How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk

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"An insightful and creative contribution to managing the complexity of choosing a life partner. I heartily recommend it."

?Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find

"Don't be part of the 'where-was-this-book-when-I-needed-it?' crowd. It's not too late?read it now!"

?Pat Love, Ed.D., author of The Truth About...

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"An insightful and creative contribution to managing the complexity of choosing a life partner. I heartily recommend it."

—Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of Getting the Love You Want and Keeping the Love You Find

"Don't be part of the 'where-was-this-book-when-I-needed-it?' crowd. It's not too late—read it now!"

—Pat Love, Ed.D., author of The Truth About Love and Hot Monogamy

Based on years of research on marital and premarital happiness, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk (previously published in hardcover as How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk) will help you break destructive dating patterns that have kept you from finding the love you deserve:

  • Ask the right questions to inspire meaningful, revealing conversations with your partner
  • Judge character based on compatibility, relationships skills, friends, and patterns from family and previous relationships
  • Resolve your own emotional baggage so you're ready for a healthy relationship
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071548427
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/27/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 94,984
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Van Epp, Ph.D., conducts seminars and workshops worldwide on marriage and relationships. His popular video program, “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk,” is being taught by certified instructors internationally in thousands of churches, singles organizations, educational and agency settings, and throughout the military. Visit his website at

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Read an Excerpt

How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk

The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind


Copyright © 2007 John Van Epp
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-154842-7

Chapter One

Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind

* * *

How Did Something So Right Go So Wrong?

Meet Charlotte, twenty-five, who has just ended a two-year relationship:

When I first met James [twenty-seven] at the insurance company where I worked, he was easygoing, charming, and funny—he turned out to be all that and more. He moved in with me after seven months of spending almost every free moment together. I would have sworn that I knew him better than anyone in the world. But then he changed; he went out with his friends more and became less interested in me. When I tried to talk with him about keeping balance in our relationship, he would become defensive and detached, as if he just didn't care. I kept trying for the next year and a half, thinking that he would change, but he only became worse. Looking back, I wonder if I ever really knew him.

Then there's Marc, thirty-eight, at the end of a three-year relationship:

I felt sorry for Jenell the first time we talked. She was going through a divorce from a real jerk who cheated on her. I wondered how any guy could do something like that to her; she was so beautiful and nice. She told me she had never been treated or loved in the ways that I took care of her. When I heard about her screwed-up family, I realized why she seemed to feel so "at home" with jerks. It felt great to give her love, something she said she never really had. Around the fourth month of dating, however, Jenell became moody and picked fights with me, as if she wanted to be mad. I kept trying to make things better, and they were, for a while, but then she would go back into her shell. I should not have stayed with her so long. Why do I always get into relationships where I am the giver?

Listen to Tasha, twenty-eight, at the end of a five-year relationship:

The thing that impressed me most when I met Duane [thirty-one] was that he was so good with my six-year-old son. He always talked to him, horsed around and played with him, and would even bring him surprises when he came to my apartment to see me. Being a single mother, I easily fell in love with the father my son never had. I was bothered by the way Duane became harsh sometimes with me, but I wrote it off as just a bad mood. And anyway, you've got to take the bad with the good. We married on our first anniversary of going out, but from that time on he was never the same. He had frequent rages and treated me just like his father had treated his mother. I never thought he would act like that; he had been so different before we married. How did I miss the signs of what he was going to be like in marriage?

What do Charlotte, Marc, and Tasha have in common? All three ended up with something different than what they thought they had originally. They minimized incidental problems that became damaging patterns, not recognizing the signs. It is easy to get fooled when you are feeling in love.

The problem is not that you are unsure of what you want. According to a recent national survey by researchers at Rutgers University, 94 percent of singles stated that they want to marry their soul mate. However, many of them acknowledged a lack of confidence in being able to achieve this goal. You're probably reading this book because you've noticed a pattern in your own relationships—a pattern you want to break—and you're asking yourself this: I know what I want, so what am I doing wrong?

You know what you want, but

• Why are you always attracted to jerks?

• Why do you keep picking partners who have the same problems?

• How can you really know what someone will be like as a marriage partner?

• Why are you so desperate?

• How can you see so clearly what you want in a soul mate but be so blind to a realistic view of what your partner is really like?

• Why does your partner change so much in just three months?

• Why do you think more clearly, feel more confident, and act more assertively when you are not in a relationship?

• You were told that the ex was such a jerk ... but now you wonder?

• Why did you overlook so many signs of problems?

• Why do you always end up trying harder than your partner to make the relationship work?

• What are you supposed to do to protect yourself from trusting too much?

• How long does it take to really know someone?

• How can you feel so loved and yet so betrayed by the same person?

• How can you love and hate the same person?

• Why did your partner change as soon as you married?

• Is this as good as it gets?

Can you relate to some or all of these questions? If so, then you are not alone.

My Ten-Year Courtship

I have been dating this book for almost ten years. My friends and family begged me to take the plunge and get published. But I kept telling them I needed to test things; I was not quite ready—just a little more time, maybe next year. Am I starting to sound like a commitment-phobe?

In my defense, this ten-year courtship has paid off. It allowed me the time to test the ideas in this book in my clinical counseling practice. Even more important, it allowed me to turn those ideas into a curriculum, the PICK a Partner program (or PICK for short) that has been validated with research conducted at Ohio State University and road tested in seven countries, forty-eight states, and by thousands of instructors in military bases, churches, and social agencies. This book presents the successful and scientifically proven PICK program that, if followed, guarantees you won't marry a jerk.

Love Is Blind

It all started with a collection of comments by my hurt and dismayed patients who thought they had the best partners, only to discover later that they had either overlooked or minimized significant problems. I was in the habit of asking them to look back on the early stages of their relationships and tell me if they could see any signs of these problems. Invariably, they said yes.

Haven't you wondered why so many people overlook issues and differences in their dating relationships only to have these problems plague their marriages years later? You are dumbfounded when your friend forgives her boyfriend (or his girlfriend) for that destructive and repeating pattern of behavior that everyone else can see ... but then it happens to you. You become struck by love and everything blurs. Not until after a breakup (or sometimes after the wedding) does the lightbulb come on, and then you feel really stupid because all those warning signals you ignored in the beginning of the relationship seem so clear in hindsight. Why is it that love is blind?

Two reasons emerged when I asked my disillusioned patients why they did not pay attention to those early warning signals. Combined, they capture the essence of what causes the love-is-blind syndrome.

First, many of these patients said, "If I only knew then what I know now." They lacked the head knowledge of what to look for in a prospective partner. It is not surprising that most of us are greatly misinformed about the characteristics that predict marriage material, seeing that few of us have ever been formally taught about relationships. Our classrooms have been our families, friends, romantic movies, trashy novels, and our own trial-and-error experiences. While some of you gained clarity on this subject from these real-life courses, most have become more confused and apprehensive.

As my curiosity deepened, I started digging through the annals of research on love, romance, dating, mate selection, and predictors of satisfaction in marriage. I read more than a thousand articles, dozens of self-help books, and endless writings from popular magazines. I had taught advanced marriage and family graduate courses and was well aware of the plethora of research on the premarital predictors of marital happiness. I pored over these studies and found that most of the predictors grouped into five categories:

1. Compatibility potential—the balance between the similarities and differences of personality, values, and interests between you and this person—in other words, how you "fit together"

2. Relationship skills—communication, openness, and conflict management and resolution

3. Patterns from other relationships—relationship patterns from both romantic and nonromantic relationships

4. Family patterns and background—the quality of the parental marriage and the family's expression of affection and emotion, development of roles, and interaction patterns

5. Character and conscience traits—the emotional health and maturity of conscience

The first two categories are fairly obvious and likely to be identified and understood early in a new relationship. The other three, however, are more subtle and usually remain hidden for much of the premarital time. These three categories were most often overlooked according to my dissatisfied and reflective patients.

The second reason that these patients minimized crucial signs of problems was summed up in a phrase I most often heard them say while sighing, "I guess I was just too much in love." Rather than lacking an understanding of their partners, they experienced an overdeveloped emotional attachment that resulted in severing their heads from their hearts. Embedded in this latter reason were thoughts like "things will get better" and "I know this is a problem but he (or she) loves me, and that is all that matters." I refer to this as a lack of heart knowledge. We can laugh when we see this kind of overattachment in popular television programs about singles because we relate to them. But the sobering reality is not funny at all, especially if you've been in a series of relationships that felt like true love but ended up as anything but.

It's Just Not Working

It became convincingly clear to me that conventional dating practices simply are not physically or emotionally safe. Nor do they lead to satisfactory partner choices. The need to provide a user-friendly guideline to balance the head with the heart is fundamental to the development of a healthy relationship and the choice of a partner. But no one had ever designed a road map for an individual to use when choosing a life partner for marriage. A wealth of research was not being translated into a practical and useful tool for singles to use in dating relationships and their quests for a marriage partner.

Can it be done? Should it be done? Why hasn't it been done before? I wondered about these questions and more. The longer I studied, the more I realized that I had it all backward. I was wondering if the world of singles could handle a plan for choosing a marriage partner when I realized that the world had always followed a plan for choosing a marriage partner. What it cannot handle is not having a plan to follow.

Singles had never been completely on their own in this venture. In the past, the plan for choosing a marriage partner had involved families, communities, and traditions. Eighty percent of all cultures throughout all history practiced some form of planned marriages: arranged marriages and forced marriages. These marriages were designed to maximize a rational approach to marriage: bringing together a couple who were similar in cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds; compatible in social status and family values; and beneficial for not just the two who were marrying but also the extended families involved. This historical approach to the choice of a partner was not really about love, romance, attraction, or intimacy. It was a practical arrangement that was directed by a rational plan. You could sum it up in just one word: think.

Not until the last few centuries were planned marriages replaced by marriages where individuals chose partners based on romantic attraction and feelings of love. Family and community guidance gave way to individual pursuits. The importance of similar backgrounds, values, religious beliefs, and cultural traditions was overthrown by passionate love and romance. This was such a new concept that in the early 1900s romantic love as a reason for marriage was considered a "pathological experiment" by most sociologists and marriage educators. The famous sociologist and family researcher Ernest W. Burgess wrote in 1926 that "the presumably irrational, arbitrary and fleeting nature of a romantic choice of spouse is diametrically opposed to the serious, prudent and responsible undertaking which it should be." In other words, don't follow your heart—use your head.

However, Burgess's warning was not heeded, most likely because the public assumed you can only do one or the other—so Western society revolted against reason and embraced the emotion of love. The twentieth century raised romance to heights it had never previously known. Singles were led to think love and only love. From music to movies to literature, love and romance dominated the charts. The classic Beatles song "All You Need Is Love" captured the culminating sentiment of the entire century.

The trouble with the approach is it didn't recognize that the head and heart were made to work together. The old world of arranged marriages focused on a rational approach to compatibility of family background, status, individual character, religion, culture, and family values. It was an era where the head led in the choice of a mate. The new world of the twentieth century focused on love, attraction, chemistry, devotion, sex, needs, intimacy, and loyalty. Love could be irrational but beautiful.

However, I believe that it is possible to have the best of both worlds. The twentieth-century motto "Think love" needs to be replaced with a new, twenty- first-century motto "Love thinks." It is possible to combine the resources of your mind with the passions of your heart. Doesn't it make sense to use them both?

Too often people act on the belief that being in love entitles them to stop taking in and analyzing information about their partners. The assumption is that love itself will take care of all that is to come, including maintaining the relationship. Love is conceived as an either-or phenomenon. You either are in love, or you are not. And if the love switch is thrown on, the brain switch is turned off. You leap into an exciting pool of pure emotion and willfully choose to stay there until you are about to drown in bad feelings.

Charting the Course of Love

So what is the alternative? How can you chart your course of love? You need a plan, a road map, a model that joins the head and heart in a harmonious whole so that they work together to guide you through the building of a relationship.

I spent years developing the RAM. It summarizes massive amounts of theory and research on love, attachment, intimacy, and bonding into just one interactive picture. It portrays the amazing forces of love and how they interact with the discerning powers of the mind. The RAM is simple, yet it respects the complexity of love; personal, yet universally applicable; and rational, yet open to the mystery of love. I will completely explain the RAM in the next chapter, but at this point it is important to say that it provides everything you need to choose a partner: a plan to guide you to know what a partner really will be like as a spouse, to stay emotionally and physically safe while the relationship is growing, and to make healthy choices that will lead to a fulfilling marriage.

The first time I presented the RAM publicly was in the summer of 1996. I titled the seminar "How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk." I had invited sixty colleagues from various fields—educators, counselors, ministers, social workers, and divorce experts. I taught the five-lesson curriculum in an all-day format. The response was overwhelmingly positive. From that group alone I received over a dozen invitations to present the program in other settings. In a short amount of time, I had stopped all my other seminar presentations and was teaching only this. A year later I had a film crew videotape one of my live presentations so that others could use it with their respective groups and classes. I wrote a discussion workbook that students and group participants could use along with the videos and formally titled it PICK a Partner.

It became evident that videos were not enough. PICK had crossed cultural and generational boundaries, and a diversity of instructors needed to be trained and certified to teach the program without the videos. I wrote an instructor's course with detailed lesson plans and made the certification training program available online. Before I knew it, instructors were teaching PICK in almost every state and requesting translations in other languages.


Excerpted from How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk by JOHN VAN EPP Copyright © 2007 by John Van Epp. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Your Heart Matters, but So Does Your Head     1
Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind     3
The RAM Plan     17
Healthy People Make Healthy Choices     31
Use Your Head...     51
Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name?: RAM Dynamic 1: Do I Really Know You?     53
Find Your Soul Mate: Step One: Getting to Know Your Compatibility Potential     75
Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say: Step Two: Getting to Know the Skills for Building and Maintaining Relationships     109
"And My Third Wife Was a...": Step Three: Getting to Know the Patterns from Other Relationships     129
You Can't Marry Jethro Without Gettin' the Clampetts: Step Four: Getting to Know the Patterns of a Family Background     161
Find Your Mate's Soul: Step Five: Getting to Know the Patterns of the Conscience     185
... While Following Your Heart     213
Sketching the Date-Mate Profile: RAM Dynamic 2: Should I Trust You?     215
If I Scratch Your Back, Will You Scratch Mine?: RAM Dynamic 3: Will You Meet My Needs?     241
My Word Is My Bond-Maybe: RAM Dynamic 4: Can You Keep a Commitment?     263
How to Have Great Sex: RAM Dynamic 5: Should We Have Sex?     287
Conclusion: What the World Needs Now Is Pacemakers andTrendsetters     309
Notes     313
Index     321
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2009



    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2014

    Informative book

    Wish I had read this book years ago. It would have saved me a lot of time and heartaches. I wonder if most people would spend this kind of effort to judge a person worthy of their affections? I would think you would have to have an unbiased 3rd person to help you with this---so your heart wouldn't get in the way and you could use your brain to choose. After years though, things change and people change. The whole thing is a risk---might as well just stay friends!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2014



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  • Posted January 3, 2011


    dont be a jerk and download this!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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