CNM 054: Guidelines For Choosing The Right Romantic Partner – with Drs. John Van Epp & Morgan Cutlip

Welcome to the show!

In this episode, I’m interviewing someone who’s work changed the trajectory of my life.

By the time I was thirty years old, I had been through several serious, long-term relationships, had my heart broken more than once, and apparently didn’t know how to pick the right partner for me.

After reading one of Dr. John Van Epp’s books, I found myself in a relationship with the woman who would become my wife (a great wife), and I don’t think the timing is a coincidence.

In one of my most downloaded episodes (Episode 16), I discussed the foundation of Dr. Van Epp’s work with one of his course instructors. It’s called The Relationship Attachment Model, and it’s a simple model for navigating relationships, based on vast amounts of relationship research and meta studies Dr. Van Epp has conducted.

One day, as I was looking at my podcast stats, I thought, ‘I wonder if I could get Dr. Van Epp himself to be on the show to elaborate on his model.’ So I contacted him, and I was able to get not just him, but his daughter and teaching partner as well, Dr. Morgan Cutlip, to both be on the show to enlighten us further, and help impress upon you what I have found so helpful.

This episode marks the beginning of a mini-series centered around healthy romantic relationships at every stage – dating, pre-marriage, and married.

We’ll start today with navigating relationships in the dating phase, particularly what to do to make sure you don’t end up with someone who’s not good for you. Then in the next couple episodes, we’ll have the same guests back on to discuss pre-marriage, and marriage relationships.

So get ready, here’s my first interview with Drs. John Van Epp and Morgan Cutlip.

Interview on Choosing The Right Romantic Partner with Drs. John Van Epp and Morgan Cutlip

Brian: Hey, Dr. John and Dr. Morgan, welcome to the show. It’s so nice to have you with us today.

Dr. Morgan: It’s so great to be here.

Dr. John: Yeah, we’re very excited and thank you for putting us on (the show).

Brian: It is my pleasure. I’ve mentioned to you before that I read one of your books years ago and it had a major impact on me. I can’t believe we’re talking here on my show today. I didn’t even have this show when I first read your book. This is kind of like a mini dream come true for me so I’m super excited about it.

Dr. John: That’s wonderful. Thank you for reading, following, and being such a good advocate of it. You’re kind of a living proof that if we do relationships intentionally with some kind of a plan, they actually do turn out different – better.

Brian: Absolutely. I want to get into all the details about how that happens. We’re going to be doing a full miniseries – for those of you who didn’t catch that in the intro – get ready to hear Dr. John and Dr. Morgan several more times after this episode.

Question: Why don’t we start off with the first question which is going to introduce the body of work that you’ve helped bring to the table here over the years? The first question is – can you provide a one to two minute overview of what you call the RAM (Relationship Attachment Model) just to remind our listeners who haven’t heard episode sixteen yet?

Dr. John: Absolutely. The Relationship Attachment Model was a visual model of the major bonds that make up relationships. I designed the model actually way back when I was doing my PhD work in the nineteen eighty’s – that seems like long before some were born of your listeners – but during that time, I just found people don’t know how to visualize or know what is actually going on in their relationship.

A relationship, as you know, Brian, will be a connection between you and a person. So the question that I try to answer with the model is, ‘What are the specific connections?’

I came up with five that actually captured the bulk of major connections in relationship theory and research: how you know somebody, how you trust them, how you then rely on them, how committed you are with them, and how you physically engage; your levels of touch.

Just to tell you those real quickly, know, trust, rely, commit, and touch, are major bonds and they fluctuate. The RAM looks like, you might say, an old equalizer – if anybody remembers those graphic equalizers – or a soundboard that has sliders that go up and down, ‘How high am I in my level of know, trust, reliance, commitment, and touch?’

Brian: Great. Thank you for that introduction, Dr. John. Let’s move into the topic of this episode which is – for people who are in a relationship where they’re not really committed yet, not engaged, not married, they’re just really exploring to find the best partner for them.

Question: How has dating changed overtime and how does that impact the success of long-term romantic relationships in your opinion?

Dr. Morgan: I think one major change is that we’ve lost a lot of the norms around dating. When you lose the norms of what’s right, what’s expected, and what’s wrong, you lose a lot of definition in relationships and how they should function. I think that because of this, it’s become really confusing to navigate the dating world, I mean, sometimes we don’t even call it dating anymore. So, when you lose this definition and the norms, you just don’t know what to expect in relationships. And I think there’s become almost like this passive acceptance in relationships of just, ‘It is what it is, we are what we are, things will work out if they’re supposed to,’ and that’s become really difficult to navigate.

Dr. John: Yeah, also you’re talking to a father-daughter team here so we come from two different generations. Even over my lifetime, I dated way different than my father did. And then Morgan’s generation, being a millennial generation, dated even differently than my generation to some extent.

I think one of the themes of what has happened is lower levels of commitment and faster or accelerated relationships. Some aspects actually go a lot faster, commitment goes slower, and people’s individuality; wanting to just kind of carve it out for themselves however they want to do it, it’s their right in their own individual process. That rise in individuality has changed the whole landscape.

I think we should also add technology; devices, apps, and everything from the web-based programs to Tinder and things that go right on your phone. All of these things have really heightened, like Morgan said, a kind of confusion of norms. All of this freedom and independence is wonderful, but I think there is somewhat of a wide-spread confusion of exactly how we do it in a way that is really going to be successful.

Brian: Yeah, that’s the million-dollar question I think everybody wants to know, ‘How do I do it, be successful, and frankly not end up with somebody that’s not right for me?’ because that’s the habit that happens with a lot of folks who follow my platform. It’s going to be interesting to see what you advise us to do as we enter a brand new relationship here, so thanks for that nice introduction.

Question: In one of your programs you mentioned something called The Big Lie. I wonder if you can tell us what that is. It’s a big lie about how we develop that we need to keep in mind when we’re dating. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Dr. John: Absolutely. In the past we called it ‘love is blind.’ In a way, ‘love is blind’ means that it doesn’t see certain things; there’s somewhat of a deception to those strong feelings of connection and love for another person, and you’re not always having some kind of clarity in what you’re looking at.

The ‘big lie’ is just saying that if you add to that the reluctance that there is today to explore some key areas of people’s backgrounds. We tend to start believing that a person exists only in the moment and they have no track record; they have no past. That was the ‘big lie’. Love already does that, it gives you ‘tunnel vision’. But then on top of it, I think that with all of this individuality there’s a real big push to only see somebody in the moment, and yet in a long-term relationship we begin to realize that people are the sum of many experiences in their past, particularly their family upbringingand some of their past relationship track record. Yet those things many times are minimized in a relationship. We kind of take on this big lie that you are what exactly you present, I call it ‘the Facebook representation,’ what I see right there in front of me is the sum of who you are and that is a big lie. We need to go a lot deeper in getting to know people.

Questions: Why don’t we unpack that a little bit because I agree, I’ve gotten into relationships where I didn’t really get to know the person like I really needed to and I ended up having some heartache for it.

Why do you suppose it’s so important?

And frankly, how do you do it to get to know the person’s family, the partner that you’re talking to, how they’ve adapted to life when we’re determining whether they’re dateable or not? How do we use this information to our benefit?

Dr. Morgan: I think one thing that we have to do is we have to ask a lot of questions. I think that part of the big lie is we just pay attention to,‘How are they treating me in the moment? What am I seeing right in front of me?’ but when you’re taking into account somebody’s past, their family background, who they’ve dated – you really need to ask some of those questions that puts you in a place that can sometimes feel a little bit uncomfortable. We have to push through that, put those questions out there, and start piecing together a puzzle of what someone’s like.

Dr. John: Many times we think of asking those questions as something that you do only at high levels of commitment. I think we also have to take some of the going deeper, some of the exploring our lives, and talking about these things to much lower levels of commitment because they need to be influencing us in the selection process, ‘Do I really want to go further with this person and make a higher level commitment?’

Dr. Morgan: And when you wait to a higher level commitment to ask some of these questions, you’re already really invested so you’re not as much deciding whether or not, ‘This is somebody I want to go further with in my commitment,’ ‘I want to marry,’ or all of these things. You’ve invested too much at that point so you want to use it more as a vetting process rather than kind of just trying to checking off a box.

Dr. John: I agree. I kind of like that we’ve lowered the levels of commitment in some ways. Back when I was in high school, if you liked somebody, you immediately were what we call ‘you’re going with them’ which was kind of a revision of the courtship model. My father’s world was ‘courtship’. But now, you can see people and talk, we’re just talking and not be really in any kind of a commitment level. I’d like some of that, let’s do some things together before commitment as long as other areas of…’

Dr. Morgan: You have to have boundaries.

Dr. John: Yeah, you have to have boundaries in other areas so that your attachment doesn’t get skewed. But if you do that, you don’t go to the right topic areas, talk about the right things, ask the right questions, and really go deeper, then that period of time actually does not benefit you. We’ve got to help revise some of how we actually do dating in our relationships in order to have lower levels of commitment, keep our boundaries in some of these areas of trust and even our physical touch, our physical sexual relationship while we actually ask the hard questions without sounding like we’re interrogating them.

Question: Well, yeah, I’m glad you said that because I’m wondering to myself, and probably what some listeners are starting to think, ‘What questions are we talking about here? What’s okay to ask, how should I be asking, and when?’

Dr. John: If you go back to the book that you were referring to, which is also an online program that we call Head Meets Heart. Our online program Head Meets Heart really goes through the five key areas to explore. I don’t think we want to go through all of them right now but I will just say questions need to have target areas.

One of the target areas is their family upbringing, not just what happened but what they took out of their families, what they learned about relationships, their expectations of life, how they would be treated, and what their roles would be. These would be a lot of key areas.

We try to break down family experiences in our program and in the book to help people know more details and then to devise questions that actually go at those specific areas of that first target area of family.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, and we have five target areas and in the online course, we give like literal questions of what you can sit down and ask somebody to hit some of those targets.

Dr. John: I think Morgan is maybe a great example seeing that her mom and I raised her and her sister. She dated this fella in high school. We knew his family really well. As a parent, we were very much interested in bringing any of the families that either of our daughters dated into our lives to show them, ‘Listen, you’re not just involved with an individual, you’re involved with a family.’

She ended up going with him for a couple of years in high school, they went off to college, their lives separated. Almost nine or ten years later, they reconnect, find each other, and get married. But they have this history of not only knowing each other over different periods of time in different situations but really in lots of family settings, they both knew what kind of family backgrounds and even baggage they were bringing to the table of their relationship. That’s really important. If you don’t have that opportunity, then what you ask about and how you talk about it becomes just crucial.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, and I think that’s so important now that we often times move away and then we’re dating in a completely different location than our family of origin. We’re lucky that we got to intermingle. But so many people have to get to know family at a distance and I think it’s just that much more important to be equipped with the right questions to ask in those situations.

Dr. John: I have just one last thing about family. Be careful when you’re an adult – because we have adults at different ages that are in the listening audience here – the family that you see as an adult might be quite different than the family that person actually grew up with. You go and you meet the family and the parents and you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re so nice,’ they’re like, ‘Ah, you should had grown up with that family. They are the most dysfunctional people around.’ So we’ve got to be careful of assuming things, projecting things, or what I call ‘filling in the gaps’ to how we understand and know a person. We have to maybe dig a little deeper, ask questions, listen, and start putting these pieces together. But all of us can say, ‘My family upbringing had a tremendous influence on who I am as well as how I see the world and relate to other people especially a partner.’

Questions:I just want to ask a quick follow-up question about what could be the consequence of not doing this? It sounds like really not truly getting to know the full person is the consequence of not asking the right questions and maybe you end up going further into the relationship with someone that you really don’t know, is that what we’re trying to watch out for by doing this?

Dr. Morgan: Absolutely. I think that there are lots of people who you can talk to who are married and will say, ‘I wish I knew then what I know now,’ because they didn’t get to know the right things then they found themselves in a relationship with someone who seemingly changed after the commitment levels were increased. You’re trying to make sure that you’re heading into a committed relationship with both eyes open.

Dr. John: Let me give you a quick example. I knew of this woman who dated a very bright successful man that treated her well, everything’s looked well. As their commitment levels increased, something in his family background that actually surfaced in the first couple of months was that he had a really bad relationship with his mother and he had this kind of disgruntled, broken relationship. But you could say, ‘Well, that’s a red flag. Is he going to carry any of that over into how he treats this woman?’ It didn’t come out for a little over a year but it came out pretty dramatic that he was bordered if not abusive potentially physically – although it didn’t fully go there – but emotionally, he was.

It looked like the same pattern that he had got carried over into his relationship and this is a very common thing. I would add helping them to then know how to measure the change of a person; has a person actually made any significant changes? I think we can talk at some point about some ways of measuring changeability of a partner.

Brian: Yeah, I definitely want to get there.

Question: I also want to clarify something with you – I can see the importance of needing to get to know the family of origin and ask the questions. As people listen to this, I think that some people may be thinking, ‘Does that mean that just because a person had a rough upbringing or came from a rough family that they’re undateable?’

I don’t think that’s what you’re suggesting but it sounds like what we’re saying here is, ‘That doesn’t mean they’re undateable. Let’s see what they’ve taken with that if they’re aware of it – if they’ve been able to adapt to it, change, and deal with it.’ Is that accurate, or is there anything more to add to that?

Dr. John: I just think that is so, so true what you just said, so let me say real emphatically, some of the best personal qualities have been hammered out in the worst childhood experiences because some people take a very negative experience and it gets turned around.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing three siblings whose parents were arrested when they were growing up in Chicago for drug use. Both were incarcerated and these three siblings ended up  living on the street, living in relative homes, and being treated horribly. But all three of them have come into adulthood and established adult patterns in response to what happened to make good out of what we might say was really pretty abusive and horrible.

Two of them in particular mentored young kids going through similar things, talked to them and shared their experiences. The two young men are married, they have families of their own, and they’re doing their families differently than how they were raised.

If you just think about it, their convictions to do things differently are really, really strong but all three of them sat there in the interview and said, “We have our own demons, we’re not exempt from having to work through our stuff.” The older brother said, “I’ve been at four or five therapist working through stuff. I did not come to this place in a blink of an eye or automatically, I had to work hard.”

So seeing what a person went through, understanding their upbringing, and then looking at what they did with it. Did they do the work? If they did the work, you will know it, they will talk about it, they’ll be able to explain it, and they will have evidence that helps you to feel more confident that what they’re bringing to your relationship is not the baggage of their home life.

Brian: Excellent, thank you for sharing that. Moving on to a slightly different topic here, there’s another term you bring up at some point in one of your programs I reviewed called ‘complementarity.’

Question: What is complementarity and why is that important?

Dr. Morgan: Complementarity is how people’s differences fit together. We always talk about compatibility but that’s how we’re similar in many ways. But you want to also pay attention to how differences in one another kind of balance each other out because sometimes it’s these differences that really bring out some of the best parts of each other in a relationship.

Brian: Excellent, thank you.

Questions: Another question for you is how should you get to know a potential partner nowadays? You’ve alluded to some of these things,  but we’re more and more geographically isolated from our families and we’re fending for ourselves.

I ended up getting engaged to the girl, and we were both living in a city that we weren’t from, our families didn’t live there, we did the whole thing in isolation, if you will, and it didn’t work out. In retrospect, I can see some things we should have done differently.

What if you’re in this place where so many people are? What are some other things we need to keep in mind when we’re out there fending for ourselves, so to speak?

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, we talked about this a little bit earlier about how we just have more freedom now than ever in our dating relationships. I think that with this increased freedom, we have more responsibility to do the like work and to equip ourselves with how to really get to know all of these target areas of a person. What are these target areas, what questions can we ask, and really making sure taking the time to really get to know someone.

Dr. John: Yeah, I agree with Morgan that it starts with actually having a target area. If you just think of the world of dating – and if we’re talking about never been married to people that have been married previously – they have certain things that they’re looking for. How many of them have the value of getting to know this person’s family upbringing as one of their top three or four values. This is really important.

I would say it starts with believing that this is a really key area to get to know. If that’s a really important area, then you naturally find yourself kind of going there. You go there how? You go there by taking the partner that you’re with a bit into your own family and seeing how they relate to your family. If your family’s not nearby, well, we’re Skyping right now so you can Skype, you can FaceTime, you can help to build some kind of a long distance interaction; and the same with their family.

Morgan’s mentioned about all these questions that need to be asked, but I think anything that you can do to actually increase some type of real time, real life interaction helps to generate more questions, helps you to know how to talk about it. It doesn’t just feel like you’re interviewing a person, so I think that becomes important. But bottom line, Brian, it starts with what you’re valuing in your heart about what is important as you’re getting to know somebody.

Question: What are some of the most important areas of compatibility and how do you determine if you’re compatible with someone else?

Dr. Morgan: With our course, we break it down in three areas. One is personality compatibility. There are lots of things that fall under there but one is of sense of humor; how do you get along in terms of your sense of humor? Do you understand each other? Do you get other’s jokes? I know you always tell a story about your dad getting remarried after your mom died and she never understood your dad’s jokes.

Dr. John: …to the day she died.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, she never understood them but it actually was kind of hilarious to watch them interact together. They weren’t the same but it worked. One is personality, the second is lifestyle; what do you guys love to do? Do you enjoy doing the same things? Then the other one was value compatibility which is really important. It’s important we talk about these things. Do you want to have kids? I mean that’s one of the value areas that’s important to talk about, your faith, if you share a faith – things like that.

Questions: And are these also things that we should plan to ask hard questions about early in the relationship? What are the ways you recommend testing these areas of compatibility? Is it just about being together or are there specific areas you should be digging into in each of these areas to really understand if you’re compatible?

Dr. John: I think one of the most common way that people determine this fit that we’re talking about is by their own gut and that’s almost always like chemistry. We have different ways of labeling that, we call it sometimes your radar, your intuition, or ‘I just have this gut feeling with this person like we click together.’ I think that has some legitimacy, I’m not trying to discount that. But I think if that alone is our only ‘litmus’test, then that is not a good one. That’s why we always say the heart and the head had to work together. They are part of the same organism, they are all connected.

But a lot of times, we let our heart, our intuition, our gut kind of override any of the judgments of our mind, or we don’t know exactly what to do with how to think about the relationship. We really tried hard to make it balanced and say, ‘Listen, you’re looking at the fit, if you’ve got a good chemistry with this person, you just feel like you click, you have good conversations, you laugh a lot,’ like what Morgan said, ‘you had great humor.’

‘This person makes me laugh’ is one of the most common checkpoints that people give. ‘I like this person because he make me laugh. Well, he got a good fit,’ than, ‘Hey, let’s go a little bit deeper, slow down. Don’t go too far. Don’t assume that what you see in the moment is the whole and let’s go into some of these other target areas of compatibility. Let’s get to know their values. What are the most important things that they really cherish and value and let’s see how that fits with you not just somebody’s areas on the surface.’

Brian: Excellent.

Question: Let’s talk about difficult partners. What are some warning signs or what’s the biggest warning sign at least of a partner that could be difficult?

Dr. Morgan: We talk about the biggest warning sign being somebody who has a resistance to change. You bring up an issue, they hear it, and then, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m sorry,’ nothing happens. You bring it up again, nothing happens, or they’re even defensive when you bring up an issue. The hardest partnerto be with is really somebody who is just unwilling to make a change or even just fights making that change in those compromises in relationships.

Dr. John: We throw around the word ‘jerk’. If anybody knows the title of my book, it’s How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. I always wanted to add ‘jerkette’ just so we’re clear that it’s not sexist. You can be a jerk whether you’re a male or a female. But like Morgan said, the bottom line definition is not so much the jerky things that you might do, but your unwillingness to ever do anything about your jerky behavior when it gets put on the table in a relationship.

That willingness to change ties in a little bit with another target area that we just mentioned, of the conscience. The maturity of a person’s conscience is a very strong predictor of what they’re going to be like in the long term relationship. That conscience was probably formed by a lot of the experiences that they had in childhood. So these target areas – we’ve given you now three, because compatibility is a target area, the family is a target area, and the conscience is a target area – if you start thinking about how the conscience overlaps with their values which overlaps with what happened in the family, you start to see the robustness of, ‘Wow, it starts to make sense. I can really get to know this person and figure out who they really are inside,’ the true core of who they are; their character.

But bringing back around you your question, overtime you will begin to learn how open they are to making changes that help to make them more responsive to who you are in your needs and your wants. You’ll also learn what defenses they have overtime and that becomes really, really important for a long-term relationship.

Question: Let’s talk about something that is part of just about any relationship at some point, if you’re in it long enough – physical intimacy. You’ve mentioned that the dating culture nowadays is very much different than it was, for example, Dr. John, when your father was courting his wife.

So, with regards to physical intimacy, what’s your opinion about when is it appropriate to have different types of physical intimacy?

Dr. John: You really hit on a topic area that I would say has a lot to do with people’s values and so I really want to address a very broad spectrum. There are people that have very few hang ups or apprehensions about a ‘hook up’. They can view a physical, sexual relationship without any attachments, commitments, or promises. Then you have another extreme. I know people that will gage in no sexual contact at all including kissing until they’re standing at the altar. Maybe your listeners don’t know anybody like that but there is a whole spectrum.

So I think first of all, people have to understand themselves, their bodies, and what sex actually means in the whole of a relationship. That’s why I put touch in the Relationship Attachment Model because there are so much science to the power of just affectionate touch, for example, between a parent and the child, when they hold or hug each other. When you take that little child, and you physically interact with them, we know the science of attachment that occurs. That does not change when it’s actually a sexual involvement with a partner, it just actually involves more intensity.

I think the starting point is not ‘when is it right or wrong’ as much as ‘let’s understand the power of sexual involvement and physical contact, and ‘let’s put it in the context of relationship’ because regardless of who you’re involved with, with respect to the activity of the brain in the nervous system – sex, bottom line, is a source of strong bond and attachment with the person that you’re getting involved with.

That needs to be respected and done responsibly in the context of all the other bonds or connections of a relationship – how they know that person, how they trust them, and what their level of commitment is. If you start there and say, ‘Let’s put sex in its proper perspective,’ I think that helps everybody step back, and start trying to make some of these hard decisions for themselves.

Question: Can we take that one step further?

In my show, I like to get into the science whenever I can. I find it fascinating andsome people that I’ve spoken with appreciate understanding concepts deeply so that they can say, ‘I’m not just going to take the advice at face value, but how does that really apply here?’ I’d love to go deeper into what you mean.

If you wouldn’t mind sharing, what happens in the brain when this physical touch that’s engaged in and why does that bond people?

Dr. John: There are a lot of things that happen in the brain. Brain science about physical interactions and touch from affection has been going on for decades. I’ll just start with one activity of the brain.

Oxytocin is something that is well understood, for women that are pregnant, that’s produced anywhere from seven to ten times the normal levels during the actual delivery process that a woman’s going through when she’s having a baby. It mitigates many things. But one of the things it does is it puts a woman in a state of bonding so that when the infant comes out and they’re skin-to-skin, that feeling of attachment and bond is enhanced by these high levels of oxytocin in the brain.

Five year longitudinal studies changed hospital procedures across the country – and really the world – to when a baby’s delivered now, unless there’s some health concern, the baby’s immediately put on the mother’s chest and there is some kind of skin-to-skin. That is not how it was done in my dad’s day. Back in the nineteen forty’s, the baby was whisked away. But it’s done now because that high level of oxytocin is so powerful and it altered postpartum depression in the mother when she had a stronger bond. They found the baby ate better, breastfed better, and had better health. Eye contact between the mother and babies were different if we’re talking categorically between those that had that bond from skin-to-skin and those that did not.

I say all of that because during the sexual act, even in a ‘hook up’, the levels of oxytocin in a woman’s brain match the levels that happen during this birthing process. During the sexual arousal, sexual interaction, and skin-to-skin contact, the brain is designed to put you in a state of bonding even if you don’t want to bond with that person.

Dr. Morgan: Yeah, we’re wired to connect.

Dr. John: We’re wired, exactly.

Question: Curious question then, where are men in terms of this level of oxytocin during that moment comparably?

Dr. John: If a woman is seven to ten times the levels (of oxytocin); a man is four to seven. They can be anywhere from about two thirds the amount. They also have another chemical in the brain that interacts with testosterone. That chemical in the brain for both males and females seems to impact males a little more even than females because of their testosterone levels.

That chemical tends to make them unable to stop thinking about the person. It’s called vasopressin. They’ve done studies with animals that join with a partner for life and they inject something to shut down the production of vasopressin, and the males become promiscuous. When they increase the levels of vasopressin, the males become monogamous and it’s because the male becomes centered on one (partner). These levels of vasopressin are highly increased during the sexual act as well as the oxytocin.

There’s just a lot of science that goes behind this idea that sex is bonding, sex causes a feeling of oneness between two people. We’re somewhat contradicting our own chemistry, physiology, and our own neurology when we try to take sex out of relationship and engage in it just as a physical act. It doesn’t really fit with what we know as a science of sexuality.

Brian: Interesting. If I can draw my own conclusion for a second and then test that against you here, seems like in the scheme of the model which is know, trust, rely, commit, and touch, if you’re ‘putting the cart before the horse’, so to speak, and doing the touch very early in the relationship, you may end up bonding with the person that’s not trustworthy, reliable, or somebody that you should be committing to. Is that really the implication here?

Dr. John: That’s absolutely the implication.

Dr. Morgan: Yup, absolutely. I think that when you advance really far in that aspect of the relationship where you just went through the chemistry of it, it’s really easy then to become incredibly bonded to someone that you don’t know, to feel that you really know them, and to move forward in other areas of the relationship only later to find out you really overlooked some major red flags.

Dr. John: You know I engaged in the counseling practice for over twenty-five years and Morgan has engaged in counseling as well. We both have unlimited number of examples where people are stuck in a relationship. And when you look at the progress of how that relationship developed, in the vast majority of them, the sexual act increased early on, they felt a bond, and they didn’t even know what was happening.

(Laughs) If we had that RAM chart visually above people’s heads and we could see where we are in our relationships and where the levels are moving, it might help us out a lot. But this model is attempting to visualize the invisible. So people engaged in this, it’s a very enjoyable experience. They don’t see any reason they’re not engaged sexually. They felt fine with the person. They did this, it’s only in the first few weeks of their relationship or the first month. The other areas of bond like you said of knowing, trusting, or their commitment level is low, and all of a sudden, the bond is out of balance with these other areas and it starts to skew their judgment.

I have a saying that when the bonds of your heart are out of balance, they override the judgment of your mind. A good rule of thumb is if you think of that know, trust, rely, commit, and touch, just keep the levels below the ones to the left – Don’t trust somebody a lot higher than you know them. Don’t rely on somebody unless you have some proven trust. Don’t get committed unless there’s a know, trust, and reliance that you’ve proven out. These levels should kind of work in concert with each other and the same would be true in touch. Set some boundaries in your physical sexual interactions with somebody in the beginning of a relationship to give some time to these other levels coming up. That becomes extremely important.

Brian: Perfect. Wow, that really sums up a lot of what I learned by reading one of your books. I’m glad we could get into some of the nitty-gritty on that. I think it was really helpful for me to understand that and I think it can be useful for folks.

Questions: As we move on here and get ready to wrap up, what would you say is your biggest piece of advice for a codependent person who’s looking for a partner, or maybe someone who’s already in a new relationship and just wants to figure out whether their partner is right for them?

Is there anything that we haven’t talked about yet?

Dr. Morgan: I think it’s really important for someone who has some codependent tendencies to take some time to reflect on what it is in them, what is lacking, or what happened maybe in childhood that didn’t get addressed that creates this codependent tendency. What are their trigger points in their relationships that fuel this tendency to be codependent?

Dr. John: Yeah, I work with a female who never got a lot of affirmation. She grew up in a setting where there was not a lot of attention or affirmation. So when she got attention from a guy it immediately tended to, like Morgan said, pull the trigger.

It was as if she had this need she got hooked on, and when it got met her reliance or dependence on this person went significantly higher (than her knowing or trusting of the person, if you look at my RAM Model), and that tended to pull the other things superficially up so they felt like they were all going up even though they really weren’t. So she needed to be able to counsel herself like, ‘Settle down. This guy’s giving me attention. That’s not everything, that’s one thing. That’s good but that’s not everything.’

I think codependents, like all of us but maybe to a greater extent with these specific areas like Morgan mentioned, they’ve got to really be in touch with themselves, talk to themselves, and counsel themselves.

Dr. Morgan: It could be helpful too to have some point of accountability. If you want to have a trusted friend or family member who can keep pulse on what’s going on in your relationship and checking with you and say, ‘I’m noticing that this happening again,” and want to be partner in that with you.

Brian: Excellent advice.

Question: Is there anything else that you would like to add to this conversation before we wrap up for good?

Dr. John: I just think that when we’re talking about meeting somebody and building a relationship, a lot of these things that you mentioned are going on long distance. We don’t have the families break their present, they’re scattered all over the face of the earth it seems nowadays, and people don’t even tend to talk about that, and all these things. I think it’s really important for your listeners it’s important for them to have a plan, whether it’s this RAM approach or something else. I would say the big takeaway is don’t just go by gut intuition. Don’t believe that love alone guides the process. There’s thinking.

Think about a long-term relationship. I’ve been married almost forty years. There’s a lot of thinking that is going on over these forty years between my wife and I; what we think of each other, how we interact, and understanding each other is so, so important in a good quality marriage relationship. So if you back that all up and say, ‘Hey, we’re at the beginning point, we’re at the starting line. What do I want?’

‘Well, what I want is to have a plan of how to keep my head and my heart really working well together, how to engage my thinking, and how to have conversations.’ If you think about this RAM Model, these will be some key areas that you really want to include in your plan.

Brian: Perfect, thank you so much for coming on the show. I look forward to talking with you again in the next episode.

Dr. Morgan: Thanks for having us.

Dr. John: It is great to be here.

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