It’s the last thing marriage counselors have on their mind, but it’s a dangerous situation. A couple on the verge of divorce comes to the office to seek counseling. The counselor tries to help. Unfortunately, the methods counselors use to help often lead to feelings of attraction toward the counselor. It’s like the counseling room is a Petri dish for sexual attraction.
You may be wondering what those factors are? Wouldn’t you like to sneak into a graduate school classroom and listen in as the professor lists the factors that can inadvertently cause one member of the couple to feel attracted to the therapist? Well I’ve got good news for you. I found someone who actually did sit through that lecture and he spilled the beans.
Here are the factors that play a powerful unconscious role in mate selection. First comes close proximity in an emotionally charged situation. When emotions are experienced while in close proximity, we tend to bond more readily. In the counseling room the emotional charge comes from the heated debates and expression of feelings about the marriage. In the dating world, an emotional charge could spark to life when you step a foot closer and hold his eye contact while showing interest in his story about the crazy driver he had to deal with on his way to the party.
The next factor is self-disclosure. It seems rather silly that we are so affected by something so simple, but it is what it is. When people mutually disclose feelings, thoughts, or any other form of slightly private information, we automatically begin to evaluate the other person on a whole new level. Someone who we share our lives with (even in a very small way) is no longer a stranger. They suddenly become emotionally significant and our biology kicks in to match our feelings of closeness created by the self-disclosure.
The third factor that shows up in the counseling room is a shared goal or shared values. The therapist and opposite gender client work toward a shared goal of saving the marriage from its dysfunctional state.
Could you use this concept to your advantage? All you have to do is align yourself with someone else’s goal in a very simple way. It could be something as simple as being on the same team during a group board game. The brain reacts to the shared goal without any logical analysis of whether the goal actually matters out there in “the real world.”
A friend of mine once shared a very simple goal with a woman he thought he had nothing in common with. She was from Argentina and he was nearly a decade older than her and trying to simplify his life as much as possible. Neither of them was looking for a relationship. But they were both graduate students who met through a shared class. In complaining about the lack of interesting things to do in the area where the graduate school was located, they adopted a shared enemy: boredom.
During a discussion full of pessimism and negative thoughts, they agreed not to give up on the area until first giving it a legitimate shot. They decided to try to find something interesting about the area instead of just moaning about it for the four years of graduate school. Before they knew what was happening their weekend trips to unusual restaurants and scenic views led to marriage. It all started with a shared goal.
Next time you have the opportunity to manipulate one of these three factors in your favor, take it. Align yourself with a goal or value he expresses. Encourage emotional expression. Pace and lead with balanced self-disclosure. And remember to have fun and enjoy yourself too! Treat it like a game. If you find yourself trying too hard and getting stressed out, start over and build the foundation of enjoyment first, then try adding on techniques when you see the opportunity.