Why is it that as a society we only get serious about saving a marriage when it is under threat of ending? What might happen if we paid as much attention to the front end of the marriage, at the second or third date?
The reality is that most people will marry someone with whom they have fallen in love. They will fall in love with someone they date and spend a lot of time with. Once they fall in love, their capacity to objectively evaluate the character of the other person or to make clear judgements about their motivations is diminished by a variety of ‘love hormones’ that kick in (scientists call the state, ‘limerence’).
The psychological and physiological bonding between the two increases the longer they are together, and if they are sexually active, the bonding is intensified through the release of oxytocin during sex. If there was a character flaw in either that made them unsuited to each other or to marriage, it will eventually become apparent but it’s a lot easier to break up earlier than later.
The problem is that dating (hooking up, going out, seeing someone – whatever you want to call it) has become an end in itself. Most teens and young adult singles engage in it simply for the pleasure of the romance. Marriage is far from their horizon so they are not looking for a person that would be a good marriage partner – they’re looking for a fun romantic partner.
And therein lies the trouble. The character qualities that make a fun romantic partner are often a liability in a marriage. Thus begins the serial dating pattern punctuated by heartbreaking bust ups.
Become a Smart Dater
A much better way is be intentional in our dating habits, what we call, Smart Dating. The idea of being intentional in our dating is often derided as too calculating, too premeditated. The romantics among us are deeply attached to the idea that falling in love is somehow a divinely directed activity. Yet it is precisely this blind trust in the romantic storyline that lands so many people in the divorce process because the emotions of love will never be enough on their own to sustain a marriage through the good and bad times.
We’re always surprised by how much resistance people have to this idea. They will fiercely defend the serial dating pattern; they see it as extending their experience, forming them into a more mature person and therefore is valuable. But serial dating and heartbreak are not the only way to mature and gain life experience; there are many ways to do that. Moreover, serial dating has two very serious, negative consequences. Firstly it tends to scar one’s heart and set in place entrenched defensive behaviours that become a barrier to intimacy in a future marriage. Secondly, it establishes the subconscious belief that the solution to relationship trouble is to break up and start again with someone else; serial dating leads to serial monogamy.
In our judgement and years of working with couples, serial dating on balance delivers more harm than benefits. It’s not something we want for our children and not something that we see as positive development in our culture.