, the cost put the service out of reach of many. With the proliferation of broadband Internet and a PC in almost every home, less expensive online dating companies found their niche in the matchmaking market. Now anyone with access to a PC and a credit card can join the game.

In my opinion, the erosion of America’s work-life balance has spurred demand for online dating services, where those who are gainfully employed spend an inordinate amount of time at work, leaving less time to spend on socializing with members of the opposite sex. Aside from dating colleagues at work, a chance encounter in public, or resorting to the dreaded bar scene, many singles find little time to comingle with other potentially compatible mates.

Online dating may or may not be right for you. But for those who’ve taken the plunge and tried it, the outcomes are mixed, similar to expected results from more conventional dating practices. The pros and cons of online dating abound. On the plus side, online dating provides the most efficient way to meet a large population of mostly educated, attractive single people in a safe, low pressure, no expectation environment. You control who you wish to respond to or not. You can share as much or as little about yourself as you like in your online profile. Online dating lets you check for potential matches from the comfort of your own home any time day or night. You can even browse for free with most sites, which don’t impose a credit card fee until you decide to contact other members. Aside from your picture, your online profile can remain as innocuous or mysterious as you prefer, depending on the user name you select for yourself and how much personal information you decide to share. Your own comfort zone helps dictate how fast or how slow you wish to move through the online dating process. You empower yourself to decide how many or how few people you wish to establish communication with, and when, if at all, to exchange phone numbers.

On the down side, some of the useful attributes associated with online dating can also work to your detriment. For starters, some researchers cite a lack of compelling evidence to support claims of online dating promoting romantic outcomes superior to those fostered by other, more traditional means. And while there are plenty of singles on the market, not everyone you reach out to will share the same desire to connect. Over the course of days or weeks, you might send a dozen emails to various people and receive no response from any of them.

In one nine-month study involving eleven hundred users from a popular dating site, only twenty-six percent of the men replied to messages they received on the site. Worse yet, only sixteen percent of the women replied. In my experience, these figures are high from the women’s perspective, as attractive women tend to be bombarded with a deluge of winks, emails, and instant message requests shortly after posting their profile pictures. Research also indicates women receive far more initial advances from men than vice versa.

Most people will not bother to reply with a polite “no thanks” and will simply ignore your advance. On the other hand, the opposite holds true where you find yourself bombarded—often unexpectedly—from several suitors at once. This can make for a time-consuming, and often exhausting process of weeding through emails and their associated profiles to decide who’s worthy of your attention. One estimate suggests people engaged in online dating spend an average of twelve hours a week in their efforts to find true love, a significant allocation of time perhaps better spent enjoying offline social interactions instead.

At times, you might find several people worthy of your attention, which can lead to numerous email exchanges between yourself and potential matches. Eventually you begin to feel a connection with one or more of your newfound friends, but often these connections are marred by a false sense of intimacy, propagated by a faulty emotional attachment to someone you’ve never met, and in reality, know nothing about other than what they published in their profile or elected to share in their email exchange with you. This façade continues, anchored in a cyberspace illusion, until your match stops emailing you because they met someone else, pulled the plug on their subscription, went on vacation, flew out of town on business, got sick, got bored, got caught by their spouse, or any number of other reasons. Which brings out the dark side of online dating: people lie. Constantly. Women tend to lie about their age, their height, and the number of children they have. Men tend to lie about their height and marital status.

Yet despite the potential downfalls to online dating, the concept remains a viable and thriving alternative to more traditional dating means. Have I met honest, intelligent, attractive, fun-loving women online? Absolutely. But I’ve also met some real oddballs I wouldn’t have spent two seconds with had our paths crossed in person and not in cyberspace. With limited free time and ever-increasing schedule demands, online dating remains an avenue worth exploring in moderation. To this end, I share some relevant observations, encounters, and advice aimed at improving your chances for success with online dating. What follows are examples to illustrate my point of view garnered from my own experience with online dating. But before we jump into the deep end and address the question of whether or not online dating is right for you, let’s review a comprehensive list of online personas you’re likely to encounter on your quest to find true love along the information superhighway.

  • The Friend
  • The Maternity Minded
  • The Browser
  • The Socialite
  • The Timid
  • The Serial Dater
  • The Rookie
  • The Matrimony Minded
  • The Vengeful
  • The Read Deal

The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.2: The Art of Communication

Fundamentally, men and women have a tendency to perceive the same messages—verbal or nonverbal—to have different meanings. We often stereotype men as poor communicators and many fulfill that expectation. With the advent of modern communications, both men and women find it easy to hide their feelings behind email and text messages. This lack of face-to-face communication often perturbates miscommunication between the sexes. Clearly, both genders could benefit from trying to better understand the differences between each other’s communication styles. And yet, why does this happen so infrequently?

The disparity between communication styles derives partly from the way our brains are wired. In The Couple Checkup, Doctors Olson, Olson-Sigg, and Larson conclude, “The fact that a male’s brain hemispheres are not as well connected as a female’s means it is biologically more difficult for men to express emotion.” Further research suggests women, more so than men, are more interested in and willing to express love and engage in romantic commitment; however, several studies contradict our assumptions and conclude that men are actually more likely to hold certain romantic beliefs than women.

In the female brain, a stronger connection between the left and right side of the brain promotes a stronger connection between language and emotion with a higher capacity for verbal-emotive functioning. The male brain, on the other hand, remains primarily suited for executing visual-spatial tasks, building systems, and communicating more through actions than words—results some scientists attribute to lower levels of serotonin and oxytocin in the male brain.

Higher testosterone levels and more white brain matter in the male brain allows men to focus on one thought or process at a time without interference. Where the male brain exploits the ability to analyze complex systems, the female brain’s larger and deeper limbic system excels in promoting empathy and communication.

In understanding the differences between male and female brains, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that although men exhibit male brains and women have female brains, the distinction between the “types” of brains does not solely equate to gender. In his book, The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain, Baron-Cohen explains how there are men with female brains and women with male brains as well as both sexes with “balanced brains.” His point makes sense with women who pursue traditionally male-dominated professions like engineering, architecture, and computer programming—fields more predisposed to the logical, systematic, visual-spatial wiring of the male brain. The same logic holds for men who demonstrate a more female-oriented brain and excel in traditionally female-dominated professions like school-teaching, nursing, and social work—fields more in line with highly effective verbal communication, empathy, and a relationship-oriented mindset. In our romantic relationships, there are men who communicate well, and women who do not. Just as there are women who lack empathy and men who espouse compassion. To a certain extent, the biology of the male and female brains reveals only part of the story. Each of us is wired slightly differently with the propensity to unveil personality traits associated with one type of brain more than the other.

In Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Dr. John Gray elaborates on our gender differences. A few key points from his work:

  • Men define their sense of self through their ability to achieve results; women define a sense of self through their feelings and the quality of their relationships.
  • Men cope with stress by withdrawing; women cope with stress by reaching out and talking.
  • Men want to feel needed; women want to feel cherished.
  • Men want appreciation and admiration; women want respect and devotion.
  • Men and women not only communicate differently, but they “think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently.”

According to Harvard Ph.D., Daniel Goleman, a behavioral sciences expert and bestselling author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, research on emotional intelligence in thousands of men and women indicates women, on average, are more aware of their emotions. Furthermore, women tend to be more pragmatic than men when entering a romantic relationship and express greater empathy as well as greater interpersonal skills. In contrast, men appear to be more adaptive, self-confident, and optimistic in stressful situations. Dr. Goleman also notes how men appear to be socially insensitive, driven less by a biological trait and more by men’s perception of sensitivity as a sign of weakness. Men also generally have higher levels of the chemicals that promote lust, whereas women have higher levels of chemicals that urge attachment. Men appeal more to women’s physical features, whereas women are more drawn to a man’s signs of power and wealth. In general, however, the gender similarities outweigh the differences. The merits and limitations of both sexes average out, implying their overall emotional intelligence remains on par with one another.

Other authors, including Dr. Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and former fellow at Stanford California’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, expand on gender differences. In her book, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Tannen explains the way men and women miscommunicate. From her perspective, men view conversation as a method to transmit information and negotiate for power; women use conversation to maintain interaction and negotiate for closeness. Women aren’t looking for answers; they’re looking for compassion and understanding. Men communicate advice; women seek connection and understanding. Men live in a world of status; women live in a world of connections. Men seek control; women seek understanding. Men value differences; women value similarities.

With so many discrepancies between the way men and women communicate, it’s amazing we get along at all. One 2010 study conducted by authors Olson, Olson-Sigg, and Larson focused on communication as a crucial gauge of marital happiness. The study analyzed the marriages of over fifty thousand married couples who answered questions about their relationships. According to the study results, the majority of the fifty thousand couples in the study wished their partners would share their feelings more often. And more than two thirds of the couples in the study admitted to having difficulty asking their partner for what they want. Slightly less than two thirds declared their partner didn’t understand how they feel. Obviously, the study didn’t encompass every married couple in North America—estimated at sixty million according to recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, but the study of fifty thousand married couples makes a statement nonetheless.

According to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center, the number of married couples in the United States hovers at a record low of 51 percent with a trend toward more single Americans than married within the next few years. No doubt, many cultural, economic, and sociological forces influence our beliefs and behavior, but as the previously mentioned study alludes, the lack of effective communication between married couples hinders their ability to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance.

In an effort to bridge the communication gap between the sexes, Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages for Singles, describes the following five love languages in detail:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

In general, most women cherish and appreciate verbal declarations of love, quality time, small gifts—especially flowers—acts of service without having to constantly prod their man for help, and affection through holding hands or giving warm hugs without the pretense of sex. As Dr. Chapman points out in his book, “We can receive love through all five (love languages), but if we don’t receive our primary love language, we will not feel loved even though the person is speaking the other four.” He goes on to state, “We tend to express love to others in a language that would make us feel loved, but if it is not his or her primary love language, it will not mean to them what it would mean to us.”

I encourage you to read The Five Love Languages for Singles and make an effort to identify your own love language. Then communicate your love language to your partner and invite them to share their love language with you. As Dr. Chapman explains, to gain a better understanding of your partner’s love language, observe how he or she expresses love towards others. Learning to identify how our partners give and receive love affords us the opportunity to gain a better understanding of our needs and desires in the most basic sense.

Although it’s important to understand why gender differences exist, we should focus on learning to adapt to our differences and accept them. We can’t change how people think and feel and communicate with one another, but we can learn to recognize their differences in communication styles. Keep the communication channels open. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but learn to ask them with tact. No one likes to feel they’re under interrogation with piercing inquiries. Ladies, I can tell you this is a major turn-off for men, especially in the early stages of a new relationship. Run a background check, Google his name, and explore his history with due diligence, but don’t grill your date like a tax auditor unless you intend for your first encounter to be your last.

Anyone who’s dated for several years or endured a rocky marriage has been burned before. No one likes to have their heart broken, and of course no one likes to be treated poorly. But don’t let a previous bad experience spoil the potential for new prosperity with someone else in your life. Gender differences remain a fact of life. Whether you’re on your first date or you’ve been married for twenty years, it’s never too early or too late to invest quality time with your partner on a deeper emotional level; to understand their needs and desires; to solicit feedback about their view of the world and your relationship; to understand their primary love language; to accept them for who they are; and to recognize that although the communication between men and women will never be perfect, there will always be opportunity for improvement and growth. As author Gregory Godek wrote in 1001 Ways to be Romantic, “Underneath all our differences in style, men and women all want the same things: to be loved, cared for, respected and appreciated; to have a place of safety and security where we can be ourselves, grow, experiment, and mature.”

The Help and Hindrance of Modern Technology

A lot has changed in the last decade or so, thanks in part to advances in modern technology. Almost everyone I know has long since tossed their landline phone and gone wireless for their primary point of contact. Hybrid-electric vehicles continue to proliferate. Computing power that once consumed a desktop tower can now be had in the palm of your hand. Video rental stores are nearly extinct. Cathode ray televisions have gone the way of the dinosaur. Ebooks are flourishing. And the concept of social networking has exploded to global proportions. The likes of MySpace and Facebook have transformed the way we connect with our friends and family. Fold Skype, FaceTime, Viber, VoxOx, and Google Voice into the mix, and you have a cyber super-highway with millions of virtual connections riding the Internet. Our “vehicles” of communication have evolved from cell phones to smartphones. With a BlackBerry, iPhone, Droid, Galaxy, Sidekick, or any number of other communication devices designed to handle voice, video, and text, we have the capability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time with the press of a button. We can check our stocks, our sports scores, our home surveillance systems, and the temperature of our rump roast simmering in the kitchen crock pot—all from our jobs, our cars, or standing in line for groceries.

The automobile transformed the way we travel, and the Industrial Revolution transformed the way we work. The Internet transformed the way we gather information, and now, a modern communications revolution has transformed the way we relate to one another from both business and personal perspectives. On the upside, we applaud technology for promoting more robust and more efficient person-to-person connectivity. On the downside, it comes with a price. I’m not necessarily referring to money here. I’m alluding to the negative impacts modern communications technology imposes on our relationships, including:

  • Erosion of Personal Communications
  • Invasiveness
  • Complexity
  • Wasted Time
  • Health Hazards

Erosion of Personal Communications

Despite the ubiquitous nature of our smartphone devices and always-on Internet connectivity, our ability to engage in and sustain meaningful, intimate conversation has sharply declined in recent years. With more texting and less talking, people communicate more like machines than human beings. Cute acronyms and clever emoticons add a new dimension to our wireless dialogue exchange the way hypertext transformed the way we navigate through electronic text. The trouble is, we’re losing sight of the human desire to convey more than basic information. The old AT&T slogan, “Reach Out and Touch Someone,” implied there was more going on than simple information exchange. The delivery of fiber optic transmission lines meant we could hear someone from around the world as if they were in the room next door. Every breath, every pause, every sigh, and every nuance of our conversation could be transmitted at the speed of light. Why was this so important? Because conversation had meaning.

At that time, we drove technology to serve the purpose of creating more intimate communications. If you couldn’t be with your loved ones in person, a phone call was the next best thing. Yet today, with exception of Skype or FaceTime and a few video cell phone applications, technology serves less to bring us closer together and more to facilitate communication about as intimate as a walkie-talkie dialogue.

It’s become too easy to hide behind a façade of good intentions or shun our own accountability by conveying abbreviated messages instead of reaching for the telephone to communicate our intentions, clarify our positions, explain ourselves, apologize for our wrongdoings, or to simply say, “I love you.”

With emails, text messaging, and instant messaging, we’ve lowered the bar from intimate communications to superficial. Instead of actually laughing out loud at someone’s humorous comment, we send a quick LOL. Instead of calling to say, “I love you,” we send a smiley face. Computers send data back and forth as a function of command and response between machines in a sterile, austere environment more suited to inanimate objects than human beings. Folks, we aren’t meant to communicate like machines!

Clearly—email, texts, and instant messages serve a purpose in our world. These forms of one-dimensional communication accommodate established relationships by providing an alternative means of communication in various situations. But as a blanket statement, our romantic relationships will benefit if we focus less on texting and more on actually talking to one another.

In today’s fast-paced, on-the-go, cell-phone-driven society pushing constant email, instant messages, and limitless text messaging, we’ve become increasingly susceptible to leading what I call almost pseudo-anonymous lives. People operate in cyberspace behind a computer monitor and a cryptic screen name, a virtual avatar of their real selves. Now we text instead of calling, substituting the one-dimensional string of alphanumeric characters for a real live voice-to-voice conversation. Instead of evolving toward more articulate communication, we’ve devolved into something akin to a modem-to-modem or router-to-router communication. Machines communicate between one another without passion or prejudice; without context or emotional accountability. The more we as human beings continue to communicate this way—in lieu of an actual voice-to-voice, or better yet, live conversation—the more we align ourselves with machines instead of living, breathing, individuals.

No doubt, modern technology has a place in our lives and in our romantic relationships. And mobile communications can be a wonderful thing with the ability to facilitate voice, video, and text messaging between one another. But as Lewis, Amini, and Lannon succinctly state in A General Theory of Love, “Advances in communications technology foster a false fantasy of togetherness by transmitting the impression of contact—phone calls, faxes, e-mail—without its substance.”

I find romance without substance akin to driving a car without tires. In theory you can do it, but in reality, you won’t get very far. The bonding and emotional power we receive during face-to-face communication has no substitute. Granted, the reality of demanding jobs, long commutes, health issues, parenting responsibilities, or any number of other trials and tribulations life imposes on us makes face-to-face communication difficult if not impossible at times. In these instances, we must select the best alternative. But given the choice, our romantic relationships demand our attention in a multidimensional communication environment and not strictly text or email. Positive, meaningful, productive, and periodic communication has been, and always will be, essential to a meaningful and lasting romance. If used correctly, modern technologies can help in this regard; they can also hurt us. Life is about choices and how we decide to spend our time. Choose wisely, and modern communications technology can help us communicate with one another more efficiently as long as we don’t lose sight of our abilities to communicate in a meaningful manner. For as Dr. Vincent Peale wrote in The Power of Positive Thinking, “Learn to listen to behavior as well as to words that are spoken. People are often trying to communicate with you, for good or bad, through the way they act as well as by what they say.”