Tune Your Relationship

"We all have stereotypes and we project them onto people—for instance, policemen are responsible," says Van Epp. "But that's not always true. " Van Epp tells his clients that before they get involved emotionally or physically with a man, they need to look past his surface attributes. Does he practice what he preaches in the world? Is he a caring friend? What's his family like? If his relatives are nuts, does he know they're nuts? 

Once you've got answers to some of those questions, you might trust him with a confidence or opinion or special item. (Though at first, it shouldn't be something too important—like a grandmother's ring.) As the Trust lever moves up, the Rely lever can inch up, too. Again, Van Epp counsels gradual steps. "Ask someone to water plants before you ask him to feed the dog. And do that before relying on him to pick up your kids," he says. Once someone's proven dependable, Van Epp says it's time to start upping the Touch lever. 

"Obviously, some people have sex very early in relationships—that's a personal decision," says Van Epp. "But the fact is, we're all on our best behavior when we're trying to woo someone. I just advise caution, because sex creates intense feelings of attachment, and real behavior patterns don't start to emerge until after about three months." That's why he recommends the three-month rule instead of the three-date rule. He's not saying you have to wait 90 days before having sex, necessarily—Van Epp isn't entirely out of touch with the 21st-century dating world. But he does think couples should wait about that long before having serious conversations about commitment. 

Jamison thinks her big mistake was trusting and relying on Lewis before she really knew him. "Mark and I hadn't even spent two weeks in the same city before I was planning my future around him," she says. While they were corresponding, Jamison became very ill from infectious diseases she'd picked up while doing humanitarian aid in Kyrgyzstan. "I lost a lot of weight. My skin changed color. By the time he came to live with me, I looked terrible—not at all like the woman he met. I guess Mark couldn't handle my illness and new appearance." Not that Lewis ever said he couldn't handle it. He just hung out with friends instead of her. 

As Jamison's relationship with Lewis deteriorated, her parents suggested she take Van Epp's PICK Program. The class helped her look at how Lewis might realistically behave in a marriage and to determine that it wasn't the kind of relationship she wanted. After the course, she confronted Lewis about how badly he was treating her. On the phone she asked, "Do you want to stay in this or not?" He didn't, and they ended it. She called, e-mailed, and even consulted a lawyer about getting her grandmother's ring back. Six months after they broke up, his sister finally sent it back to Jamison. 

These days Jamison handles that crushy feeling a lot better. "A few months ago, I met a really cute guy at a bar and he seemed so sweet," she says. "I could tell he wanted to hook up. But I thought, Let me get through this hormonal haze and figure out who he is. Turns out he'd been with every woman in that bar. He was a total player." Learning that fact before she got involved with him felt like progress to Jamison. Recently, she met someone she's interested in. She says he seems nice, "but I'm taking it one slow step at a time."

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