Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places? - How to fine tune your relationship radar

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I don't think a week goes by that I don't get a letter or e-mail from someone asking for help in making better choices in relationships.

It usually goes something like this: "I keep picking jerks to date! I try to pick different types of people _ they might even look completely different from the last person I dated _ but they end up acting the same and treating me the same. How do I stop doing this? I don't what to get fooled into marrying someone and then find out afterward he is a jerk, too."

There are at least four actions you can take right away to begin to change this pattern. Each has to do with changing your relationship radar, which is what keeps getting you in these messes.

Picture the weather radar on your local news program. It sweeps around and picks up the areas where it is raining. In much the same way, relationship radar picks up on the kind of person to whom you are attracted. Some people call this your "type."

Your relationship radar is so precise and sensitive that if you walked into a party with 100 people in it, and three of them were your type, you'd pick them out in about 5 minutes.

If your relationship radar is working well and helps you choose people who are good for you, no problem. If your relationship radar is faulty, you get into the pattern you're struggling with.

Step 1: Take a relationship break. This might be difficult. Many people who have faulty relationship radar go from one relationship to the next, repeating the same pattern. Taking a relationship break accomplishes at least two important tasks: It gives your poor heart a rest, and I bet it needs it. And, it gives you the time and space needed to do the rest of the changes required to reset your relationship radar.

Step 2: Create a list of warning signs. About 10 years ago I was working with a twentysomething person who told me that no matter what she tried, she kept dating jerks. So we decided we needed to come up with a "jerk list" made up of subtle and not so subtle signs that a person might be a potential jerk.

What we discovered was that this list helped to guide her away from the type of person she had been attracted to up until then.

While each person's list is unique, here are some general guidelines:

Does his behavior match what he says?

Is this person emotionally mature?

Can this person keep and enjoy a job?

To create your own list, simply think back through previous relationships and look for themes in behavior, habits and attitudes that, in retrospect, were clear warning signs that this was someone to avoid. If you have trouble coming up with items, ask close friends to help you.

Create a list of what you are looking for in a partner. Some people have said that this sounds so tacky, like a shopping list for a relationship. Well, perhaps, but it works.

Of course, there will be physical characteristics. But, make sure to include personality and character traits that are both a good fit and healthy for you.

While you are not going to find a tailor-made fit in an off-the-rack world, it's as important to know what you're looking for as is it to know what you need to avoid.

Create your screening and protection committee. As you work at changing your relationship radar, you are still quite vulnerable to choosing people who are bad for you.

There will be times when you just can't see clearly. Ask a few close friends, family, or a counselor to be a part of your screening and protection committee. These are people who know you well and know your list of warning signs. They need to be folks who will be honest with you.

If someone doesn't pass the screening and protection committee, consider it one of the biggest and clearest warning signs you can get.

Jeff Herring, MS, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist, relationship coach, speaker, nationally syndicated relationship columnist and founder and CEO of You can email Jeff at and subscribe to his f'ree internet newsletter "Couples-Connection" at

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