by David Steele
Published by RCN Press
342 pages, 2006
His name makes him sound like a romantic hero. David Steele. A man who is sensitive -- because don't Davids always tend to be sensitive? -- and Steele: the metal that Superman is made of. But with an extra "e".
Though David Steele is no fictional character, his moniker leaves us at a place not far from the truth. As the author of Conscious Dating: Finding the Love of Your Life in Today's World, Steele is deeply concerned about issues relating to your -- that's right: your -- love life. Steele says he wants to help people find "the love of your life and the life that you love." It's a direct and poetic enough message that it makes you want to pay attention.
As a relationship therapist for many years, Steele says he found that, too often, couples were coming to him beyond the time there was much anyone could do for them. They were coming, he says, too late. On consideration, he realized that the time to work with these couples would have been very early on. Maybe before they'd even met. If, for example, someone had chosen the wrong person for all the wrong reasons, by the time they brought their problems to Steele they were waist deep in a soup that was perhaps based on the wrong recipe. Not only that, calling a marriage counselor is often a last resort and, in some cases, they were calling Steele for help after irreversible damage to the relationship had already been done.
A decade ago, Steele felt he was burning out. While he really wanted to help people find happiness, he felt there was something missing from his arsenal. When he discovered life coaching, the pieces started to fall into place. "I really like the idea of helping people find happiness by achieving their goals in life," says Steele, "rather than diagnosing them with an adjustment disorder because they were unhappy with their life or relationship."
The coaching aspect provided Steele with what had been an important missing piece. "Looking at people's relationships through the eyes of a coach gave me the idea to start helping people earlier in their relationships by helping singles." It was, Steele says, a bit of an epiphany: "Singles become couples. As a therapist, that hadn't occurred to me before."
Steele wanted to apply life coaching to relationships, but he couldn't find a model that existed in order to do so. It was this, along with much thought and study, that led to him starting the Relationship Coaching Institute.
Steele says that he developed a five stage model of relationship coaching. "The five stages are readiness and attraction for singles; precommitment for new couples; coupling and bliss for committed couples." These five stages cover the complexities of dating and relationships in an almost startlingly simple way. The bottom line, says Steele, is that it's a whole new world, why should we not expect that the rules for success be different as well?
"The biggest change in relationships over the last 30 years is that you go into one with the expectation -- no, the need -- to be happy." This wasn't always the case, says Steele. "This is a dramatic shift from past generations who were quite satisfied surviving and achieving some measure of comfort and security for their family. The need for happiness sounds very simple and innocent, but it's the primary reason for failed relationships today."
So what's the secret? Well, says Steele, it's all pretty much covered in his new book, Conscious Dating. But, we corralled him for the short course on a topic near to many people's hearts.
At 48, Steele lives in Campbell, California, near San Jose. In addition to helping people find and keep the "love of their life," he is currently working on a book for life partners called, appropriately enough, Partners in Life.
Linda L. Richards: So there's dating, and then there's conscious dating. What's the difference?
David Steele: Conscious dating means to date with conscious intention about who you are, what you want and how to get what you want. To be "conscious" means to be aware of your life vision, purpose, relationship requirements, needs and wants, mindful that "you don't know what you don't know," so you keep an open mind, take your time and are as honest with yourself and others as possible.
"Intention" means to make your choices mindful of their long-term consequences. While we often focus on having fun in the moment when dating, we need to remember that everything we say and do now will catch up to us down the road.
In our consumer-oriented, immediate gratification culture, the above can be challenging!
In my seminars I like to illustrate this by describing three levels of consciousness. It's a complicated topic, in some ways. And I seem to have endless enthusiasm for it. I wrote an article on it recently. It's so new, it didn't get included in the book.
Tell me about the Relationship Coaching Institute. How did it come about?
I was in private practice as a marriage and family therapist specializing working with couples for many years. I wanted to make a real impact on the divorce rate, which was not happening working with couples in trouble. I discovered life coaching in 1996 and became excited applying coaching to relationships.
Looking at relationships from the perspective of a coach I had an epiphany: singles become couples. As a therapist it never occurred to me to work with singles. But as a coach it seemed quite logical because we all begin seeking our life partner as singles plus singles are a huge segment of the population and almost all singles want to find their life partner.
I knew nothing about how to help singles find their life partner, so I was able to start researching and creating with fresh eyes. As I put together programs and started working with singles, my work drew attention from other therapists who requested I put together a training for them. That first training led to Relationship Coaching Institute, the first and largest worldwide relationship coach training organization. We've trained over 500 coaches and therapists in our model of coaching singles and couples and over 5000 have taken our introductory trainings.
In growing Relationship Coaching Institute I didn't want to simply "sell" training. RCI is a member organization and we provide certification, ongoing training, practice-building and marketing support to an international community of relationship professionals. Our mission is to promote successful relationships for singles and couples through a network of related organizations working together.
In the book you talk about the difficulties that people face in finding their significant someone in a world that is increasingly complex. How have these things manifested themselves as challenges in gaining -- and I guess in keeping -- relationships?
"Finding" a relationship is the easy part, keeping it and having a successful life partnership is the hard part. We've evolved as a society to have a wide variety of choices unheard of years ago. The rules have changed and we don't know what the new rules are. We want to be happy in our life and relationships, but don't really know how.
This presents an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is that we are the pioneer of our life. We can be who we want, live where we want, have the lifestyle we want and so on. However, too many choices provides a different kind of challenge. Our culture doesn't adequately prepare us for being pioneers!
To help explain coaching I have a concept I call the "Coaching Triad" of attitudes, skills and choices. Success in life and relationships involves equal measures of productive attitudes, effective relationship skills and wise choices. We have control over these, but must take a conscious approach to improve them and get what we want.
One of the things I found really interesting in Conscious Dating is that in a way -- at least this was my reading -- it's not that people find it difficult to necessarily get into relationships. It's what to do with them once they're in hand. Is that true? Or have I oversimplified things rather much?
Long-term relationship fulfillment starts with your relationship choices when you're single, then how you show up in a couple relationship.
One thing I learned the hard way is that there is such a thing as "unsolvable problems." Not everything is negotiable and love doesn't conquer all, so who we choose as a partner must align with who we are and what we want, because we can't change ourselves or our partner to "make" a relationship work. As L. Jackson Brown said in Life's Little Instruction Book: "Choose your life's mate carefully. From this one decision comes 90 per cent of your happiness or misery."
Then, when in a committed relationship, research shows that it's commitment itself that has a tremendous impact on whether the relationship will last. Relationships are challenging and wonderful opportunities for growth and learning. Folks that resist growth and learning and walk away when it gets too hot in the kitchen are responsible for the divorce rate. Research also shows they have no better success the next time around.
And yet, of course, you deal with dating. In fact you've included a whole chapter on "Dating Traps" and say, essentially, that dating doesn't work. I don't want to ask you to boil the whole book down to a few sentences, but can you hit the highlights of what's broken about dating?
Dating today is like going to the mall for the perfect outfit. Singles go to Macy's (Match.com) for best selection and try on a bunch of outfits. When they don't find what they want they go to Nordstrom's (eHarmony.com), then Old Navy (speed dating), and on and on. The problem is that there is no "perfect partner" and relationships are about connection, not results. Plus "shopping" for a partner objectifies others as commodities
Again, we live in an immediate-gratification, consumer-oriented culture and too many people approach dating like shopping. Yet, most singles do not have adequate clarity about exactly who they are and what they want, so the shopping experience often boils down to "I'll know it when I see (feel) it."
After dating for awhile in search of their perfect partner, singles get frustrated and desperate and start believing that what they really want doesn't exist so they have to "settle." Unfortunately, when you expect less you get less. When singles settle they don't let go of their vision, requirements, needs and wants, they end up trying to make a round peg fit a square hole and the relationship eventually fails.
Here's a line of yours from Conscious Dating that I love: "Finding the love of your life in today's world means being the pioneer of your destiny." That's beautiful. But what does it mean to you?
In today's world we are not bound by past traditions and have the freedom of choice to be who we want, live where we want, do the work we want, have the lifestyle and relationship we want.
I know a bit about your background. You're the guru who has definitely walked the walk. It's a long story and an interesting one. I know you share it in the book, but can you give us the fast version for our readers?
We often learn by falling down, and some of us fall down more than others. I seem destined to learn the hard way. A child of divorce myself, I've been married and divorced twice and devoted my life and career to understanding the mystery of how to have a successful life partnership. I share a lot of what I've learned in Conscious Dating and I'm still learning!
On reading Conscious Dating, it seems to me that one of the things you're telling people is to get into a certain head space in order to find their significant other. Do you think that's true?
I think the two most important factors for an effective "head space" are to, A/ Be "The Chooser." Take initiative to create what you want in your life, don't simply react to what or who chooses you. And, B/ Harness the Law of Attraction. I've discovered that the Law of Attraction is a principle of the universe as powerful and pervasive as the Law of Gravity. It can work for you or against you. Like attracts like, so don't expect to be successful on the outside without significant effort on the inside.
Here's a powerful thought: it's OK to be single, to not be in a committed relationship. In fact, you say "Being single is an opportunity." From reading Conscious Dating, I gather that a lot of singles are so focused on partnering up that they lose sight of this. Is that true? What do they need to do?
Though counterintuitive, we must have goals and let go of outcomes. If you are too attached to a specific outcome you push it further away. A certain amount of acceptance and surrender is necessary to find your soul mate. It's amazing that as soon as you let go of your attachment to finding your life partner and focus on being happy and successful as a single, the law of attraction brings all sorts of opportunities into your life.
It's important for me to highlight that "acceptance" and "surrender" does not mean being passive. "Have goals and let go of outcomes" means do everything you can to "build it so they will come" and live life fully while doing so.
Let me see if I understand this correctly: are you suggesting that to be happy with someone -- anyone -- else, you need first to be happy with yourself?
If you're not happy, a relationship will not fix that. The Law of Attraction assures that your problems and unhappiness will multiply instead of disappear.
It strikes me that your book -- and I guess with it your work -- are inclusionist. That is, you're not gearing towards one group of people, not making distinctions between gay and straight, men or woman, in a way. That is, you have advice -- and help -- for everyone.
As a coach I know there is no formula, so "advice" doesn't really work. You will find very little real advice in Conscious Dating. I state some opinions, make lots of recommendations, provide information singles need to understand dating and find their life partner and provide some useful paradigms for dating (scouting/sorting/screening/testing and so on).
We are social beings and relationships are universal. "Advice" is not universal. I've tried hard to understand dating and relationships and communicate my understanding in a universal way that is highly practical at the same time.
What's the best way to meet someone?
Research shows that most people find their soul mate through someone they know, so I guess that's the best way! I recommend singles build and use their support community and not be "lone rangers."
Is there someone for everyone?
Lot's of someones! There is not only one perfect partner out there for you. As long as there is enough alignment of vision, purpose, requirements, needs and wants and good old-fashioned "chemistry," you could make a life partnership work with a wide variety of people.
I'm hearing very conflicting things about dating. There are those who say there's no such thing anymore. That there's hooking up -- for sex and perhaps the occasional shared activity -- but the type of activity we used to think of as a date has pretty much gone by the wayside. What do you think?
In the book I cover three forms of dating relationships: recreational dating for fun, committed dating to find your life partner and the mini-marriage, which is an unconscious hybrid. "Hooking up" can be fun and recreational, but when it becomes a "relationship" it falls into the "mini-marriage" category. I wrote this book to show how to find your life partner in an "anything goes" culture.
What is the soonest a couple should have sex? (And how often do people ask you that?)
That depends on your goal. If you just want to have fun and aren't seeking a committed relationship, one night stands are fine. The problem is that sex has immediate emotional and physical reactions that result in bonding, so keeping it light and fun can be a challenge.
If you want to find your life partner, give yourself as much time as you need to get to know this person and gauge alignment of vision, purpose, requirements, needs and wants before having sex. The key to finding your soul mate is to be available. If you have sex and are involved with someone who is not what you're looking for in the long-term, you're not available to find your life partner.
Tell me about being a Chooser.
Big topic. I have a whole chapter of the book devoted to this, and several audio programs you can listen to for good material.
Now, clearly, you've written a whole book on the topic, plus you do serious one-on-one work at the Relationship Coaching Institute, so I know it would be unreasonable to expect you to set our readers on the path to Conscious Dating in a single interview, but (Did you hear that "but" coming?) where, typically should someone begin? Where is step one?
Well, maybe not steps. How about do's and don'ts?
What not to do: Take the semiconscious position that "all the good ones are taken," "it's too late for me," "I'm too (fill in the blank)," "relationships are impossible" and so on. It's natural to have these thoughts, but recognize them as the fear-based stories that they are and don't let them run the show.
What to do: It seems to me that step one is to realize that you don't know what you don't know and that your journey to finding the love of your life can start by reading this book and being willing to become more conscious of what you don't know.
Where do you live?
Campbell, California, right next to San Jose, in Silicon Valley, an hour from San Francisco.
Where were you born?
Burbank, in southern California and grew up in San Carlos in northern California.
How old are you?
Tell me about your family, please.
My father is in his eighties living near Santa Rosa, mother lives near me, I have a sister in Maine who is lesbian engaged to be married for the first time. I was married and divorced twice and my oldest daughter from my first marriage is turning 18 and graduating from high school this year. I have twin 8 year old sons from my second marriage. Life is full and complicated!
If there is one thing you wish readers could take away from your book, what would it be?
"If you build it, they will come" (Field of Dreams). I discovered that when we build the life we want when single, the opportunities and life partner we want will come. All the rest is context and implementation.
Any other books? How about in the future?
I've written two practice-building books for private practice professionals, as well as a Conscious Dating coaching program for singles with workbook and professional manual, and a Partners in Life coaching program for couples with workbook.
My next book will be Partners in Life. It focuses on pre-committed couples. When today's conscious singles get into a relationship it's not immediately committed. They are asking themselves: "Is this the right relationship for me?" and "Should I make a commitment here?"
This is a growing trend, like cohabitation, that most other relationship professionals don't recognize. They approach them as "pre-marital," which is a different kind of couple with a different attitude than the pre-committed folks. Pre-commitment is a natural, healthy, conscious stage of relationship that I believe is key to making a good partner choice that results in the relationship happiness and fulfillment that we all want. | March 2006
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. She is the author of The Next Ex.
You can visit David Steele and the Relationship Coaching Institute on the Web.