A Conversation with Dr. Neil Clark Warren

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Neil Clark Warren is the author of Date or Soul Mate.

Dr. Warren, you talk about dead-end relationships in your book, “Date?or Soul Mate?” What exactly is a dead-end relationship?

A dead-end relationship is one that, when it gets started, doesn’t have very far to go — not if two people are wise. What we mean is that these two people are not well matched on all the important variables. If you get yourself into a dead-end relationship, don’t take that as a challenge to somehow make it work. Recognize that this is probably not the relationship for you. Back away from it before you get bonded.

How can this book, “Date?or Soul Mate?” really help our viewers in practical ways?

They need to know themselves really well. I’ve never known anyone who could do a good job of selecting a partner for himself or herself without first knowing himself or herself well. If that happened, it was probably because of luck. You are so much better off if you can get to know yourself quickly.

This book, “Date?or Soul Mate?” is specifically designed to help you get to know yourself better. We have five exercises that encourage people to really do some inventorying of them selves. For instance, one of those exercises is to answer the twenty questions that are so important. They are questions like, “What do I get angry at most often and why do I get angry at them when I do?” “What bores me? What never bores me and what always bores me?” Twenty questions, and we say when you just answer those with one paragraph, you will know so much more about yourself than you thought was possible. Then we have four other exercises like that.

In addition to that, I think the book is practical because it helps you get real clear about the kind of person you are pursuing and it gives you some instructions, some ideas about how to make a great deal for a marriage partner.

How can we know if someone is right for us?

Find somebody for whom all your most desires are met. That is, when you get to know the kind of person you really want. Let’s say that you want somebody who is spiritually compatible with you. Maybe that’s one of your most important desires. Make absolutely sure that desire is met. Don’t toy around with that. Don’t say to yourself, well, maybe it can come in time. Make sure that that’s met before you ever get seriously involved in the relationship. Many people have specific ideas about what they want in a marriage partner. I encourage them to get those down on paper. On the other side, we also want to make sure that if there are certain things that really annoy us about someone else that you find somebody who doesn’t have those qualities. A right relationship is a right relationship because it has all the qualities you are looking for and none of the qualities you aren’t.

In the book, you say something that is really interesting. You said, “There’s no need to be a sloppy marital shopper”.

This is a day in which there are multiple persons available for you. It just depends on the size of the geographical range within which you are willing to operate. If, for instance, you happen to be a man and you say, “If I could find the love of my life, my soul mate, the person who is perfect with me, I would go anywhere”, then I can tell you that there are many more than one person who will be well-matched with you. So you don’t want to be sloppy in the way you go about it. You don’t want to take the first person that comes along. You don’t want to have foggy ideas about what you are looking for. You want to have a shopping list that’s really precise. You want to make sure you’re picky.

People say to me “Can you be too picky?” I don’t think so. Not in a culture in which we are losing at least fifty percent of our marriages to divorce and separation. Beyond that, some estimate that of all the remaining marriages, half of them are unhappy. In that kind of a situation, you want to be very careful about the choice you make of a marriage partner. You will be a very good marital shopper if you know specifically what you’re looking for and if you know where you can get a good deal.

In this culture, in which television is the great educator of all of our citizens, educating us on values and morals, there is a great premium placed on external qualities. That isn’t wise. External qualities have a way of diminishing in importance over time. You can get a great deal if you place a great premium on internal qualities, matters of the heart, beliefs, values, character. It is so crucial, when you are looking for someone, that you look for the things that will endure and the things that maybe aren’t selling for a high price. You can afford them and those almost never are external, they’re almost always internal bearings.

Dr. Warren, what is your opinion of using one or more psychological inventories as a dating or engaged couple tool.

I think an engaged couple should take one or more psychological inventories. The most commonly used inventory in the Protestant church is called the “Prepare Inventory”. That is a very good inventory to take to give you some precise ideas about where you’re strong and where you have some weakness.

The “Prepare Inventory” is essentially built to get at the perspectives of the two people on any particular quality in their relationship. There is a need for a couple to get at some factors that may be below their level of consciousness and that’s what we hope to have with “Are We Right for Each Other?” I think every couple who is considering marriage should get all the feedback and help they can get in a culture where seventy-five percent of the marriages either do not endure, or they’re not happy. I want people to be just very confident when they get married to a person, that this is a marriage that will last a lifetime.

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You write about the “Must-Have” and “Can’t Stand” list in your book. Can you tell us a little more about that concept?

We took the fifty most popular “must-haves”, qualities that people told us they simply must have in a marital partner. Qualities like emotional health, intelligence, energy, trustworthiness. We put them all together and put some explanations after each one. We tell people they need to get very clear what their ten most important “must-haves” are. Then we did the same thing on the other side because we found that more marriages break up because of problems with qualities that exist — what we call “can’t stands” — than problems of the lack of “must-haves”.

So, we took all the “can’t stands”, like lying and rudeness and meanness and that kind of thing, and let people list what they consider to be the most important “can’t stands”. Here’s what we’ve found. Almost everybody says, I can’t get this down to just ten “must haves” or ten “can’t stands”. We say, “keep working”. It’s so critical for you to know what your very most important “must haves” and “can’t stands” are, because we don’t want you to violate those. They’re too close in to you. We want you to get your “must haves” and “can’t stands” clear and if you do, then you will be in a much better position to make a quick, early-in-the-relationship assessment, so that you won’t get bonded with the person.

We believe a high percentage of people who get married but shouldn’t get married, got bonded at an early point in the relationship — sometimes because of physical involvement, sexual involvement — but sometimes just because of other factors. You will get bonded if you’re not careful. If this is a person you shouldn’t be getting bonded with, it’s likely because you either didn’t know what your “must haves” and “can’t stands” were or you didn’t take them seriously.

You mention “How to know if someone is worth pursuing in two dates or less”, are you saying that really, within two dates, you should be able to make those assessments of the “can’t stands” and “must haves”?

Absolutely. Most dates are about three and a half hours. That gives you seven hours. I encourage people to make sure that a good part of those seven hours involves conversation. It’s very interesting how people love to be asked questions. I always say, “Where did you grow up?” And people love to tell about where they grew up. And then I say something like, “Were you real close to your mom and dad?” And they love to talk about that. And “Did you grow up in a home that was involved with religion?” You can start with that kind of general word.

With “religion”, you really want to know, “What was your Christian faith like?” Within those first two dates — seven hours of time — you can touch on virtually all of your ten “must haves” and “can’t stands”. If you find any one of them to be problematic, then you back away from that dating relationship, as early as you can, before the bonding takes place. I say to break up later than two dates is like stripping the skin right off your soul and it’s just so hurtful and painful. I don’t want you to wait that long.

Some people think that I’m saying you should know if you want to marry this person by the end of two dates. No, that isn’t the point I’m making. It’s just, is this a person you should be pursuing? By the end of two dates you can get pretty clear about whether or not this person is in your ballpark.

The book talks about negotiating a deal for ourselves while selecting a mate for our marriage. What do you mean by “negotiating”?

Persons will usually be able to attract a marriage partner who has a list of qualities at about the same level as the qualities you offer. Some years ago we made up a test. It’s called the “Bottom Line” test. We have a hundred qualities on there, like “appearance” and we have you rate yourself from one to ten. How would you rate your appearance, intelligence, energy and a hundred qualities like those? When you get to the bottom, if you’ve rated yourself a one on all those qualities, you’d have a hundred. If you rated yourself a ten on every quality, you’d have a score of a thousand. In our research, what we’ve found was that the good marriages were almost always within fifty or seventy-five points on the bottom line. In other words, if you had a score of six-fifty, you would probably find the right person at about six to seven-hundred. When you have a person who is a five-twenty-five, they sometimes are fishing for a person who is in the seven-hundreds. They shouldn’t be, because over time two people need to be able to say, “Boy did I get a good deal when I married her, when I married him”. You want a person who has a list of qualities similar to your own.

Earlier you alluded to something that’s very interesting to us here at Growthtrac. That is, your website “eharmony.com”.

eHarmony started at the conclusion, really, of my career. After thirty-five years of being a psychologist, I saw how many marriages were hurting and I came to the conclusion that about seventy-five percent of the marriages that were hurting were in trouble the day they started. Because of that, I thought somehow, somebody in this country has to help people do a better job of getting matched on the font-end. That’s what we try to do at eHarmony.

We started out with just one or two people. We often joke and say that first woman who came on our site wondered why she didn’t get any matches — the reason she didn’t get any matches was because there wasn’t anybody else on the site. But we couldn’t tell her that, of course, that would have discouraged her. We grew kind of slowly in the first year and now in the last few days, we’ve been growing several thousand a day. I think we’re actually averaging about four thousand a day. We will have a hundred-thousand new people this month alone.

We think eHarmony has an answer. We’re not perfect, by any means, we’ve got a long way to go. But we do such a better job of eliminating for people. We say that ninety-seven percent of all the candidates that they might encounter in other circumstances, we eliminate on the basis that they simply don’t match up with them on these twenty-nine variables. And we put them together with persons who are well-matched.

I have to tell you how excited I am. In the month of January, we had eighty-seven new marriages, just from eHarmony couples who met together here. We have that happening all over the country. We know this: if you can reduce the divorce rate, through all these programs — getting people married right, getting people well-tested before they get married, getting people mentored correctly, getting people nourished in the early phases of their marriage, if we could do all those things and we could reduce the divorce rate by one percent, that will effect one million people in one generation.

If we could ever get the divorce rate down to single digits, we say it would be the greatest single social revolution in the history of the human race. All the kids that would come into those marriages would have so much better chance of growing up and being sturdy citizens and sturdy members of the kingdom of God. That just excites my soul.

Copyright © 2003 Growthtrac. All rights reserved. Dr. Neil Clark Warren has counseled thousands of singles and married couples, to become one of America’s best-known experts on singles’ issues, mate selection and developing healthy relationships. His articles have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, and he has appeared on more than three thousand radio and television programs, such as Oprah, Politically Incorrect and Focus on the Family.

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