Thursday, February 20, 2014

Connection: Let's talk about Healthy Relationships!

h/t Pinterest 2014
How do you talk to your teen or young adult about dating and relationships?  John Van Epp, Ph.D. has some helpful ideas.  He is a counseling psychologist who couldn't help but notice that when his clients were satisfied in a relationship they spoke positively about their boyfriend/girlfriend.  But . . . after a break up that same special someone was described as a “jerk” and all of the negative things that were happening within the relationship were revealed.  Those revelations in therapy lead Van Epp on a quest through the research on attachment, marital satisfaction, and relationships.  The result was his book (although I am not a big fan of the title): How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk, (2008).

Unfortunately, I didn't find this book until after my daughters were launched from home.  Fortunately, I had finished reading it when the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority asked me to speak at their chapter meeting about healthy relationships.  AND one of my daughters was in the audience (score!).

According to the research there are five key factors in all relationships:
Knowing:   A combination of time, talk, and togetherness helps you to know a person.
Trusting: You should be able to see patterns of behavior that gives you a “safe” feeling that this person is honest and worthy of your trust. 
Reliance:  When a person enters a new relationship they should enter as an independent person, capable of taking care of their own needs. 
Commitment:  How invested you are in making the relationship work, your long term vision of the connection.
Touching:  Choices of physical closeness and intimacy.

Healthy relationship habits are created by deliberately PACING and SEQUENCING these factors.   It is important in forming a new relationship that you notice how a person treats others, if he/she is consistent in character in a variety of settings, and under a variety of different conditions (like how does he react when the waiter brings him the wrong food?).  This time investment helps you see if there is a match between what the person SAYS and what the person DOES, which builds trust.  Overtime with knowing and trusting a person, you can feel comfortable relying on them sometimes for help.  As you are including this person in your life you can assess the mutual development of commitment, which then makes you feel safer in the level of physical intimacy in the relationship. 

Makes total sense doesn't it?  It is basically a guide to using your whole brain (thoughts and feelings) in building a relationship.

This past Sunday the Alpha Chi Omega girls were huddled together taking notes and making connections about past relationships- many shared very openly about “deal breakers” that followed the model.  I don’t presume that your young person will take notes when you talk to them about how to pace a relationship, but maybe they would read this and be open for conversation?  Just a thought- Good luck!


  1. As is typical with good relationship advice, these points are helpful for many outside the target group. I'm thinking specifically of people coming out of a relationship where they were not treated well falling prey to a suitor who offers comfort and good treatment - yet isn't trustworthy. And in spite of the fact that they are wounded as opposed to entering this new relationship as an independent person with an ability to take care of their own needs at that point. This concept of 'pacing' is one that is easy to understand and might resonate with someone inclined to jump into the next relationship instead of building it. Thanks, Lisa.

  2. Thanks for commenting Shel- Absolutely, these concepts apply to all, Young adults are not the only ones at risk for rebound relationships.