The Greatest Advice Ever on How to Romantically Protect Yourself

05/20/2015 05:35 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2016
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Dysfunctional dating abounds and I would like to end the insanity. Like you, I am worn out by the needless tears, heartache, and crazy ex stories, all because of people's bad decision-making, so even though teaching singles to make wise choices will severely hurt my counseling practice, I am willing to take the hit.

Another reason I'm so motivated is that I know what it's like to feel like a dating fool, and to be in a miserable marriage that I got myself into due to my own dreadful and misguided mate choices. So much so that I reformed myself, and it paid off. In short, I got real and grew up. Why wouldn't anyone who has found peace want others to find it, too?

How did it happen? Well, before I married the male Hope Diamond in 2013, I was single a long time -- back in my young adulthood, and then as a single mom from 1993 to 1998. Then I entered a disastrous, emotionally devastating three-year marriage, which served as the jackhammer over my hard head that I needed. Determined to change my life, I went to graduate school, became a therapist, and dedicated myself to working on me and figuring out what I was doing wrong so I could be happy as well as find lasting, healthy love.

I became my own science experiment. I had to figure out how to select a compatible and healthy mate. I dated, but never had a boyfriend for nine long years. Why? Well I was going to fix me, but I had to be certain that my mate was mentally and emotionally healthy, he had to adore me with enthusiasm -- no more one-sided business! Also, I was looking for a best friend, something I'd never had in a romantic partner. This, my friends, was exceedingly difficult to find. It took patience and a willingness to be alone.

One thing that also helped was a set of dating guideline that I had written in 1996 when I was a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. Their inspiration came from when I was dumped by a man who went back with his former girlfriend a couple of months into dating me. When we first met he'd been out of the relationship four months and insisted he was relieved to be away from her and was safe to date -- well, we know how that ended. I felt so duped and misled that I sat down and figured out some ways I could avoid flakes like that in the future.

Since then I have put even more thought into the concept. As I've always said, they look easy, but are not, and while they do not guarantee that you will never be hurt again, if you apply them they will significantly improve your chances:

Doctor Becky's 4 Rules for Romantic Self-Protection

1. Do not date a man or woman who has not been out of a serious relationship for at least a year. This rule helps you avoid becoming a rebound victim -- you know, the human band-aid we become as we're used to help newly single folk through the dark days? It also ensures that you are not being used as bait to win the person's former love back. (Yes, people do that.) Typically, the person coming out of a long-term relationship or marriage are almost always temporarily insane and unstable for up to two years, and also their IQ temporarily drops by 20 points. This means that, except for criminal acts, they can't be held responsible for what they say and do. That's why it's best to stay out of that sort of weather until the storm passes. Still, if you meet someone terrific who is just emerging from a relationship, it's fine to become his or her friend and companion -- sort of like staying nearby with a foot in the door, but not coming all the way in the house.

2. Do not have sex with a person unless commitment has been mutually expressed. I look forward to reading the negative messages I'll receive over this one. First, I believe it would be best if we all started treating sex like it meant something more than a second cup of coffee. Indeed, the sex act is very powerful for many, and almost always changes everything about a relationship. So, to maintain your equilibrium or inner peace, and avoid anxiety, you must be able to say to yourself that, "I know for certain that he or she will continue to be in this relationship following our having sexual intercourse." This especially holds true for those who get very attached once sex has entered the picture.

3. Avoid feelings described as "head over heels." When your feelings and emotions get out of control, your body pumps brain chemicals equivalent to taking heroin or some other drug that brings about temporary euphoria.* During this state, we cannot make wise and rational decisions. Many times this feeling lures us into a relationship that is not healthy for us, because we get hooked in by the way it makes us feel, but when it becomes unhealthy we can't get out of it, because we love the way it makes us feel. The cycle of love addiction is born. Healthy love feels comfortable and easy.

4. Do not even think of getting married until you have spent at least one year and four seasons with your new love. It is impossible to say if we love someone until our desire to be with him or her stands the test of time. Until then, it is just a feeling caused by brain chemicals that make us want to be near someone. Of course, you must feel attachment to the person you commit to, but real, mature and potentially life-lasting love is a commitment and choice that is best made after see the person in as many situations as possible ... the holidays, cold weather, hot weather ... You need to see how he or she acts when sick, when things aren't going right, how money is handled, how mom is treated, what their traditions and rituals are. You've got to ascertain whether they are honest and have integrity. Anyone can act nice for a short period of time ... that's why it's imperative to take your time. Hey, would you buy a car you knew had to last a lifetime based on looks and how it made you feel when you first looked at it?

Another piece of this is a promise you must make with yourself -- that you will walk away if a relationship doesn't feel right. I always tell clients that a healthy relationship will not be difficult, it won't provoke insecurity and make you anxious. You won't have to wonder if the person is going to flake out on you tomorrow, next week, or 10 years from now. You'll just be able to live your life, every day, with someone whose company you enjoy immensely, and who enjoys you, too.