No matter how different human beings are, there’s one universal need that ties us all together: love. Some are looking for love, some are growing and maintaining existing love, while others are healing from love lost and learning to love themselves. We’ve spoken to inspiring Atlantans about their love journeys and top relationship experts for their advice on (pun intended) successful love-making.
The singles scene
We’re here to tell you that being single does not mean something is wrong with you. Our society constantly gives us messages implying this, and it’s just not true. If you’re not happy being single or want to get out of a rut of dating the wrong people, there are some basic steps to help you meet great potential partners.
First step: self-love
“Individuals who don’t respect and love themselves have a habit of making poor romantic choices. You have to figure out why you’ve settled for less in the past before you can change your dating habits and patterns. This is where a relationship coach can help,” says Gabrielle Brooke, certified professional life and relationship coach.
Get out of the house
You’re not going to meet anyone sitting on your couch, so go out by yourself or grab a wing-friend to do an activity that you like. The good news is Atlanta has a lot to offer singles. John Patrick, 32, a successful dater and human resources professional (and drummer) who enjoys Atlanta’s arts and music scene says, “Atlanta is a great place to meet a variety of interesting people because there are tons of different neighborhoods with unique things to do and a large single population, versus a smaller city where everyone’s married and there’s nothing to do.”
Not really the social type? “People tend to do well when they do things more than once. The key is to learn how to desensitize yourself to the fears of going outside your comfort zone. It takes practice!” says Mark D. Ackerman, PhD, licensed psychologist, clinical and forensic psychology. He suggests going out with a friend or group at first to build confidence. You’ll find out you survived the experience and be more apt to do it again.
Embrace a more natural environment to meet a potential dating partner, such as where you have an interest in an activity, instead of a bar. “I see single folks struggling and looking for love in all the wrong places,” Dr. Ackerman says. “Let’s step back a minute to see who we are going to find at a bar: someone who might not be themselves, under the influence of alcohol, in a place where they might put on airs and not be honest with you.” Whatever gets you giddy, whether it be a tennis court, cross-training center, traveling or the theater, meet people who are in authentic environments of interest to you—instant talking points.
“I love to share a nice bottle of wine, but I’m not much of a bar person,” says Cindy Harper, an international flight attendant who has been single and dating for about eight years. “I meet people at the activities I do the most, such as running, dancing, kayaking, skiing and biking.”
If you’re so focused on things like a woman’s red hair when you prefer brunettes, or a man’s Honda when you prefer BMWs, you could be overlooking the partner that’s actually the best fit for you (and your heart). “Don’t judge a book by its cover…be open to going out with a lot of different people. The more people you meet, the better chances of meeting one that’s a great fit for you,” Dr. Ackerman says.
Brooke suggests making three lists and putting them into a dating journal.
- Relationship non-negotiables. These are things you absolutely won’t tolerate in a relationship, such as someone with a substance abuse problem.
- Character traits. These are the things you are looking for in a partner, such as kindness, intelligence and humor.
- Description of your “dream” partner. Here you can put more specific things, like financial status, looks and religion.
Now compare your dating partners with your lists. If someone displays or communicates any of your non-negotiables, move on immediately (no matter how great the chemistry). But if someone doesn’t violate any of the non-negotiables and has most of the character traits on the list, give that person at least three dates before writing them off, even if they aren’t your dream person.
Patrick adds, “Rather than going out on a mission to meet the perfect person, I focus on all the things that the city has to offer, having fun with friends and experiencing new things. I ultimately meet a lot of people that way, and it’s a lot less pressure on yourself.”
If you’re very busy and having a hard time meeting partners socially, consider online dating. “If done responsibly and carefully, online dating can be an excellent way to meet and date many more people,” Brooke says. She even recommends dating at least three people at a time until you find one that’s worthy of dating exclusively. “By dating several people at a time, you are less likely to invest everything in one person too quickly and are able to be more selective.”
Any long-term married couple will tell you that the road to marital success is always under construction. “Putting time into your marriage is kind of like health insurance,” says Teresa Kamm, 57, community volunteer and former director of development for private schools. She has been married to her husband Bob, 60, a retired bank president, for 33 years. “It’s a pain to pay it every month sometimes, but in the long run, it pays off big time!”
Communication is key
Any successful couple will say that communication is what makes a marriage work, but it’s not always easy with busy, multitasking lifestyles and stress factors like the economy. “Stress affects communication, so the important thing is to not get caught in a constant defensive power struggle. Successful long-term partners think about the themes of compromise and pragmatism, which means being willing to do something that makes sense, even if it’s not ‘your way,’” Dr. Ackerman says.
Having trouble communicating? Dr. Ackerman suggests the following method:
- Step back and give your partner five minutes to talk and get out everything that he or she is thinking. Do not interrupt, just listen.
- With a pen and paper, jot down notes while he or she is speaking, as if you had a college exam coming up. Write down three to four key points that your partner just expressed.
- Once he or she is done, read back the key points, showing that you truly listened and understand without any miscommunication.
Always remember that you’re on the same team. “Life can be very tough, but knowing that my spouse and I are ‘on the same team’ makes for a lightness of heart,” Kamm says. In addition, place a high value on key core values, such as selflessness, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, respect and honor for each other.
Preserve the freshness
Make your relationship a priority, which means setting aside time for quality experiences and dates on a weekly or monthly basis. “Just like a garden, you have to keep watering and seeding marriage. If things disrupt your lawn, you have to take the time to re-nourish it to get it on the right path,” Dr. Ackerman notes.
The Kamms’ date nights have kept their marriage mojo strong for all these years. Here’s what they do:
- Have a family business date time, where you compare calendars and narrow down the options to a reasonable level, discuss finances; work on strategies for issues concerning children and more.
- Have a relaxed and fun date time, where you go out to dinner, see a movie and do something you enjoy together. Do not criticize or bring up serious discussions on your fun night—no matter how tempting.
- Plan a surprise date night every now and then for your partner.
Keep up the Curious George
When you first met and fell in love, there was so much you wanted to know about each other. “The moment you think you know what your significant other is thinking and feeling with 100 percent accuracy is the moment you stop being curious (and unfortunately, clueless) about what they really are thinking and feeling,” says Darryl A. Cobbin, marriage mentor and author of Before You Wed… Read This! “I encourage couples to embrace curiosity, ask questions for understanding and listen. Marriage doesn’t always have to be ‘happy,’ but it should be loving.” Cobbin advises married couples to jointly determine what being loved and loving means for them.
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Any way you shake it, divorce is painful. But it can also be an incredibly liberating time. “It may require more adjustment than you thought it would, but divorce can open up many new paths in life,” Dr. Ackerman says.
For those currently starting or going through a divorce, be sure to educate yourself on Georgia’s divorce laws and legal process, as well as all of the different routes to divorce, says Mari LaScala and Sarah Levy. As co-founders of Divorce Concierge Service, they help simplify the divorce process, minimize legal costs and educate clients about all aspects that impact their cases. “Strategic and informed support from an expert will help you navigate the divorce process better through this stressful life event,” LaScala says.
Give yourself a break
The experts at Mental Health America, (a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people live mentally healthier lives) say to give yourself permission to feel and to function at a lesser level than you’re used to for a period of time. “No one is superman or superwoman; take time to heal, regroup and re-energize.”
You’re not alone
“Studies of marriage suggest that up to 50 percent end in divorce, thus, you are not alone,” Dr. Ackerman says. He recommends researching the many support groups offered throughout the greater Atlanta area and considering counseling one-on-one with a psychologist or other mental health provider to help with the adjustment and learn what you might do differently in your next relationship.
“I’ve been seeing a therapist once a month because it helps me to figure out what my role was in the divorce so as not to repeat past patterns again,” says Leigh Davis-Turner, 37, a corporate affairs and regional PR professional for HBO who has been divorced from her husband of 10 years for a few months, and separated since February 2011.
Take care of yourself, do activities you love or discover new passions. Now might be a good time to take an adult education class that you have always wanted to take. You never know who (new friends or dating partners) you might meet in that class, Dr. Ackerman says. He is also an advocate of regular exercise as an effective technique for mood management.
“I am getting through this period in my life by rediscovering the activities, like dance and attending music concerts and theater, that I love to do and haven’t for a while. Now I have more time to do the things that I put to the side because I was working on my relationship,” Davis-Turner says. She also says that it has opened her up spiritually, allowed her time to reflect and develop her spiritual practice, journal and explore more.
Flying solo is A-Okay
Being alone is probably the most empowering and scary thing that you can do, but the pursuit of yourself is just as important as anything else (job, friends, family). “I think that the relationship you have with yourself is so worth the time, the therapy, effort, exploration and indecision to figure out,” Davis-Turner says. “I’m taking the time to fall back in love with myself.”
After taking some time, the idea of dating again may be exciting and scary, having been out of the dating world for several years. “It’s important to widen your social circle when you’re leaving a divorce because so many people who know you, know you as the other person’s partner,” Davis-Turner says. “The fact that I’m 37 and clearer on what I do and don’t want, what I will and won’t put up with is very liberating because it gives me the opportunity to have more discretion in who I spend my time with.”
Darryl A. Cobbin, www.beforeyouwed.com
Divorce Concierge Service, www.divorceconciergeservice.com
Gabrielle Brooke, www.gabriellebrooke.com
Mark D. Ackerman, PhD, www.clinicalforensicpsychsvs.com
Mental Health America, www.nmha.org
What are the biggest issues/challenges that people face when they start dating again after divorce (and they also have children)?
It is not just about you anymore. When you are out in the dating scene post-divorce, you are looking for not only a companion for yourself, but you are looking to add another member into your family.
How does that affect how they date, do the rules change at all?
The rules have changed now that you are divorced and a single parent. Most dating should be done on your “non-parenting” time away from the children. Regardless of the age of your children, the first time they see you out with someone other than their parent will be disconcerting. In fact, most professionals who work with children recommend that you don’t introduce your children to a love interest until you think that he/she may be the “one.” At that time, you will want to make sure your relationship can develop beyond just you two and into a family dynamic.
What are some do’s and don’ts that you can recommend?
Do make sure you include a morality clause in your divorce agreement. Morality clauses ensure that neither you nor your ex have overnight visits from members of the opposite sex (unless related by blood or marriage) when the children are present. Don’t expect to find a replacement parent for your children. Always respect and foster the relationship between your children and your ex-spouse.
Courtesy of Divorce Concierge Service