This dating guide will reduce the stress and wasted time often associated with dating.
Here you will learn 6 tips provided by a couple’s therapist with over a decade of experience to date effectively.
Effective Dating Guide
When you are effective as a dater you are able to better manage the frustration and stress that dating can cause.
You will know what to look for – and what to avoid – when you’re dating. This dating guide will protect your mental health and your time.
Follow the Steps
The rest of the article will outline, step by step, a practical dating guide. You will want to start with the first step. Then as you begin to date someone, you can move through the next steps.
You may also want to bookmark this article to come back to it as you move through these steps with someone you’re dating.
Dating Guide Step #1: Get Clear on Why You’re Dating
The first step to any effective dating guide must be to identify exactly why you’re dating in the first place. With any journey, which dating is, it’s helpful to be clear on your desired destination.
What do you hope to experience in your life because you are investing time, energy, and money into dating? What will make you feel like this investment has paid off?
Don’t Judge Your Why
It’s important to have understanding with yourself over your authentic reasons for dating. Your reasons for dating may look different than someone else’s or even what you’ve been told you should want. Yet the only way to date effectively is to really be honest about your authentic reasons for dating.
Your Reason for Dating is Valid
There is no right or wrong reason for dating. Some examples of these reasons which are all valid are:
- Dating to ultimately get married.
- Maybe you’re getting back out there after a bad break-up or divorce and just want to explore your options.
- Or dating because you want companionship and you’re lonely.
- Maybe you want to find a partner to have kids with but not get married.
- Perhaps you just want casual sex.
- Or maybe you want something else from dating not listed here.
Whatever your reason, it’s important to be honest with yourself and accepting. Getting clear and accepting your why allows you to date more effectively. After all, if you don’t know what you want, you will experience a lot more frustrating experiences while you date for longer.
Dating Guide Step #2: Know – and Honor – Your Needs
The next step for healthy dating is to clarify your needs. This is a little different from your reason for dating.
For example, you may be dating to have fun. Yet you may still need to spend time with people who value mental health or are spiritual. Whatever you need – just like your reasons for dating – are personal to you.
Your Needs Matter
In any relationship, to feel truly happy and satisfied there are things you need. For example, you may need people in your life who are thoughtful or adventurous. Some of these needs may only apply to romantic or sexual relationships such as needing your romantic partner to share your religion or want children.
When these needs are met, you feel satisfied. However, if these needs aren’t met you will find yourself fixating on what’s missing with someone. To avoid this trap, it’s important to know your non-negotiables from the start.
Identifying Your Non-Negotiable Needs
There are no bad or wrong non-negotiable needs. These are simply your authentic truth. To help you identify your own non-negotiables, you may download a free worksheet.
Dating Guide Step #3: Go on Dates
Once you’re clear on why you’re dating and what you need from a dating partner, you can move on to the next step – actually meeting people and going on dates!
During this process, it’s helpful to consider how time is one of your most valuable resource. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. And no amount of money can ever buy you more. Honoring your time allows you to consider how you want to invest your time into dating.
Take Your Time
If you are using dating apps, it’s helpful to consider how much time you want to invest communicating with someone prior to meeting.
Using dating apps can be incredibly stressful because there are a lot of time wasters on them. Often, you may encounter people who are using the apps but are ambivalent about meeting someone. Or they’re just using the app for entertainment or fun.
To protect your energy and wellbeing, it’s helpful to set limits on how much you’ll communicate with someone before scheduling a date – or moving on. For example, you may wait 3 days and if the other person makes excuses as to why they can’t meet up soon, move on.
Related: Dating Apps Don’t Work. You Do.
Protecting Your Heart
Furthermore, it’s helpful to take your time when dating someone new because sometimes, there’s a natural urge to get overly invested into someone before you know if you’ll be compatible with them long-term.
For example, if you start spending every moment with someone only to find out a few months later they don’t meet one of your non-negotiables you may be less willing to honor your needs than if you had taken your time.
A slow burn is especially helpful if you have anxious attachment (which may make you prematurely deeply invested in someone you just met increasing the chances of more pain while dating).
Dating Guide Step #4: Pay Attention
Once you have met someone you want to continue seeing, you start getting to know if you’re compatible.
During the early stages of dating, you are assessing if a person can meet all your non-negotiables. This process often takes a minimum of a few weeks to a few months. At this stage, asking the right questions helps you determine if someone is a viable long-term match. These include asking in time questions that you help you determine if you’re looking for the same things i.e. if you know you want to travel a lot and this is non-negotiable, you will want to ask the person you’re seeing how willing they are to explore the world with you.
Make Your Relationship with Yourself the Priority
The truth is you won’t know if someone is a good match until you know. Pacing yourself plus knowing your non-negotiable needs helps tremendously with the assessment process. This sort of mindful dating also helps you minimize the risk of heartache early into a relationship.
If someone reveals they aren’t looking for the same things, or you see red flags, it’s important to make your relationship with yourself the most important thing right now. Once you have determined you’re not a good match with someone that you’re dating, it’s helpful to move on before investing more time and emotional energy.
Walking away at this point is an act of self-love.
Dating Guide Step #5: Set Boundaries
If you’re dating someone that you’re compatible with there will still be the need to set boundaries. This is because boundaries exist in every type of relationship including dating ones. For more guidance on the boundaries to set when dating, please read Dating Boundaries List for Healthy Relationships.
If someone respects your boundaries, they are showing they are emotionally safe. Of course, if someone you’re dating disregards, challenges, or mocks your limits, this is a warning sign that this may not be a viable partner for a long-term healthy relationship.
You Don’t Have the Right to Change People
Sometimes when a person is really excited about the potential with someone they’re dating, they will ignore warning signs and red flags. They may also discount their reason for dating or non-negotiable needs hoping the other person will change. For instance, if someone wants commitment but is dating someone who tells them explicitly they only want something casual, they may ignore their needs, hoping the other person will change in time.
This approach is deeply unfair to both people though as both aren’t getting what they need. The person who wants commitment is feeling consistently upset with the situationship while the other person feels stressed by the pressure to change. Ignoring signs of incompatibility only prolong hurt.
Dating Guide Step #6: Feel Your Feelings
Dating can bring up a lot of feelings and often complicated ones. Feelings of disappointment, insecurity, and stress are common when dating. These feelings are worsened by self-criticism i.e., telling yourself you shouldn’t care so much about someone or that dating would be easier if only you change XYZ about yourself.
Instead of being self-critical, it’s important to be kind to yourself. You can do this by making space for your feelings and having compassion for the fact that dating truly can trigger past trauma. When this happens, it can extremely painful – and make you want to give up altogether with dating. Of course, you have the right to take a break from dating.
At the same time, it’s important to make sure you’re attending to your mental and emotional health throughout the dating process.
Related: What is Self-Compassion?
Caring for Your Mental Health
To date effectively, it’s necessary to honor your feelings as they arise. If you are disappointed, let yourself acknowledge it and cry. If you’re anxious, breathe through it. You also may then need to distract yourself. If you’re angry, notice if you need to set a boundary.
Your impulse may be to ignore your feelings. You may do this with numbing like drinking or working excessively. Or you may try to power through to the next dating partner believing the best way to get over someone is get under someone new. These tactics may feel better in the short-term. Unfortunately, if you ignore your feelings, they only build up. This leads to further anxiety, hopelessness, or overwhelm in the future.
Seek Therapy as Needed
If you are struggling to cope with intense feelings which are arising from dating which includes past trauma being triggered or dating trauma, therapy is invaluable. You deserve support during tough times.
Free Support is Here
Of course, it can be challenging to find a therapist you connect with, fit therapy into your schedule, or afford the costs associated with therapy. Understanding all of these barriers to therapy this blog features many articles to support your mental health while you’re dating (or in a relationship or single).
These articles include:
Dating Can be Less Stressful with this Guide
By using this guide – step by step – you are helping yourself meet your needs for dating in a less stressful way.
You may want to bookmark this page. Allow this guide to be your companion as you begin to date – and meet someone in time that you connect with to assess if you can be compatible long-term.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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