This month, we check in with David and Darlene Steele. David, the founder of the Relationship Coaching Institute, met Darlene three years ago. They were engaged in 6 weeks and then married 8 months later in September 2008. Flash forward two years later as we check in with the happy couple to ask them still more questions about their relationship. In the spirit of David’s book, Conscious Dating: Finding the Love of Your Life in Today’s World, he did just that!
Editor, Relationship Coaching Institute
1. David, you and Darlene were engaged to be married after knowing each other only six weeks. How has the speed with which you and Darlene committed to each other shifted your thinking, if it has, around testing for requirements over time?
David: Correction — we were not "committed" in six weeks. Remember that in our five-stage model of relationship coaching, becoming a couple (pre-commitment) and even getting engaged (pre-marital), is not "commitment."
I continue to believe that we need to give ourselves as much time as necessary to test for our requirements and be 100% confident that this is the right relationship for us before making a commitment. After all, even though we might have feelings of urgency, there is no need to hurry and no such thing as a relationship emergency!
I’d also like to mention that in those first six weeks, I gave myself a reality check by reaching out for support to our community of relationship coaches here at RCI and I consulted several of my mentors, both individually and with Darlene. While we were engaged after six weeks, we were married eight months later, which gave us plenty of time for further testing.
The tricky part is about how to become 100% confident in your relationship choice –consciously and without overlooking red flags (as I’ve done before). This is where a relationship coach trained in Conscious Dating is invaluable.
2. Is it possible to speed up the testing part of the process when you have a crystal clear relationship plan?
David: No, having a clear plan speeds the "finding" part but not the "testing." Our testing process was compressed because we both worked from home and became inseparable after we had "the talk" and became a couple. We spent every day together! Also, we were both pushing 50, had plenty of relationship experience, and had done the work to be clear about who we were and what we wanted.
We both were in a position to recognize that we had found what we were seeking at a very deep, authentic, and conscious level. I have "fallen in love" before and had the understanding and consciousness to know that this was the real thing on all levels; a "soul mate" connection unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It was scary and overwhelming, but felt right at the same time.
3. What religion is each of you and how have values from your religion impacted your relationship?
David: We are both "spiritual but not religious." We both are strongly drawn to universal spiritual truths and prefer not to follow any particular religious dogma. This path started for me when I was five years old and participating in my first Jewish "Sunday School" class (which is actually on Saturdays), having a skeptical reaction when the teacher informed us that my people are "the chosen people."
I just couldn’t accept that God preferred one people or religion over another. I believe my attitude of acceptance and tolerance for all truths makes me a good coach! We are amazingly aligned in this important area.
4. Darlene, when you married David, you became a step-mom to his twin sons and his daughter. What has that been like for you, and, as far as you can tell, for them? How does step-parenting impact your marriage? What, if anything, would you have done differently?
Darlene: What a strange, new experience for me. I have two grown children myself, and felt very comfortable with being a mother, but had no experience with being a step-parent. Becoming such an important part of the twins lives so suddenly – it was both a huge responsibility and an honor. (His daughter was grown and out of the house).
Parenting is probably the area where David and I differ the most. Our parenting styles are quite different. The first thing that was apparent to me was that I needed to simply leave the parenting up to David and the boys’ mom. It is confusing enough for the boys having parents with two unique parenting styles – I didn’t need to add a third.
The boys and I get along great and they have told me that they think things are better since I have been around. (Certainly they benefit from home-cooked meals!) The only impact that the boys have on our marriage is that of logistics. We plan our calenda r around the days/times we have the boys. I think it is too soon to answer the "what I would have done differently" question. Right now, things seem to be going well.
5. David and Darlene: I would like to know which Relationship Coaching Institute exercises have been most beneficial for both of you since you were married. And, what were the most important ones for you prior to your wedding? My coaching clients both single and married are always seeking true stories to give them encouragement.
David: The most important exercises were the ones prior to finding each other that helped us become ready for a relationship and clear about who we are and what we want — Vision, Purpose, Requirements, Needs and Wants. The clarity from this work helped us recognize our compatibility and brought us together.
Darlene: I completely agree with David’s response. We were both very clear about who we were and what we wanted. Neither of us represented ourselves as anything but ourselves from the moment we met, so there were no surprises when the "real" people came out.
David (continued): "Exercises" are great tools to learn skills and are not needed once the skill is mastered. We haven’t used any structured exercises after getting married because we haven’t needed to! Our relationship flows and deepens naturally, without structured exercises.
6. David, it seems that you and Darlene made an intuitive leap in committing to each other. Comment on this and how this would influence your recommendations to others.
David: I’m not so sure it was "intuitive." I’m a very intuitive person and certainly experienced an intuitive "hit" when I found Darlene, but the conscious process was more important in bringing us to commitment. I’ve always thought of "chemistry" as the "radar" that helps you find your target, and then you need to rely on your "head" to make a good long term choice. This applies to "intuition" as well.
7. David, if someone found "the love of his/her life" and decided to get engaged after six weeks and asked what you have learned from your experience regarding this with Darlene, what wisdom would you share?
David: I summed up my most important learning about the journey to finding lasting love in an article I wrote after getting married entitled "I’d Rather Be Single Than Settle" For anyone in the situation of wanting to make a commitment in a short amount of time I recommend talking to others and seeking coaching.
The best way to be sure you’re not fooling yourself is by being supportable to others. When you don’t want to talk about it to others because you fear their reaction, or if you don’t like what you hear from others, that’s a big red flag.
8. David, did your previous relationship with "M" meet your requirements? Was there some other factor involved in selecting Darlene other than whether or not she met your requirements?
David: "M" was a great example of an 80% relationship, as in 80% percent worked and met my requirements, and 20% didn’t work. She broke up with me over that 20%; I would have hung in there out of loyalty and commitment as is my pattern; a huge gift she gave me.
With "M" I really "got" the lesson of what happens when you settle for less than 100%, but like most people I …
- didn’t really believe 100% was possible,
- if possible, didn’t really believe I’d find it, and
- if I found it, didn’t really believe I deserved it.
Some "other" factor? Yes. Surely Darlene met my requirements, but the strongest factor that helped me find and choose her was an overwhelming experience of her as my soul mate.
I’ve always longed for a "soul mate" and had an intellectual idea of what that meant, but was not prepared for the reality. It is so strong, clear, surreal, and unmistakable. "Falling in love" can be strong and overwhelming, and might feel like a soul mate connection, but the difference is whether that feeling and connection continues after the romantic infatuation wears off (up to 18 months later).
Our connection is so strong and unmistakable that people come up to us and say things like, "You guys are so inspirational together!" when all we’re doing is standing in line at the grocery store. This seems to be who we are together and doesn’t feel like a temporary condition; we’re not newlyweds anymore, but stay tuned and let’s see if this holds up over the years (I’m sure it will!).
9. How did your families react initially to your relationship? Were they skeptical? What did you tell them?
David: Both of our families were very accepting, it was our friends we had to convince (and did)!
Darlene: Actually, I guess David doesn’t remember this, but both of our daughters, who were 20 at the time, thought we were CRAZY and let us know so. Makes sense though – they knew that we would be very upset if they announced a commitment so quickly. "You would kill me if I did this!!" And, they were right. They did not have the life experiences nor had they done the inner work ahead of time, which provided the clarity we needed. However, in no time at all, they both accepted and supported our decision.
David: Darlene is right about the girls (forgot about that!), but everyone else — her mom, her brothers and sister, my family, etc., were all accepting and happy for us.
10. No relationship is perfect. What has been one or two types of challenges both of you have experienced these past two+ years and how have you resolved them?
David: We mulled this over quite a bit and had a lot of trouble coming up with "challenges" in response to this question because the question implies difficulty or stress. Believe it or not, we do not have any stressful relationship challenges. The closest thing might be when I ask Darlene what she wants (food, activity, etc) and she doesn’t have a preference and responds, "What you’d like is fine," and when she asks what I want and I respond, "Whatever would make you happy."
We’re both pretty easy-going and want to please the other and it can be challenging to make a choice sometimes, but it’s not hard to do. We also have different decision-making processes; I make decisions quickly, and Darlene needs a lot of time to come to a decision. While I’d rather not drag out making a decision, I respect her process and it has had great results for us, so I can’t argue with that!
11. David, what’s something new and amazing you discovered about Darlene after you married her?
David: This is a great question, however, as above; we mulled this over and had tremendous difficulty coming up with a single thing. We knew each other very well when we got married and there were no surprises afterwards. Perhaps this is because we were (and are) very authentic and transparent with each other — we’re completely honest and share everything we think, feel, experience, etc.
Feeling emotionally safe to do so helps, as well as being emotionally mature and available, but this is also who we are as people. I’m a very direct, up front "what you see is what you get" person and so is she.
12. Darlene, what’s something new and amazing you discovered about David after you married him?
Darlene: I’m not sure how to answer this. We knew each other so well before we married that I haven’t really discovered anything new since. Thank goodness because I love him just the way he was/is!
13. What are a couple of goals you both share? How has this influenced the quality of the relationship you enjoy?
David: When we first met, we both worked from home and enjoyed having 24/7 access to each other. When Darlene got a job and started commuting to work it was an adjustment and we decided our goal was for her to work in the RCI business from home, which also happens to be a life-long dream of mine to work together and share my mission and purpose with my life partner. Just last month Darlene left her job and is now working from home with me. Life is good!
14. What methods or systems do you employ for resolving your disagreements?
David: Nothing extraordinary — we hear each other’s positions and find a way to meet each other’s needs. We have very similar and compatible values and preferences, so it’s highly unusual to be at polar opposites on anything, but if it happens we both are pretty unattached and very willing to let go enough to meet in the middle or find a creative solution.
Contrary to what I’ve experienced in past relationships, this process with Darlene is very easy. It really helps to have maturity on your side, have a sense of humor, treat your partner’s needs as important as your own, not be attached to having your way, and not take things too seriously.
Darlene: I think another thing that helps is that we both understand, and I mean REALLY understand deep down, that we are a team and that we are there for each other. We have no need to compete and we get that at a subconscious level. So, when we have a differing opinion on some thing, we will tend to lean to the side of whoever is having the stronger reaction, with no regrets and no "keeping score." There really isn’t a need to as we are both equally willing to give to the other.
15. Anyone in a relationship knows how important it is to have time for oneself – to work on personal interests and hobbies, and sometimes to just be alone with one’s thoughts. While we’re in relationships with others, the relationship with ourselves is also important to work on. What are some of the personal activities each of you enjoy when you’re not together?
David: There’s a paradox in human development– the more mature (differentiated) we become, the better able we are to be intimate with another and maintain our identity in a relationship. Yes, at certain levels of development it is important to have time to oneself to maintain individuality, prevent enmeshment, and develop ourselves. The wonderful payoff later in life is to be able to truly share your life with someone on all levels without losing yourself.
That said, we both want to be together as much as possible. We’ve spent plenty of time developing ourselves separately and now love being constantly connected. We don’t spend much time apart, but when it happens one benefit is to catch up on TV shows and movies that don’t interest the other.
Darlene loves gross medical shows, chick flicks, and "America’s Next Top Model," while she’d rather not sit through my war movies, military documentaries, etc. Darlene loves aerobics and Zumba dance/aerobic classes (very unmanly), and we each have our own favorite solo computer game (Darlene’s "Free Cell" vs my iPhone/iPad app "Tilt to Live").
16. Now that both of you have been together for about 3 years, what do you do and/or what type of mindset have you adopted to keep things vibrant within your relationship?
David: I adore this woman. I love to look at her and remind myself of how lucky I am and how much I love her. This is a conscious choice as well, because after it took me 50 years to find her I don’t take her for granted and don’t want to do so.
17. David: What’s one of the most important things you learned about yourself/life as a result of being in relationship with Darlene?
David: That I am truly lovable and deserve happiness. While understanding this intellectually, Darlene helped me experience the reality. Some things you can only learn, experience, and "get" in relationship, and some only in a good relationship.
18. Darlene, what’s one of the most important things you learned about yourself/life as a result of being in relationship with David?
Darlene: Oh, this is an easy question, and an important lesson I’d like to share. I realized early on in my first marriage that the marriage wasn’t providing what I wanted, needed, or required. However, my first husband was not interested in taking our relationship to a higher level. In fact, when I mentioned any dissatisfaction, he simply told me to "grow up."
I understood that I would never have the type of relationship I knew was possible staying in that situation. I realized that I did not have the power to "fix" my marriage and be truly happy without the buy-in of my partner.
I remember the exact moment, right after meeting David, when it occurred to me that the type of relationship I had always imagined was not only possible, but was right in front of me. It feels amazing how safe, free and empowering life is with a partner that is aligned with you. We are truly a team and work together on common goals.
19. What’s the secret of your relationship success?
David: The number one most important factor in the success of our relationship is our compatibility or "fit." The success and potential of a relationship is enhanced or limited by how well your values, goals, attitudes, vision, requirements, needs, wants, preferences, and physical chemistry fit together.
Secondly, I would say emotional maturity and availability. Twenty years ago we could not have had the relationship we have today.
Lastly, I would credit our rituals and routines. Every couple has their own culture, which is largely composed of their rituals and routines, whether they consciously choose them or not. Even when we travel, we get out of bed the same way, make time to have coffee and read the newspaper together, and get ready for bed and go to sleep the same way.
For example, the last thing we say to each other every night before going to sleep, without fail, is "I love you." Our rituals and routines are expre ssions of love, comforting, intimate, and constant reminders that we’re connected to each other.
Copyright ©2010 by David and Darlene Steele. All rights reserved in all media.