Recently, The Purple Fig had the pleasure of chatting with therapist and relationship expert Michelle Skeen, who shared the secrets from her new book Love Me, Don’t Leave Me. Our exciting and informative interview with her offers us a closer look at why people sabotage their love lives, how to communicate with your partner in the world of digital dating and how to keep calm despite the pressure to constantly stay in touch. Enjoy, and we hope that these tips from Michelle Skeen help you navigate the dating jungle!
As a therapist who works with couples, what was the one major issue you noticed in terms of why people sabotage their love lives?
I think the most frequent thing that happens is that past experiences get in the way. Often, they’re in a situation with their present partner or the person who they are dating. Something may be said or there may be a situation where an incident triggers a past experience for a woman, instead of letting her stay in moment.
This is challenging because we’re designed with schemas to know what we can expect. From an evolutionary standpoint, we need to know what we can expect. Often, when people have not had great role models in relationships (whether it was between their parents or someone else in their families), they may be expecting the worst. Often, they may not trust the situation. Is it too good to be true?
Many people get weary and want to give up. We see a lot of leaving before you can be left, as a pre-emptive strike. It can even be triggered by something really simple, like an unanswered text. Is he still interested? Thoughts spin out of control because of these ambiguous situations.
My book addresses the ambiguous situations (because we so often are in these situations while in relationships and dating). We still have expectations that because of smartphones, the other person should get back to us immediately. We all have these racing thoughts, like is he interested or not?
Your book, Love Me, Don’t Leave Me discusses how to maintain communication when in a relationship. What are the top communication tips you offer to single women who are dating, in terms of texts, social media and email?
I think that communication, especially now, is such a key tool for everyone to use to strengthen their relationship and to be in the present moment. I talk about active listening in the book. We have all of these old tapes of previous conversations that run in our head.
It could be a buzz word. This whole script is running through your head, and you’re already predicting. This isn’t meant to make anyone feel embarrassed, but it’s important to be open to new possibilities. One of the things I have in my book is the practice of mindfulness. Recognize what is happening in the moment. It sounds a lot more difficult than it is.
Many people think that mindfulness and meditation are about sitting there and clearing your entire head, but it’s about recognizing all the thoughts that are going through your mind. When you’re in a conversation with someone who you have emotional feelings towards (could be a romantic conversation), we’re just really focusing on what’s happening right there. Pull your attention back, and remember that this isn’t the last guy you were dating, or your parents.
On that note, how have apps like Tinder changed the landscape of dating in your opinion? Do you believe digital dating has led to a constant need to “connect” and stay in touch?
I think in those situations, we all have the fantasy that we’re going to bump into that guy somewhere and your eyes are going to meet! I think something that trips people up is that ambiguity, and it’s important to stay focused on what is actually being said. It’s tricky and a hard line to watch. You don’t want to “ding” the other person just because their response wasn’t perfect. You have to stop projecting past experiences on the present. Maybe for people who lean toward ambiguity, quick-click apps like Tinder may not be the best fit.
I think again, people need to focus on how to stay in the moment. For people who continue to try to meet someone who they can have a long term relationship with, you’re seeing everything laid out in front of you before this is a possibility. That can be sabotage too, thinking too far into the future. They’re transported back to the past or caught up in a future fantasy.