"I think that admitting to your need for love and affection, and your vulnerability, is a sign of strength, and that asking for professional help is smart."
By Karianne Dewitte and Alessandra Zocca
Karianne, after several years’ experience working in change and project management in law enforcement, one and a half years’ ago you reinvented your career: you became a relationship counselor. How did your professional transformation process take place? What inspired you to make this change?
Relationship Counselor, Counseling Services
First of all, thank you for inviting me to the PWI Magazine, I feel honored to share my story with you.
My transformation process began with a visualization of the future. I imagined myself working in law enforcement for the next 30 years and I knew I had to do something different. I thought that in order to be successful and happy, you have to do something you are good at, and that you like too. This exercise left me knowing what I did not want to do, but I did not have a clear picture of what I did want. So I hired a job coach to help me clarify my true mission in life.
I have found my mission in helping singles find long-term partners and couples improve their relationship. I can advise them from my own experience. My knowledge of 15 years of dating and relationships has taught me that it may be very difficult to have true love in your life. I believe that several other people could be your soul-mate, but if – once you have found one of them – you think you will stay with him or her for the rest of your life, because you make each other feel really happy, that is what I call “true love”. I learned that it can take hard work and require new skills to have a happy and successful private life.
My Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, which makes me a natural born counselor. As an INFJ, I am a great listener and I can easily empathize with people around me. I also have the gift to see what is going on inside of people and to inspire them to see the world with new eyes. In my opinion, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is an important tool in helping clients build their own long-term relationships.
What lessons have you learned from, and thanks to, this transformation process?
Having undergone two major transformations myself – in my professional and in my personal life – I know from first-hand experience that changing yourself is always painful but it is very rewarding too. I have also witnessed this in friends and clients.
For example, as I did for myself, I think that people might reflect and review their concept of romantic interest and with this regard I suggest you watch the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” (1). It depicts how some women take a risk, repeatedly waiting in vain for men who are not interested in them, and lack a happy private life as long as they do not change their relationship patterns.
My change processes have also taught me not to give up, even if nothing changes in your personal life over a week’s or even a year’s time. The ‘21 days formula’ – the idea that you quit a habit in 21 days, and then you will be healed – is a myth, no scientific research backs this up. Yet, some people believe it and feel frustrated when three weeks have passed and their old habit has not disappeared. In order to support my clients, I developed a simple, yet workable model – which I call the ‘Red, Blue, Yellow Model’ which helps you understand how people recover from breakups and other painful relationship events (e.g. cheating).
Another lesson I have learned is that you cannot change what happens outside, without systematically working on your inside, for example attracting quality people instead of persons who hurt you. For this purpose, I decided to invent my own dating method which helped me find my soul-mate within eleven months of applying it. My approach and principles turned out to work for friends too, and now I use them to support my clients.
In order to succeed in your new profession what skills have you added to your natural talent for counseling? How did you acquire them?
My training in social science, philosophy and neuropsychology allows me to draw from a rich academic background to help clients transform their private life. Social science lets me understand how people relate to each other. Philosophy gives me ideas about how our beliefs affect our experience. I learned from neuropsychology how our brain plays tricks on us, especially when we are in love.
Another set of skills I acquired from taking specialist courses in coaching and relationship communication.
I also learned a lot from volunteering as a crisis counselor, while I was working as a project manager. In addition, my management position involved guiding people towards change, which offered me the opportunity to experience first-hand how complex and challenging change processes are.
The greatest difference between corporate and individual transformation is that the former is an obligation, whilst the latter is a choice. The fact that you can decide for yourself to change - or even just to know that you have several options - is very powerful. As a crisis counselor, I have supported hundreds of people in their struggle to combat their feeling of a painful life: I helped them to become more aware of the power they have over their own life. This practice has taught me the importance of making clients feel safe, valued and empowered.
Finally, some skills like relationship counseling, I have taught myself through a lot of observation, reading, learning and self-reflection. I would like to highlight that I have had to struggle beyond my search for my life partner and the building of my personal relationship. In fact, my childhood was challenged by poverty, violence and illness. My mother was very loving though and I greatly admire her courage to change her love life at the age of 50. She inspires me to help other women transform at any age. Now, she feels very happy and is blessed with a grandson.
What advice would you have for women and relationships today?
Many women find it difficult to speak about their personal life, desires and struggles – for some business women love is not even a subject for discussion. Yet, in my opinion, talking about it with a professional and neutral third party is key to identifying and breaking through your relationship patterns. Also, many women dislike the idea that the searching for a partner/personal relationship has to do with the concept of a “market”. A great book about this concept, which I often recommend to my clients, is “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating” by Paul Oyer (2). Written from an economics professor’s point of view, it can change the way you feel about love. It is great fun to read too. I especially loved the epilogue which sums up the book’s ideas and reveals the outcome of the author’s personal story concerning his quest for a satisfactory private life.
At some point, when I was looking to improve my private life, I felt that the market concept sounded very rational and I was convinced that love is all about the heart. Now, I invite singles to think about the following question: «Where has your heart gotten you, while it was playing the CEO of your private Iife?» I believe that it takes some rationality in order to allow yourself to fully express your feelings and let your heart decide calmly with whom you want to have a long-term relationship. The method I created, named the D.A.T.E. method, is based on exactly this idea:
When I work with couples to improve their relationship, one of the things I often advise them is to show appreciation. I think that the longer you stay together, the more you are at risk of taking each other for granted. An easy tool that can improve your relationship right away, is what I call ‘The Appreciation Exercise’.
- D - I help my clients to first Define whom they want to be with. Based on the crystal clear picture of their ideal relationship,
- A - I challenge them to Act in order to find their potential partners.
- T - Third, I support them to Triumph over the challenges in their love life. Often these are bad relationship patterns which need to be replaced by healthier ways of relating.
- E - Finally, I encourage them to think about how they want to Experience their love life within a year. This powerful exercise helps them to stay active in the dating market, and not get discouraged when it takes time to find a good long-term relationship.
For example, just before going to sleep, you describe two things which you really liked about your partner that day. Preferably, your appreciative feedback is very specific and can cover actions or looks. For example, one partner could say: “I appreciate that you were wearing that blue shirt today – you look great in it!” The other partner could say: “I appreciate that you gave me so many hugs today.” The latter example is not coincidence by the way. Hugging can improve your relationship too. It boosts the production of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn helps people bond with each other.
What type of clients do you serve with your counseling?
My clients are smart singles and couples whom I serve either in English, French or Dutch, anywhere in the world (through Skype or in my private practice near Brussels). I believe that most people are smart in their own way, but not everyone is willing to stand back and reflect upon their private life and learn to relate better with their (potential) partners. This is the essence of how I support clients who no longer wish to have an (partially) unsatisfactory private life, like having “relationships” with emotionally or physically unavailable partners or letting problems in your relationship grow. I think that life is too short not to have true love in your life.
Secondly, my clients are really committed to their goal of having a stable and loving relationship. In my opinion, being committed implies being willing to act. This sounds self-evident, but I have heard professionally successful women – and also men - say that they would really like to find someone but that love should happen by itself (they would not say this about finding the perfect car or shoes…).
The latter is related to the idea that if you look for love, then you will not find it. I do not know who invented this saying, but it is false. You might say that your friend has a wonderful private life without having looked for it. The bad news is that the former is anecdotal evidence and the chances are that your friend has a mindset, and a body language, which attract quality partners. The good news is that you can work on your skills and build a happier personal life too.
You mentioned that the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator is a key tool for you: what more could you say about that?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a wonderful tool to understand and improve your relationships with people, not just on a personal level but also on a professional level. The MBTI is based on four main questions concerning interaction with yourself and your environment, which result in 16 personality types.
As a relationship counselor, I employ this tool to help my clients know themselves better and I teach them how to recognize other people’s personalities. As such, the MBTI can help them to better grasp why, for example, they fight so much in their romantic relationships, attract people they do not want to attract or find it so hard to let go of lovers who treat them badly. The MBTI can also be used to identify the kind of partner who, in the long term, might give them energy rather than deplete it.
Finally, this great tool helps me to see the relationship situation from my client’s personal viewpoint, so that I can adapt my counseling service to fit their specific needs. Every client has unique challenges, but some personality types have very similar challenges. For example, if someone has a tendency towards what the MBTI calls ‘judging the world’ and they usually follow their heart rather than their mind (what the MBTI calls a ‘feeling’ tendency), then it is likely that they are too picky and want to control the exact course of their dates. These personality types could add some skills and mindsets to their repertoire in order to improve their private life.
What do you see as the main challenge for you in helping people to create a better personal life for themselves?
One main challenge is to help my clients change what I call ‘non-effective’ beliefs about love. Those are ideas that do not support you to find and maintain a good long-term relationship. Quite the contrary, these beliefs often work against you, because they show up in your body language. Non-effective beliefs about love are often the result of selectively choosing information from past relationship experience and repeating it for a long time. For instance, you may have been cheated on and think that most men/women are unreliable. Ironically, if you hold such a belief, then you are more likely to attract that type of partner. In this way, your beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Two non-effective beliefs about relationships commonly held amongst single women are that all the good guys are taken, and that it is better to be alone than to be in a relationship just for the sake of being with someone. I have struggled with such thoughts myself and finally replaced them with beliefs that did support my quest. Now, I have a healthy, happy and satisfying relationship and this year we became the parents of a lovely boy. I feel so much happier than when I was single, even though I had a busy and relatively fulfilling professional and personal life.
Yet, nobody can tell someone else what to believe; thinking happens inside people. As a relationship counselor, my job is to empower and challenge my clients to think and act in ways that help them have a loving relationship.
My story is not a fairy tale. It can happen for every person as long as they are committed to finding a good long-term partner. Modern women are often very strong people, we need to work so hard to succeed professionally in a hypercompetitive environment. I think that admitting to your need for love and affection, and your vulnerability, is a sign of strength, and that asking for professional help is smart. You can find everything out by yourself, like I did, but it took me more than a decade – though maybe you are luckier. Alternatively, you can hire a professional if you want to shorten your search process. For this reason, I founded The Love Academy, which offers relationship counseling for smart singles and couples.
(1) “He’s Just Not That Into You”
(2) “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating” by Paul Oyer
Karianne Dewitte, MSc (Hons.), MA (Hons.), Cert. Phil. (Hons.), is an academically trained relationship counselor and cognitive therapist. She loves helping singles to find a great match and couples to improve their relationship. In our globalized and digitalized world, it is so easy to get a lover, but it can be a daunting task to find someone with whom you can build a lasting relationship. Or you may have a partner, but you do not know how to solve the problems in your relationship to keep your love alive. This is where Karianne comes in. She has the gift of seeing what is going on inside of you and she can inspire you to grow and make your dream of love come true.
+32 (0)479 59 46 47
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Love Academy, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement