You've met the man or woman for you – or so you think. You're ready to make a commitment, but just how can you tell whether this person is right – or wrong – for you?
It's a tough world for couples these days. Perhaps to improve their odds, couples increasingly seek the advice of marriage counselors even before they march down the aise.
"Problems in any relationship exist long before a commitment is made," says clinical psychologist Aaron J. Weiss, an associate professor at New York University Medical School.
After 35 years of working with people in troubled relationships, Weiss has come to beieve that in choosing mates, men and women often err on a far more basic level than traditional marital and premarital counselors usually focus on.
We might call it love. He prefers to call it attraction.
Although a variety of factors, such as educational and cultural backgrounds, are certainly important in determining where problems arise, Weiss estimates that more than one-half of the people who consult him for long-standing marital difficulties were never sufficiently attracted to – in love with – each other in the first place.
According to Weiss' scheme, which he shares with patients and is preparing to publish, there are three essential components of attraction that together add up to love: intellectual, emotional and sexual. A person might feel that he or she loves someone in the absence of one or more of the three, but Weiss insists that all must be present at sufficiently high levels for a relationship to have a chance – or for a therapist to be able to intervene successfully in whatever problems may develop later.
"We live in a romantic society," Weiss says. "In past eras perhaps parents chose their children's mates based on economic, social and religious criteria, and the young couple generally accepted the match. If there was no love or even sexual attraction between them, the man or woman would sometimes take a lover.
"But in our times and culture, extramarital attachments are not condoned, and divorce is legally easy. To be compatible, there must be a solid attraction between a couple. If not, and if they stay together, their lack of the basic attractions will cause severe disharmony."
Weiss says therapy can help such couples find compromises to practical problems and change the way they relate to each other. It also can help individuals resolve psychological difficulties that interfere with marital harmony. But therapy cannot, he insists, create essential components of love where they have not existed.
Therefore, "the best medicine is preventive," Weiss says. He believes that within the first several dates, most people can determine on their own whether the odds are likely that a relationship will fail.
To avoid the anguish that inevitably accompanies a mismatch, Weiss recommends that each person evaluate the depth of his or her attraction to a potential mate within the first two months of dating. Don't wait much longer, he cautions.
"After six months relationships can become addictive." By this time, one may have gotten so dependent on the companionship that even if the relationship is troubled, it's hard to get out.
Weiss' system is fast and totally subjective. Quickly, without thinking too long and too hard about it and without trying to find objective evidence to back up how you feel, rank your intellectual, emotional and sexual attraction to your love from one to 10 – 10 being perfect, fantastic, wow; one, virtually non-existent.
Perfect 10 Not Needed
- Level 1: Intellectual. "To put it popularly," says Weiss, "how do you like this guy's head?" Do you admire how he thinks, his attitudes, his values, what he has to say?
- Level 2: Emotional. Do you feel good about the person? Are you relaxed and comfortable in his presence?
- Level 3: Sexual. Do you like the way he feels, tastes and smells? Does his physical presence, his touch and his nearness make you weak in the knees?
Rankings in the earliest months of a relationship – when excitement is highest – must be more than five, preferably eight or above, on all three levels to establish a solid attraction. Weiss says that as a relationship settles, one or more of these rankings may level off, but anything below five at any time bodes poorly.
You also need to have high rankings in the levels most important to you individually and to both of you as a couple.
For example, for many men, "sex may be the most important level of attraction."
"The intellectual level may be less essential to them – a six or seven might do," Weiss says. If a man ranks his attraction to his partner's head a three, he probably demeans her intelligence, which does not predict long-term compatibility.
Sex is equally important for a woman, but in most cases, Weiss has found, "intelligent, sophisticated women need to react just as powerfully on the intellectual as on the sexual level."
In fact, a woman may be so attracted to a man's mind that she might confuse intellectual excitement with sexual attraction.
Weiss has come to believe that on the basis of low sexual attraction alone, a person can determine the relationship is not going to work.
"It has been my clinical expierience that if the sexual attraction is poor at the outset and does not improve duing the first four dates, there is a deficit that cannot be remedied by psychotherapeutic intervention."
Emotional attraction is the level most likely to strengthen with time. If the intellectual and sexual attractions are strong enough, and if the couple has no serious difficulties in the way they relate to each other, liking can grow to solid caring.
But chemical attraction is there or it's not, Weiss reiterates, and he adviss at if one of the scores on any level are disappointing, face the issue and say, "Sorry, but this isn't working out."