I asked a couples therapist how to slow down when it comes to dating


WORDS By Ruby Staley

More mindful dating.

I have a painful all or nothing approach to dating. This means I often tend to rush into things really quickly, or simply ghost at the first sign of a pink flag. Because of my anxiety-riddled mind, I gravitate towards definites.

I like confirmation from people around me that they enjoy my company. I like finishing off articles, handing them in and calling it a day. I like planning, drafting to-do lists and knowing exactly what’s going to happen in the future. As much as I try, I don’t like going with the flow.

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This somewhat toxic trait of mine becomes especially problematic when it comes to romantic relationships. Whether I project an entire relationship from start to finish two hours into meeting someone, or simply never want to see them again after 10 minutes of chatting, I have a wildly counterproductive tendency to judge people quicker than most.

It’s a behaviour that many of my friends and family reprimand me for and it’s something that’s hurt me time and time again. Although it’s never truly easy, finding dating especially difficult in the middle of yet another of Melbourne’s infamous lockdowns, I finally decided to seek some professional advice.

Speaking to Naarm-based couples therapist Natalie Claire King, I hoped to gain some sense of why I preemptively judge many of my suitors and how to bring a touch of mindfulness to my painfully impulsive approach to dating. I looked to Natalie for some practical dating advice on how to both avoid falling too quickly and prevent myself from judging too harshly right at the beginning.

Tell me a little about what you do.

I’m all about relationships. For my speciality, I trained in emotionally focused therapy because it’s got the most research behind it that has long-lasting effects when working with couples. It’s the gold standard of couple’s therapy right now. Developed by Sue Johnson, it’s based on attachment therapy – the idea that we work best by co-regulating and by having someone to support and help regulate our emotions. That’s just how we work best and that’s how we’re wired for connection.

When we feel we have at least one other to rely on, that gives us more confidence to be independent and feel we can rely on ourselves and draw on our own resources internally. The more we have that as a base with people around us, then the more confident we feel internally.

How can we best harness this theory when it comes to dating?

The main principles of emotionally focused therapy really normalise that we as humans, we have needs and that it is so understandable that we need another to help us when we’re going through life. It’s non-pathologising in terms of being able to have another special person to help us in life and draw on for support. If we feel we have to go through life on our own, that’s really isolating.

Right, so it sounds like the best place to be according to this theory is in a supportive and loving relationship, but getting to that place seems to be such a hard thing, especially at the moment. Do you have some general tips for forming a relationship during a pandemic that’s strong and supportive?

For sure. Alain de Botton talks about how wonderful it would be if we could go on a first date, and instead of idealising that person, acknowledge that they’re human and they’ve got flaws and knowing that within ourselves, too. If we could go on that first date and talk about the three to five things that are a little bit crazy about ourselves to allow the other person to be aware of them, and offering the other person to share theirs too.

I just love that because it really talks about having an awareness of ourselves – that we are human, we have flaws and that’s okay, as well as being aware that the other person is totally human too. That way, neither of us have our blinders on and there’s a level of awareness that we’re open to talking and being vulnerable. Now, that’s not easy to set this kind of foundation in a new relationship, but it would be so great if we could bring some of that awareness into those early stages of dating – especially right now.

So, openness and honesty are really where it’s at? But for people like myself, who tend to jump in and commit a little too quickly, how can they slow things down while being honest with themselves and their date?

If you find yourself wanting to jump in quickly, try to ask yourself why and sit with that because often we avoid those feelings through distraction. What is it that’s going on for you that makes you want to rush, because when we do rush we really risk not being able to see the whole picture. A lot of people, especially right now, would be feeling isolated, unsupported and potentially very alone. To avoid those feelings, they could want to jump really quickly into a relationship, even quicker than they had before because it’s really hard to feel isolated and alone.

Once you tune in to what’s going on inside and find out if you’re brave enough to look at it, think about the ways to try and soothe yourself or help yourself with those feelings or reach out to another [person] that can help you out that isn’t the person you’re trying to jump into a potential relationship with. Whether that’s friends, family, or even some individual therapy, looking for others to help us not feel so alone and isolated [is important]. If we can’t do that, consider drawing from your individual toolbox, whether that’s exercise, meditation, taking a bath or slowing down in our day.

On the flipside, how can people slow down when feeling the urge to cut things off prematurely when entering a new relationship?

Start by thinking ‘Why is it that I am potentially pushing someone away? Am I afraid to get close to someone? Do I get a little scared about letting someone else in and when they show me something of theirs which is human… am I quick to judge them?’ While you might think you’re trying to protect yourself, it’s actually working against you and keeping you from having a relationship.

It’s important to think why am I so afraid of letting someone else in? Do I need to go back and get a bit of help and support from those around me, or have I not had success in letting someone else in before? All this is so understandable, and we can be quick to be harsh on others and on ourselves but when you get to know someone and sit with what’s going on with them and with yourself, it all starts to make a lot of sense. Then, it’s easier to have compassion and empathy. That’s the first step of moving through it, and if we don’t do that first, we’ll continue along with the same patterns. You have to disrupt them.

As you touched on, making judgements on others is also a huge component of both of these situations. Why do you think someone would judge others either too kindly or too harshly? And how can this be remedied?

Judging is actually a way to protect ourselves. Our brains are wired to detect threats, and as soon as we have someone new come into our lives, our brains are constantly going ‘Is it okay? Can I trust this person? Do I need to be wary?’ And this is a really healthy thing. Just knowing that this is our default anyway is a good place to start.

Until we know someone well, their history and childhood, how they learnt about love, relationships and seek comfort from others, we don’t have an understanding of that person very well and we can easily take things really personally, or on the other hand, put all the blame on the other person. We just need to be mindful that we’re still getting to know them and be a little curious. Can we try to get to know them a little more and find out a little about what’s going on underneath? Because I can guarantee that there will be much bigger stuff going on for them, and for yourself.

None of us come without baggage, unfortunately, so we have to be mindful that all of that will come into play. First is that awareness, and then getting to know the person a little better. A good way to do that is to build trust which takes time and patience. It’s also good to find out whether you’re up for that – you might not be in the right place yourself. But if you are, coming at that with curiosity, and try[ing] to put yourself aside to help allow yourself to understand them a little better.

Considering everything you’ve covered so far, do you think it’s worthwhile trying to jump into a relationship at this point in time? Or do you think now is a really good time to focus on healing?

That’s a really good question, and I think it’s going to be really unique and different for everyone. It’s such a difficult time – like you can’t really meet someone in person and a lot of people say meeting someone physically is how you know whether you want to hang around or not. But then, some of the people I’ve spoken to have chatted on the phone for weeks before meeting each other and that worked really well for them.

I think it really depends on who you are as a person and whether you feel like that works or it doesn’t work. If you’re someone who is looking to enter a relationship, especially right now, it’s important just to make the best of the situation because unfortunately, none of us knows how long this is going to last.

To find out more about Natalie’s services, head here.

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