Contemplative dating

Relationships have never been easy, but dating in the 21st century provides its own struggles, especially for people of faith. While the culture’s narrative may be enticing, there are resources available that share how to have a deep relationship without compromising your values.

Radiant spoke about this topic with Dr. Michael DiPaolo, a clinical psychologist and certified Imago Relationship Therapist. He lives in Los Angeles with Jennie, his wife of 19 years, and their three children, along with a hyperactive dog. Dr. DiPaolo works with individuals and couples in his private practice, and he has counseled over 1,000 couples in marriage preparation through-out the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Dr. DiPaolo is a speaker, workshop presenter and retreat leader who has presented for several years at parish and archdiocesan gatherings. He is also the author of “The Impact of Multiple Childhood Trauma on Homeless Runaway Adolescents.” In this interview with Radiant, he shares some of the methods he uses with couples, such as Contemplative Dating.

Radiant: Dr. DiPaolo, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your dating strategy, Contemplative Dating. Can you tell our readers what that is?

Dr. Michael DiPaolo

Dr. Michael DiPaolo: Contemplative Dating is intentionally seeking out intimate partnership and being faithful to your core self. It’s all about maintaining your values and boundaries amidst the hook-up culture, which dominates the dating landscape.

Radiant: You share some striking statistics on your website regarding that for the first time in history, over 50% of the population is single, as well as the statistic that both men and women who have viewed pornography in the past month is now at the alarming rate of 75% or higher. Why do you think this is?

Dr. DiPaolo: Marriage has gone from being a beginning to a culmination. Thirty years ago, people graduated from college, got a job, got married and started their life. Now they graduate from college not ready to commit — to a career or a partner. They spend their 20’s “adulting,” with marriage off the radar for many.

A great challenge here is that a whole generation is not learning how to authentically communicate or connect. Social media apps have become the medium for connecting. The ironic result is increased loneliness and anxiety for which the digital world provides a ready escape. And porn — fantasied connection — is the perfect escape.

Radiant: Tell us about the Tiger-Turtle analogy and how that corresponds to dating. It’s a great way to see the benefits of people’s unique and complementary personalities or temperaments.

Dr. DiPaolo: The Tiger-Turtle analogy is a fun way to look at our own reactivity in relationships. When we experience tension, does our energy go outward or inward? Tigers express their energy with great emotion. Turtles withdraw into their shell, constricting their energy. It’s important to remember that neither way is right or wrong — they’re just different. And yes, we tend to be attracted to someone with the opposite energy. Perhaps not surprisingly, women are the tigers in roughly 75% of relationships.

Radiant: What inspired you to become a clinical psychologist in the first place?

Dr. DiPaolo: Believe it or not, I entered Notre Dame as a physics major. It lasted one semester. The joke I like to tell is that I just flipped to the next page in the course catalog and found psychology. The more likely reason is that my mission to help people create great relationships stems from growing up in a family of divorce. Combine that with my faith-filled desire to be of service, and here I am.

Radiant: Radiant is for young women who want to embrace the unique woman that God created them to be and wholeheartedly accept the vocation that God is asking of them. According to your experience in your field, what is the greatest need you see for young women today to be aware of?

Dr. DiPaolo: Losing themselves. It’s so easy to get caught up in the fast-paced, high pressured demands of today’s world — and I think it is harder for young women as their roles are changing. The challenge is to embrace the contemplative stance. This means going inward, stripping away the ego and getting to those places of vulnerability. This is where they will find that unique woman that God created them to be.

Radiant: Can you share one of your favorite love stories you have been able to witness?

Dr. DiPaolo: Of course, my favorite love story is my marriage! But let me give you another one. It is such a privilege to prepare couples for marriage. They witness the joy and enthusiasm that a loving relationship is all about. Yet the ones that really stick out in my mind are those who have grown stronger working through their differences.

One young couple, let’s call them Joe and Christina, were a perfect example. Both highly successful and independent, they started off as a power couple — values aligned and visioning an amazing future together. As they grew closer, however, they struggled with losing their independence. Christina began to feel abandoned by Joe’s long hours, fearing his job was more important than her. Joe began to feel smothered by what he perceived as Christina’s neediness. They locked horns in a power struggle every time the issue arose.

So I taught them the Imago Dialogue — a tool to safely explore their concerns and facilitate connection. It basically teaches people to mirror what one person says, validate and empathize with what they are experiencing. This enabled each person to step back from their position. Joe learned how Christina’s father whose distance and infidelity ruptured her family. Christina learned how Joe’s work ethic was modeled after his father who drilled into him messages that failure was unacceptable.

That’s when the magic happened. Joe began checking in with Christina during his work day. Christina began expressing more support for his career. Joe would leave work on time on designated evenings when they had plans. Each was willing to stretch in order to meet the other’s needs. They grew stronger than ever. They have since started a family and still use the dialogue when differences arise.

More information about Dr. DiPaolo can be found online at

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