Pace Not Race Through A Relationship

Read most popular romance novels, and you’ll be deep in the middle of an “instant relationship”. It’s the norm in these books to have sex after barely being introduced and be discussing marriage after a couple of weeks of the best sex ever. How about a reality check?

“I definitely think people should take the time to get to know somebody’s character strengths and weaknesses,” says Eric Garrison, 42, a single dater in Virginia. “Dates must occur in all venues to do that. I usually like to see how my partner interacts with their own family. That can show me a great deal.”

How your partner gets along with the parent the same gender as you is definitely a key for how he or she will behave towards you over time. Does he or she also get along with other family members? Signs of family conflict may be a warning sign.

Amy Schoen, a dating and relationship life coach in Washington, DC, ( advocates to some clients that they get involved together in sporting activities like bowling, hiking, softball, and biking. She says, “Some people are very competitive and yell at you for missing a ball. Others are supportive and say, ‘That’s okay--you’ll get it next time!’” She also encourages clients to participate in “I suggest my clients pick a handful of groups and become active in them so they see the same people again and again. (Her group is at

Janice Christopher, a relationship coach who refers to herself as a “relationship attraction alchemist” (, encourages individuals to slow down and assess the character qualities they must have and must never have in a partner. She says typically clients who spend the time to do this will list these important qualifications: emotionally healthy, family-focused, honesty, faithfulness, financially secure, believes in God, and is an excellent communicator. Then when they are out with a partner, “I ask them to be detectives. I ask them to notice what they love about that person, and write it down on their list. Even noticing negative traits is useful, as they can add the opposite trait to their list.”

Character strengths and issues will play a role over and over again throughout your relationship. You can begin observing character qualities from the first contact. Perhaps you experience courtesy and respect but spot the opposite when your partner interacts with a restaurant server. You hear an attitude of love and caring when he or she talks about family members. But, this is all just the beginning…

L. J. Maggie, 34, a single in Los Angeles, shares some of her dating experiences and what she has observed about a partner’s ability to be respectful and considerate. “If a person says they will call, they actually call and don’t leave you hanging. They plan a date with you and keep that date. If they are running late, they call to let you know. When planning a date, they plan it in advance and want to go out with you in the early evening and don’t just want to see you after 10 p.m. Spontaneity is good, but it shouldn’t happen all the time. If they like to plan dates last minute all of the time, it means they are waiting to see if there is a better offer, and they aren’t making time for you in their life.”

It takes time to see if someone can be consistent with you and with others. Can he be compassionate when you are going through a rough time? Can she be patient and avoid bossiness while you assemble a bookcase? Is he consistently truthful? Is she responsible with her employment? Can you trust each other to be faithful? Gentle? Flexible? Courteous? Generous?

Then, what do you do with your observations? “The most important piece of advice I would give anyone, is to stay alert and reflective, and don’t push away or be afraid to contemplate a partner’s character qualities that are disconcerting,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, a Marriage & Family Psychotherapist and author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage ( “Watch and listen to your partner talk and react with others. When are you uncomfortable, do you ever cringe, do you ever feel like he owes apologies to others? How does your partner treat their family members and their friends, and how do they speak about their boss and coworkers?”

There’s a theme going here. It takes time and a variety of experiences to thoroughly know a partner, especially if you want to consider marriage. This is especially true when it comes to character. Deb Castaldo, a couples and family therapist ( says, “Looking for traits that increase the chances of success of the relationship over the long haul is really where it’s at! It’s not attractiveness, brilliance, humor, wealth, or enjoying long walks on the beach that make the foundation of a great relationship. It takes time to discover someone’s true character. Observe the person from a distance in different settings for awhile. Then ask yourself, is this someone I could admire and be proud of? If the answer is yes, you are off to a good start!”