Five conscious coupling rules

Movie star Gwyneth Paltrow recently stirred the relationship pot by stating that she and her rock star husband Chris Martin were “consciously uncoupling.” Because even the most peaceful divorces are usually traumatic, I’m not going to join the bandwagon of critics who proclaimed Paltrow a typical narcissistic celebrity trying to make herself feel special, and her situation unique. Even though celebrities seem as though they live on a different planet, they are human and can still feel pain. So, if coining a new phrase for a split can help anesthetize the pain that accompanies, it’s fine with me. Celebrities in particular have to endure widespread embarrassment and humiliation during a split. How would you like it if you had to see your ex on the cover of People Magazine for the next several years? How would you feel if you heard time and again that your ex was dating John Mayer? Would you like it if your ex cheated on you and it was blasted all over the BBC? And what happens if your ex wins an Oscar? My God, there might be no end to it. Grieving could take years even if you’ve gotten lucky enough to find another star or starlet of a similar stature. You’d have to pray your ex picks a series of bad movies and can only get work hosting at a casino. Hell, most people want to forget their ex-spouses still exist.

I am in tune with psychotherapist Abby Rodman who believes that our choice of mate is wholly unconscious, and it is the missing or ignoring of certain signs that will eventually cause a couple to marry and eventually split. Simply put, after an unconscious choice and the subsequent pain, couples then make a conscious decision to split. Unfortunately, most still don’t know what underlying dynamics caused the split in the first place. While Rodman and I don’t work from the same model, we are in agreement that deep forces are at work, and without understanding them, potential partners are in for trouble, and doomed to replicate their failures. In this spirit I’m offering five suggestions to help you to be more conscious of a potential mate’s problems so that you can make a better, more informed choice and in turn, avoid future relationship disaster. Here are my five conscious coupling rules:

1. Know yourself. If you know what type of person you’re drawn to, and it’s cost you in the past, you can be on the lookout so that you don’t replicate. For example, if you have a history of attraction to addictive personalities, you’ll have to assess potential mates for this type of behavior…and keep away.

2. Ask questions. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “If you stick your head in the sand your ass will be exposed.” There’s definitely truth to this. For example, if you don’t ask about a potential partner’s relationship history, you won’t know if he/she can even sustain a healthy relationship. The past will help you to see the future.

3. Pay attention to contradictions. If your date says one thing and does another, consider it worthy of analysis. For example, if a potential mate tells you that he/she loves children but doesn’t have a relationship with his/her own, beware.

4. Assess how your potential partner treats you. If he/she is quick to anger, argumentative, rude, or controlling, these behaviors might only get worse as relationship progresses.

5. Don’t ignore your “gut.” If you experience a bad feeling, follow up on it. This might actually be a warning from your system that something isn’t right.

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© Copyright 2014 Stephen J. Betchen, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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Dr. Stephen J. Betchen is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, as well as a critically acclaimed author and regular contributor to the popular Ladies’ Home Journal column, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” He currently serves as Clinical Assistant Professor at Thomas Jefferson University. For more than 25 years, Dr. Betchen has helped couples repair their relationships and reach new levels of happiness, whether they’re battling about in-laws, sex, parenting, infidelity, money, careers—or anything in between. (Case in point: He once treated folks who were at odds over the wife’s weight and the husband’s constant criticisms!) Dr. Betchen’s approach to couples therapy is refreshingly simple: He offers no gimmicks, slogans or quick fixes to nagging problems. Instead, Dr. Betchen believes that individuals change only when they discover what’s really driving their behavior—and that relationships change only when couples develop empathy for their partners and understand what really drew them together. (Turns out that physical attraction is just part of it.) Dr. Betchen provides in-depth analysis of couples’ attitudes and behavior, enabling them to see themselves and each other in a new light. And from there, he delivers real-world advice that teaches couples how to change themselves—and their relationship. Dr. Betchen is the author of numerous professional articles on relationships and makes frequent media appearances. His expert opinions often appear in national publications, including Family Circle and Men’s Health. In addition to Magnetic Partners, Dr. Betchen is the author of Intrusive Partners-Elusive Mates.