Dating Boundaries: When to Share & When to Not

“In my experience of counseling daters for nearly 20 years, I recommend the following…”

 by Joyce Marter, LCPC, for The Smart Dating Academy

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Over coffee with my mentor, he vented frustration after a string of disappointing first dates where the women shared far too much baggage about their relationship history. Perhaps because he is a brilliant psychotherapist they felt more compelled to confess their neuroses—and perhaps this is also why he was so turned off. However, in my practice I see that over-sharing is a very common dating faux pas.

I recently attended a professional networking event and was happy to meet a sharply dressed, attractive woman with a bright smile and impressive credentials. Within five minutes she told me extremely personal details of her dating disasters, abusive relationship history, financial troubles, fertility challenges and zealous religious views. After the first 30 seconds, I determined she was a nut ball (an official clinical diagnosis) and was strategizing my exit. Her rate of self-disclosure was not socially appropriate and made me feel uncomfortable. I got the feeling this may be why she was not having much success with dating…

We all have boundaries—physical, sexual, financial, informational, etc. We each have a responsibility to set and maintain healthy boundaries in our relationships. Ideally, our boundaries should be permeable. They should not be so firm that they prevent intimacy, as in the case where people have emotional walls that were erected after prior relationship trauma. They should also not so loose that you overwhelm others and make yourself excessively vulnerable (which screams of neediness and desperation.) There should also be a healthy balance of giving and receiving so that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

When dating, you want to pace the rate at which you self-disclose in a way that fosters the development of a trusting rapport. Remain true to your authentic self yet remember there are different layers of the truth, so use discretion to determine the appropriate layer to articulate at various points in a new relationship.

In my experience of counseling daters for nearly 20 years, I recommend the following:

• Keep the first few dates light. Avoid conversation about past relationship and dating woes, politics and religion. Even excessive work talk can make it feel more like an interview than a love connection. Talk about hobbies, interests, travels and music. Smile, flirt, laugh and have fun!
• Share enough about yourself that you are allowing the other person to get to know you, but not to the point of over-sharing. (i.e. “I’m the youngest of four in a loud, eccentric Irish family” versus “I’m the spoiled baby of the family, my dad is a drunk and my sister is a stripper” or “My ex-wife and I were married young and it didn’t work out” versus “My ex-wife was a psycho-bitch who slept with my business partner.”) Since much of communication is non-verbal, pay attention to body language (looking away, shifting in their chair, glancing at their phone, etc.) to see if you need to real it in…
• Ensure the sharing is mutual and reciprocal so it is not a one-way conversation. Remember, this is not an audition where you give a 2-hour sales pitch. You wouldn’t believe how many times people tell me they went on a date and the person did not ask them one question but just rambled about themselves… A relationship is a reciprocal dance of giving and receiving. Achieve balance by asking open ended questions, “Enough about me, tell me about your writing–sounds fascinating.” Be a good listener, express interest and reflect empathy.
• Pace the relationship. Some clients have gone on a first date that started as a Friday night happy hour and ended as an entire weekend spent together in an enmeshed love bubble. While this can be romantic and thrilling, it is a set up for feeling overwhelmed and very vulnerable quickly on in the relationship and suggests addictive and compulsive tendencies. End the date at a reasonable time and give it a few days before the next. This will allow your heart and mind to process your feelings and give you some clarity about how to proceed at a healthy rate.
• Share important information at a time that is appropriate in the relationship–before the point they will feel betrayed that you didn’t tell them sooner. I’m talking about personal things that a prospective partner needs to know before taking the relationship deeper, such as a medical or mental health condition, financial challenges, that you survived some serious trauma, etc. Usually, this is not in the first date or two, but might be at a point where you are ready to take things to the bedroom or talk about exclusivity.
• In addition to a dating coach, seek a therapist who will help you explore how your boundaries might be affecting your dating success.

Someday it will happen Everything is going to be alright.

For more information, check out Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships.

About the Author:
Joyce Marter has been in private practice as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) since 1998. She founded Urban Balance in 2004 which has grown to an insurance-friendly counseling practice with six locations and over 50 therapists. Marter received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and was awarded Distinguished Alumni of the Year in 2008.She was selected by Crain’s Chicago Business for the “40 Under 40” list of 2010. She currently serves as the President of the Board of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association.Marter is a writer and blogger for PsychCentral onThe Psychology of Success. She is a public speaker for businesses, organizations and at universities on a variety of topics related to mental health, addiction and career. Marter has been consulted as a psychological expert on television, radio and in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News.

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