Is it common for people to have dating habits that make them not have successful relationships that they keep repeating over and over? The answer to that question is, Yes, of course. I see it all the time. I see people who are married who are struggling with this, but there is a way to recognize this pattern in yourself or in others, and things you can do to get out of these bad habits.
Habits Save Us Energy
When you get right down to it, from brushing your teeth to the way you write emails or how often you text messages back and forth with friends, all of these things develop a pattern and a rhythm. And as people, we have limited bandwidth in our brains to deal with things, and our emotional selves also have limited bandwidth to handle things emotionally.
Routines are the way that we as humans work with the world without getting overloaded. If you had to think about everything you do with great concentration day in and day out, you would be exhausted before lunch regularly. The mental power that it takes to make choices and weigh the pros and cons of each decision is quite complicated.
It’s pretty exhausting and you see this often when people are going through medical issues or in job transitions. They might not be doing anything too complicated, just going with the flow and listening to their providers or starting a new job. It seems easy. But you notice they get exhausted, right?
They get really tired and they’re spent at the end of the day. And the reason is the mental and emotional toll it takes on you to be actively engaged constantly. It is exhausting. Before I was in the counseling world, back when I was a teenager and even into my early twenties, I was performing as a magician and a stand-up comedian.
And specifically, when I was in magic, I remember thinking: “Oh, I could easily do a three or four-hour gig” and I did. I did a couple of restaurant gigs where I would go from table to table hopping around, and doing magic for the patrons at the restaurant.
I thought it was easy money. I was paid more than the waiter staff, but I only had a three-hour shift. And I had worked in restaurants before, at the takeout counter and did deliveries too, so I thought: “This is a cakewalk. I’m gonna make much more than I’m used to and work much less!”
But I was surprised at how exhausted I was because when you’re performing, it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy out of you. You’re constantly looking at the audience, making sure they’re happy. You can’t check out as a performer. It’s just another example of how exhausting breaking routines can be.
You have to engage your mind, engage your emotional state, especially for something like magic. There are also the technical aspects of making the manipulation of the cards or whatever props work. And then you have to manage the audience, getting them to look where you want.
It is beyond exhausting and eventually, I had to stop doing it because it was just too difficult.
We Fall in Love, We Fall Into Habits
In dating, we also develop patterns and routines that become habits. When you’re first dating somebody, those routines don’t typically exist, but eventually, you’ll fall into routines as the relationship progresses, and these routines have been formulated in you over time. It could be something that you’ve built up in yourself as a means of self-defense to keep yourself from getting too hurt.
It could be routines that you’ve seen modeled in your childhood by your parents or other loved ones in your life. And it could also be plain laziness. At the end of the day, if everyone living in a long-term relationship behaved in the same way as when they were dating and starting the relationship, they would be exhausted.
There has to be a little bit of an ease-up. But you don’t wanna let it go completely, obviously. Because that’s when romance dies and people end up in couples counseling.
- If you find yourself in more than one relationship complaining about the same things
- If you are around 40 and never had a romantic relationship that lasted longer than 3 months
Pathological Dating Habits
Let’s go over how you can know that you’re falling into dangerous dating habits and why it’s detrimental to you. The first thing that you want to be aware of is if you find yourself in more than one relationship, complaining about the same thing(s).
I’ll give you an example. I had a client who is in his mid-fifties and has been married four times. He came to me after his fourth divorce saying he wanted to figure out why he is attracted to “women who destroy the relationship”. And I smiled and nodded and listened to his story, but there was this sneaking suspicion which later proved correct, that he is the one sabotaging his relationships after a certain amount of time.
And we had to explore why he was doing that. So if you find yourself complaining that you always date losers, or you always date crazy people, maybe you’re attracting the wrong kind of person, and the habits of who you’re looking for need to be addressed. If you have been in many relationships and they’ve all ended for various reasons, then you probably don’t have a pathological dating routine.
Another indication that this could be happening to you is the timeline. I’ve seen people who have a fear of commitment and are sabotaging their relationships which only last two, three, or four months, and then they die. I had a client who was pushing 40 who had never had a romantic relationship that lasted longer than three months, and that’s a bit of a red flag.
It wasn’t that he never dated, he dated quite often. He was, in his own words, “a serial monogamous”. But there was something about that three-month mark that for him made the relationship get shaky. In his case, after three months into the relationship he tended to let his guard down.
And that’s when things start to get serious. Especially if you’re around 40, women will start to push: “Well, are we going to move in together? What’s the situation?” And some big questions start arising. In the case of my client, it played into his sphere of commitment and we had to explore that.
Old Habits Die Hard, But They Do Die
Whatever your routines or bad habits are, they can be addressed. The first step is acknowledging what those bad habits actually are. Once you do that, you need an approach to how to solve them. Obviously, I can’t have counseling sessions with everybody in the world, so I want to give you five pieces of advice on what exactly you should be doing to eradicate and get rid of these bad habits no matter what they are.
These are good, healthy steps for anybody in any relationship. And if you find yourself the victim of your own bad habits, these tips can help point out what they are or even get ahead of them before they start.
My Five Tips to Eradicate Bad Dating Habits
- Write down exactly what your dream relationship looks like
- Express that vision to your potential partner early in the relationship
- Realize that sex increases the complexity of the relationship
- Learn your partner’s Love Language
- Find happiness outside of a romantic relationship
Tip 1: Write down what your dream relationship looks like, exactly
The first tip is to write down exactly what your dream relationship looks like. This is really important. If you’ve never sat down and thought to yourself: “What do I really want out of a relationship?” Then you’re setting yourself up for failure because, what happens?
Let’s explore this. If you are on a date with somebody and you like them and start dating and go out for a while and then you think: “This is magnificent, but something’s still missing” Since you’ve never defined exactly what you want, you can’t know what is missing! And the goalpost of a successful relationship keeps moving for you.
What you should do is sit down and write: “What does a dream relationship look like to me?” and be specific, answer:
- How much time do I spend with the person? Is it something where you’re with them 24 hours a day, and live with them? Is that even a dream relationship for you?
- Are you mature enough to be in a relationship where you share a home with somebody? I will tell you from experience, not everybody’s ready for that. Some people are still in a selfish, immature stage where they can’t commit to a relationship of that caliber and they have work to do. It’s good to do some soul-searching, and find out if you are at that level.
- How do you want to interact with this person in your social circle?
- Do you want them to meet your family?
- Do you want to keep those worlds separate? How separate? Are you comfortable keeping those worlds? Can you have your friend group and also have a relationship with this person?
- What about finances? When are you comfortable co-mingling your finances, if ever?
- Sex is an important one. How often realistically do you want to have sex? And what kind of sex?
- What defines sex for you? It’s different for different people.
All these things are easy to answer when you don’t have the pressure of an actual relationship breathing down your neck, or when you’re single, and in a good head space where you’re like: ”You know what? I want to get a handle on what I want.” This is the best time to make these kinds of lists and paint the picture of the dream relationship.
Tip 2: Express That Vision to Your Potential Partner, early
The second tip is related to the first one. Once you have a clear picture of what you want, express it to your potential partner early. Don’t wait for two, three, or four months down the road, or even keep it a secret.
I know some people who think: “Well, what I want in a relationship is for them to figure out what I want” That’s horrible. That’s total BS nonsense when you’re in a healthy relationship. You should be yearning to communicate with your partner. Tell them your vision for the ideal relationship on the second, or third date. Why? Because you don’t want to waste your or their time.
Think of it selfishly. If you say: “Sex is a really important thing to me. I need it at least three times a week” and the other person says: “Well, I’ve been in relationships like that and that’s a catastrophe, I’m only interested once a month”, then that’s a recipe for disaster. It depends on your age range and where you are coming from culturally, you could have two very different approaches to sexuality
Communicate these things early on. If you are someone who knows you’re never going to want kids, talk about that early on. And the same in the opposite case. If you’re someone who knows you want a lot of kids, you should express that and see if your partner’s up for it.
If you don’t do it you might be setting yourself up for some heartbreak down the line. The earlier you talk about this the more you’re going to find that you’re going to miss out on some relationships with fun romantic chemistry that would last for a few months but then fizzle out and die. And you’re going to speed through people that you have no business being with in the first place.
All those relationships where you can have four, five, or six months of a passionate affair only to fizzle out because you realize: “Oh, we have different religious values” or “We actually don’t want the same things” or “I want to live in Europe and you want to in America.” Those are big deal breakers.
Talk about this stuff early. The earlier the better. Find a place where you can bring this up without feeling offensive or too brash or forward on the first date. That’s the best time to bring it up, in my opinion. I think a first date is almost like an interview process.
And yes, everyone’s getting doved up and everybody’s putting on their best cologne and perfume, and there’s a sexual chemistry you’re trying to find, but you should be thinking about it like: “I might spend a lot of time, money, and emotional energy on this person. Do they want what I want?”
The first date is a great time to do it. If you’re not comfortable doing it on the first, second, or third date, that’s fine. But if you have trouble bringing up what you really want in a relationship to this potential partner by the fourth date, I would say there are only two possibilities there:
- They’re not the right person for you because you don’t feel comfortable enough bringing up what you want, and that’s a red flag.
- You are not mature enough to say what you really want, or you haven’t spent the time figuring out what you really want.
In any case, no matter which way you slice it, something is wrong.
Tip 3: Realize that Sex Increases the Complexity of the Relationship
The third piece of advice that will get you out of bad habits is to understand that sex complicates things. And I want to be very clear about this. I’m not saying don’t have sex. You’re an adult and if it’s consensual and everybody’s on the same page and they want to have sex, more power to you.
But you have to understand that sex does complicate things. If you’re in the habit of sleeping with someone on the first, second, or third day before you’ve explored what you really want and you haven’t had the conversation about what a relationship looks like for you, that will confuse you and your partner.
You will try to make it work, especially if the sex is good because no one wants to let go of good sex. That’s just a reality of being human. If you have good sex on the table and the other person enjoys it, you will forget more of whatever is wrong in the relationship to get back to the bedroom. That’s just the nature of what it is.
It has an expiration date though. Sex, great sex, even the best sex in the world has only so much power to fix things. So just know, yes, you can do it, you can go for it, and disregard this advice and go have sex on a first date if that’s what you and your partner are interested in.
But it will confuse you, especially when the sex is good.
Tip 4: Learn Your Partner’s Love Language
Tip number four is to learn your partner’s love languages. If you haven’t heard of Love Languages, it’s a book by Gary Chapman. I highly recommend it. I teach it to every single client that ever comes through my door if they don’t know about it already.
Understand that love languages are on a spectrum. I’m not going to go over them now because it’s beyond the scope of this discussion. But in short, everybody likes to express and receive love like a language, right? You speak it and you understand it.
People like to express and receive affection in different ways. Some like physical touch, and I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about non-sexual touch, just holding hands, getting a hug, a pat on the back, or a rub on the back as you walk. Some people like to express their love in words, or in quality time. There are five different love languages.
I teach about a sixth one myself, one that I’ve found in my own practice. Learning your partner’s love language will help you understand when they’re feeling loved or unloved because it’s not always obvious, especially when the two of you have different love languages, which is most of the time.
It’s not very common for people to have the exact same love language. You’re in fact attracted to them because of that void they fill in your emotional life. When you learn your partner’s love languages, if you see that the relationship is deteriorating or getting off the rails, you can address it through conversation, or through writing each other emails.
When you can identify the early signs that things are changing, you can get ahead of your habit instead of assuming that the other lost interest and the relationship failed. You can go into a discussion about it with your partner instead.
Tip 5: Find Happiness Outside of a Romantic Relationship
The fifth piece of advice I will give you is that you have to work on finding happiness outside of a romantic relationship.
Romantic relationships are wonderful, and if you’re lucky enough to find someone like I did, who I believe is my soulmate, you’ll find that your marriage or relationship is the centerpiece of your life. It colors everything and makes everything better (or worse, if you’re struggling and fighting). It makes losing a job better. It makes having children amazing. It makes transitions and stages of life more colorful and easier to get through.
It’s a support system. And there’s also the physical attraction. There are so many good things in a relationship. But if you rely on people for anything, you need to realize that people are human and will sometimes let you down, which is why there are customer service centers for every large company. People make mistakes and customers get angry and they have to fix them.
There isn’t a single large company in the world that doesn’t have a complaint department of some sort because people make mistakes. And if you’re in a relationship and you’re relying on your partner for love and support and affection constantly, you will be disappointed. You have to learn to find joy and happiness on your own.
It is a choice. One of the biggest lessons I can teach anybody is that happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy at any moment, and this is coming from a grandchild of two Holocaust survivors. They taught me that happiness is a choice. And if they could live by that, none of us have an excuse, and I mean none of us.
Learning how to find that joy, that center of goodness in your life on your own is going to help you avoid the nonsense in a relationship. Your expectations of relying on that person for you to be happy or to fill a particular need will disappear.
Since you have everything you need, the relationship becomes a beautiful luxury. And when luxurious things don’t perform as well as we want them to, we forgive it. It’s when the staples of our life don’t perform to fulfill the core necessities that we get angry, right?
If you can’t have champagne every day, no big deal. If you can’t have water every day, that’s a problem. You have to start looking at your romantic relationships as a luxury. And to do that, you have to find that sense of self-stability and happiness in your own life without relying on other people.
If these five pieces of advice were helpful, fantastic. I’m appreciative that you’re listening to or reading this. There is also a sixth option that I was not going to mention because it should be obvious; seek some professional help.
Whether you see someone like me directly, or someone on my team, or you find a local therapist or a relationship coach, there’s no shame in saying: “You know what, I’m struggling a little. I need help.”
When we were kids, we’d learn to raise our hands and say: “Hey, this is a little bit complicated. I don’t know how to do multiplication”, but somewhere along the line, very mistakenly we were told that we need to be self-sufficient in every aspect of our life. And that’s simply not the case.
Relying on other people to help you or guide you through life and knowing when to ask for help is a sign of great maturity and wisdom. I hope that if you have some dating habits that you’d like to break, this was helpful to you and I wish you the best in finding and keeping love.