Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

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Common Courtship Danger
Signs for Childless Couples

Make three wise choices

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/danger.htm

Updated  02-05-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. This article exists because sociologists estimate almost half of U.S. marriages fail legally. Untold millions more fail psychologically but stop short of legal divorce. Implication - most couples unintentionally pick the wrong partner, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time.

      Based on this premise, this article offers a checklist of signs that never-married courting couples risk probable divorce if they commit to each other. Couples with prior kids have additional danger signs.

      This brief YouTube video previews some of the danger signs you'll read about in this article. The video mentions eight lessons in thus self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven:

       This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Website and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 (Parts 1 and 2)

  • primary-relationship basics

  • these Q&A articles on relationships, marriage, and divorce, and...

  • this perspective on the US divorce epidemic


      This checklist is one several articles to help courting couples make three wise commitment choices. Based on 36 years' clinical research with over 1,000 typical couples, it suggests 15 signs that partners risk future divorce.

      My research suggests that at least 80% of typical adults bear up to six psychological wounds from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma). One common wound is significant reality distortion - unconsciously denying, minimizing, idealizing, repressing, and/or projecting painful realities.

      If you're significantly wounded, (a) you probably won’t (want to) know it, and (b) you're at major risk of discounting or ignoring the courtship danger signs below. So before using this checklist, fill out this wound-assessment worksheet.

      Breathe well, and notice your thoughts and feelings now. Do you have these signs that your true Self (capital "S") is leading the other parts of your personality now? I suggest you fill this checklist out by yourself, not with your partner, to avoid hedging your answers. Ask your partner to do the checklist, and then discuss your results when you're not distracted.

  Courtship Danger Signs

      The more of these signs that seem true about you and/or your partner, the more you risk justifying unwise commitment choices. Take at least 30" of undistracted time to think about these items. As you do, notice your emotions - they point to what you need.

 I  /  you

__   __  1)  feel reluctant to honestly assess for psychological wounds, and/or deny or ignore the assessment results. There are at least six significant implications of inherited wounds + unawareness.

__   __  2)  feel disinterested in or impatient with studying and discussing (at least) Lesson 1 thru 4 here. Common (false self) excuses: "Too complicated!" / "B-o-r-i-n-g!" / "Doesn't apply to us!" / "Way too psychological" / "I'm just not a reader." /  "Too gloomy and negative!"  /  "Holy Scripture (or love) is all we need."  / "No one else is studying these Lessons."  / "Our pre-marital screening course / minister / friends / say we're meant for each other!" /  "We'll get to it after we ______."

  Note - reputable couple-evaluation services like Prepare-Enrich, FOCCUS, and the Relate Institute do not (a) teach couples about the lethal {wounds + unawareness] cycle or (b) thoroly assess for psychological wounds + incomplete grief + ignorance!  

__   __  3)  have persistent thoughts like "Don’t commit to / this person / now!" If you often have such thoughts and/or persistent relationship doubts or worries, something is wrong. If you ignore such thoughts or avoid quiet meditations, you risk major future stress and heartache. 

      Option: get quiet and invite your inner voice to tell you specifically why it’s warning you. Try journaling about these warnings without editing for logic or "common sense." Pay attention to your hunches, intuitions, "senses" and inner voices!

__   __  4)  feel urgent or desperate to exchange vows and/or to cohabit, or I / you obsess about these. A related warning sign is believing "I can’t live or be happy without you!" Such intense feelings (and needs) are a red light! They may indicate wound-based codependence (relationship addiction).

      More common courtship danger signs...

I / you

__   __  5)  are seriously discussing committing within (roughly) 18 months since you met or since any prior breakup. Stop and explore, perhaps with qualified professional help, which of your dynamic personality subselves is causing this urgency. For more perspective and long-term safety, do at least this right-reasons worksheet!

__   __  6)  seriously discussing cohabiting and/or co-commitment if either of you (a) hasn't lived on your own for at least several years, and/or (b) is under (say) 24 years old. Stable independence from your birth family and some years of adult life experience are essential to make wise long-term commitment decisions!

__   __  7)  have committed one or more major crimes. This is a sure sign of major psychological wounds, unawareness, and a low-nurturance childhood.  Brilliant red light!

      More signs of unwise commitment decisions...

__   __  8)  Expect that my partner will want to change significantly unpleasant traits "somehow" after we commit and/or cohabit. S/He probably won’t, no matter how loving, patient, pious, and reasonable you are. If s/he's not going to change, do you still want to commit "’til death us do part"?

__   __  9)  have had many recent major life changes, losses (broken bonds), and/or traumas in a short time (e.g. 4-6 months). Examples: losing or taking a job; changing homes, schools, and/or churches; breakups; sudden financial losses or gains; deaths or major medical problems; pregnancies and abortions; graduations or flunk-outs; legal suits or judgments; natural disasters; bankruptcy; home break-ins or muggings; rape or murder; sudden family membership-shifts; etc…

      Events like these all cause losses (broken emotional/spiritual bonds) which require time, support, and solitude to grieve. When many losses occur in a short time, their impacts can distort partners' decision-making - specially if they're previously wounded. Not a good time to make life-long commitments! Invest in your future by taking many months to sort everything out, grieve well, and rebalance your lives first! Help each other keep a long-range (e.g. a full generation) view! 

 I  / you

__   __  10)  have past or present addiction/s to...

substances (including sugar, fats, carbohydrates, nicotine, caffeine, and prescription or street drugs),

activities (including work, sex, shopping, gambling, cleaning, exercising, and social causes),

moods (like rage or excitement), and/or...

relationships (codependence)

If you or your partner believe anyone in your family trees are or were addicted, yellow light. Addictions are clear signs of major inner pain, early-childhood neglect and traumas, and wounded caregivers and ancestors. Demonstrated commitment to a 12-step addiction-control program is an essential for lasting sobriety and healing.

__   __  11)  have a history of failed primary relationships or no intimate relationships, red light! These suggest serious psychological wounds and unawareness. The answer to these is education + wound- recovery (Lesson 1) not a romantic commitment!

__   __  12)  Keep major secrets. If you and/or your partner often distort or withhold key truths ("lying by omission"), rethink any commitment plans! Such behavior is a sure symptom of major psychological wounds, (like excessive fear and distrust) and ineffective communication.

__   __  13)  Have had past or present romantic or sexual affairs. These often indicate psychological wounds  + ineffective communication + unawareness of relationship requisites + dysfunctional families.

__   __  14)  Have _ filed bankruptcy, _ major debts, and/or _ a poor credit rating. These usually indicate psychological wounds and unawareness. 

      Final courtship warning signs are...

 I  / you

__   __  15)  repeatedly delay or avoid serious, intimate discussions and conflicts on any topic in this worksheet, red light! Such avoiders - and people who "always want to have fun!" or "focus on the bright side!" - fear and/or distrust something or someone. Their ruling personality subselves are likely to deny or justify that these dominate your relationship.

      Some classic avoidances (i.e. denials) to watch for...

  • "Wounds, shmounds - everybody has some old baggage. We're getting along fine without digging into the past."

  • "We can handle our own problems (vs. using qualified outside help)";

  • "We’ve all lived (or courted) together for ___ months without big problems, so eventual divorce? Not us!";

  • "We never fight or argue!"

  • "Look, grieving is automatic, right? We don't have to worry about incomplete grief."

  • "There’s no point in learning about this subself and inner-wounds stuff. It’s just psychobabble and a waste of time. The past is done, over, finito - don’t you get it?"; (Flashing red light!)  

      These attitudes are usually symptoms of semiconscious shame, guilts, and fears.

__   __  16)  I/we want to cohabit before, or instead of, legal commitment (wedding) - specially following a prior divorce. See this brief research report suggesting that unmarried families break up more often than married ones.

      Pause, breathe, and try this brief awareness exercise. What did you just learn? What are your subselves "saying"?


      After 36 years' research with over 1,000 average divorcing, courting, and re/marrying adults, I believe the more of these 16 signs that apply to you two lovebirds, the higher your odds of serious future relationship stress and probable divorce. 

      In the delicious state of new romantic love, over-needy, unaware partners will often deny, minimize, or rationalize these warning signs. For your and your descendents' sakes, work hard together over many months on self-improvement Lessons 1-5 before pledging life-long commitment!

      If you haven't yet, at least do these courtship checklists together:

Option: invest in the guidebook Stepfamily Courtship (Xlibris.com, 2003). Most of it pertains to any couple.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not, what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

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