Sadly, around 40 percent of UK marriages end in divorce and, according to world-leading father-and-daughter relationship experts Dr George and Jiveny Blair-West, the main reason is that we don’t give enough thought to finding a suitable partner for long-term contentment.

Instead, we like to think in terms of ‘the one’ and ‘romantic destiny’ –– the notion that there is some invisible, uncontrollable force at work bringing people together. The problem with this, says Australia-based psychiatrist George and dating coach Jiveny, is that feelings come and go, and are therefore not a firm base to build the foundations of a long-term relationship. The key to a successful, lasting and happy relationship is to make an informed, conscious decision about whom you wish to settle down with. It might not be considered that romantic but having helped hundreds of couples going through relationship difficulties and breakups, George firmly believes that in matters of the heart, prevention is far better than the cure.

To mark the release of George and Jiveny’s new book, How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life: Unlocking the secrets to a healthy, lasting relationship, we spoke to them to find out all the small print in the ‘book of love’.

George and Jiveny Blair-West
George and Jiveny Blair-West

Q. You say in How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life that we need to rethink the way we see romantic love. Can you explain more? 

A. Romantic love is a fine basis for a wild love affair but not for a life-long relationship of connected companionship, which is built on what we call ‘true love’. Love marriages only became the norm in the West around 200 years ago – a mere blip in recorded history – and we’re still at the kindergarten level of understanding how to make them work long-term. It’s only in the last 30 years that the research has shown us what creates a successful life-long relationship. Many of the findings are counterintuitive. Perhaps the most paradoxical finding is that the more intense the romantic love at the outset of a relationship, the higher the divorce rate. Equally surprising is that a lack of conflict also predicts a higher rate of divorce.

Q. Why do you think it is harmful to think in terms of finding ‘the one’? 

A. Inherently, the concept of ‘the one’ implies that there is only one potential partner for us and some force of the universe will bring us together if we’re patient. We call this idea ‘romantic destiny’. The promise of ‘the one’ is a way of seeing love that actually increases the risk of divorce. This is because people expect a relationship with ‘the one’ to sail through the bad times – but a circa 40 percent divorce rate exposes this lie as people move on from ‘the one’ to ‘another one’. When a person asks the question, ‘Are they the one?’ they typically focus on how strongly they feel romantically in love. The key determinants of a successful, life-long relationship aren’t usually considered. Research suggests that instead of there being only one person we can have a successful, long-term relationship with, there are 350,000 we have the potential to fall in love with. Even if 99.9 percent of them live somewhere else on the planet, are in a relationship or are the wrong age, that still leaves 350 people you could be happy with!

Q. Why is it better to get married in our late 20s to early 30s rather than sooner? 

A. Who we are in our early 20s has a poor correlation with who we are by, say, 50. Around 30, both our personality and core values have consolidated such that who we are does match up more closely with our future selves. Often, couples who get married younger literally ‘grow apart’ as one, or both of them, mature into very different people. Indeed, in recent years people have been marrying later – around age 30 – and this is the single, biggest reason why the divorce rate is falling. Conflict over core values can have fatal repercussions for a marriage. For example, if one partner wants to have a family and the other does not, or one strictly follows a religious practice that the other does not want to be involved in. The one thing we want to get before we get married is … older! 

Q. What are some of the main predictors of divorce that you can watch out for before you get married? 

A. You can often track back in a marriage to find that most of the problems that brought a couple undone were present before they tied the knot, with the hope that they would somehow resolve themselves once they were married. Reliability is a good example: Does your partner follow through on their commitments or, if they can’t, do they let you know and negotiate a change of plan? Does your partner have your back if you’re sick or if you’re out socially and someone is giving you a hard time? We need to feel safe in a relationship so, in turn, we can be vulnerable and let our partner really get to know us; to really see us. A related critical predictor of relationship health is how low they go in conflict? Do they fling your vulnerabilities or secrets back at you? Do they humiliate you with your shortcomings? 

Q. In your book you talk about avoiding the ‘nines & 10s’ when dating. What defines someone who is a ‘nine or 10’, and why is it important not to enter into a long-term relationship with them? 

A. The best word for this is ‘chemistry’. When actors audition for some roles, they will be put up against their co-stars for a ‘chemistry test’. This test captures way more than physical attraction as it brings out less tangible, interactional aspects such as demeanour, connection, familiarity and rapport. The score is out of 10 and the top end represents someone being incredibly attractive.

There are two powerful forces that sit behind this advice. Firstly, the more intense the attraction, the greater the disappointment (the fall from the high when the infatuation phase comes to an end). This is because much of the intensity comes from a fantasy we project onto the other person of an idealised future that is often impossible to realise in reality.

Secondly, the psychology of attraction (which we explain in depth in How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life) shows us how it is built around unconscious forces from relationship experiences in our formative years. Unfortunately, nines and 10s are people who have the same challenging traits as those who have emotionally wounded us along the way. Our unconscious mind is incredibly quick to recognise these traits. The powerful attraction comes from the fact that they hold the potential to heal this wound, if only this time they could really appreciate our individuality and give us the love and attention that we missed out on earlier. Too often, because they have similar ways of operating, and are not aware of the game they signed up for, they just re-wound us again.

By following George and Jiveny Blair-West’s invaluable advice, you’ll know for sure whether your envisioned Mr or Mrs Right really lives up to the name.
By following George and Jiveny Blair-West’s invaluable advice, you’ll know for sure whether your envisioned Mr or Mrs Right really lives up to the name.

Q. You explore the research into modern arranged marriages in How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life. What is a ‘modern arranged marriage’, and what are the benefits to a couple rather than making their own decision? 

A. In a ‘modern arranged marriage’ (MAM), partners have some input, along with power of veto over the decision to marry a potential partner, within a culture that is accepting of divorce. The research we review in our book comes out of California. While we don’t advocate returning to arranged marriages, the research is fascinating and has much to teach us. By five years, ratings of love and marital satisfaction equate to those in ‘love marriages’, and by 10 years the ratings are much higher in the MAMs. Importantly, there is no difference between the men and the women’s reports (filled out independently of each other). 

This is largely because feelings of love do not coexist well alongside the inevitable conflict and stressors of adult life, leaving people feeling they are falling out of love. In a MAM, this is of no surprise to them. Instead, their relationship is built around a commitment to see through the tough times and work as a team no matter what life throws at them. This allows ‘true love’ to grow. The most surprising finding is that greater ‘involvement in mate selection’ did not improve marital satisfaction. Friends and family, who are a good judge of character (and not jaded about love), can often see problems with potential partners that we cannot appreciate. They do not say ‘love is blind’ for nothing.     

It is this research, and studies of what makes marriages work, that bring us to a new definition of ‘true love’ that we know underpins successful, long-term relationships: True love is the feeling of being fully accepted by another who knows you intimately and who is committed to nurturing both your personal growth and their own.

Q. For those entering or re-entering the dating scene, what is the best mindset to have before wading in, and why? 

A. The most empowering dating mindset you can have is built on curiosity, determination and detachment. Rather than focusing on finding ‘the one’, try to approach each date as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you want in a partner. Curiosity will allow you to stay open to different types of people and experiences, rather than getting caught up in preconceived notions or expectations. Remember that dating is a process, and it's okay to take your time and get to know yourself before committing to a relationship. 

Determination and detachment in combination carry enormous power. Having determination means that you are actively searching and putting yourself out there, rather than waiting for love to come to you. This determination will help you to keep moving forward and not get discouraged when things don't work out.

Detachment, on the other hand, means not getting overly invested or attached to any one person or outcome. This allows you to approach each date and interaction with a sense of open curiosity, rather than desperately seeking a relationship. By maintaining a balance between these three perspectives, you'll be more likely to find a healthy, fulfilling partnership.

Q. Why is curiosity central to a healthy relationship?

A. People say a good relationship is about communication, but lots of great communicators struggle in relationships. Curiosity is not just for dating, it drives communication and, more importantly, empathic connection. When we’re curious about our partner, we’re more likely to ask questions and learn more about them, and truly appreciate where they’re at emotionally at a given time.

This builds trust and intimacy in the relationship and helps us to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings more effectively. Along with the other ‘c’ – a commitment to keep working on a relationship through the hard times, as a team – we have two of the main foundations of a successful relationship.

How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life bring the conscious mind into affairs of the heart to ensure a genuine happy ever after.

Q. Is there any difference between men and women when it comes to being ready to marry?  

A. Very much so, and understanding this can save a lot of disappointment for both sexes. While women have a biological clock that pushes them to marry as they get older, men have a ‘counter-career clock’, in that it stops them from marrying until they get older and established. Men, generally, do not want to settle down until they have consolidated their career, largely because they know that this gives them a greater chance of attracting a quality mate. But even before this, the research shows that once they get a good job and move out of home, they like to have a period of ‘sowing their wild oats’. It may be a corny saying, but like all adages, it survives because of its ongoing relevance. Developmentally, this is important for men as they experiment with what they do and don’t want in a relationship. Studies show that a big factor that determines when men start to think more seriously about marriage is when they see their friends starting to tie the knot. The other pivotal factor is that women need to make it clear that they’re not interested in moving in together unless marriage is on the cards as a possibility. 

Q. How true is the old adage that opposites attract?

A. Very true. This is because there are real benefits in marrying a person with a different personality and interests. Typically, extroverts marry introverts – a much better combination than having two people competing for the same stage, or two people happy to stay home and read a book. Moreover, the introvert helps the extrovert to mindfully enjoy quiet times, while the extrovert drives a social life and meeting new people. Equally, the big-picture person works best with a partner who will check the details, while the detail person, who is typically more risk-averse, will need a big-picture thinker to look at making investments or having some rewarding, but riskier, life experiences.

Most importantly of all, children need very different parents so there is at least one that can more easily relate to their personality and really see them as an individual. Just think about the problems that arise when both parents are detail-focused and risk-avoidant, while their child is a big-picture entrepreneur. Meanwhile, having different interests means that you will introduce your partner to broader life experiences than those they would have if you shared similar interests. 

The key point, however, is that while it is good to be opposite in some ways, especially regarding personality and interests, we need to be similar when it comes to core values and a relationship vision.  

Q. How should we see conflict in a relationship?

A. This question follows nicely from the question of ‘do opposites attract’ as the downside of being in relationships with dissimilar people is that we are more likely to have conflict. We need, however, to re-think the role of conflict – this is one of the major findings in the last 30 years. We have come to realise that it is disagreements and healthy conflict that are responsible for driving the bulk of the growth in a relationship. This is because it highlights what areas a couple need to work on to make a good relationship great. This, of course, requires a couple to develop the skills of fighting respectfully and learning how to listen and resolve their conflict. These skills are actually critical for all of life, so it’s good to develop them at home and then take them into the world. Paradoxically, research shows that couples who have no conflict are much more likely to divorce because there is little growth happening.

Q. Why is it never wise to date someone who has just come out of another relationship? 

A. This is particularly important if the previous relationship was a long or more significant one. We need time to grieve and work out what it was that the relationship was meant to teach us. This requires us to unpack the mixed emotions around a breakup, which is necessary for meaningfully processing and learning from it. Typically, this takes several months. Indeed, the most problematic start to a relationship is when one partner cheats on their partner and then moves out and into that new relationship. These beginnings rarely have a happy ending as there is no time to effectively grieve and process the failed relationship. The best way to tell if someone has moved on is if they can (a), comfortably talk about their ex, and (b), do so in a balanced way that recognises their strengths as well as their weaknesses. 

Q. George, what initially led you to write How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life

A. I started writing this book almost 10 years ago as I was working with couples and individuals who were divorcing or had divorced. I could see that too often the problems had been there from before they married but there was little understanding of the underlying forces at work, just hurt, anger and devastated children. There was very little education around how attraction actually worked and how romantic love could lead to divorce. For a long time, I found that older generations did not want to see beneath the hood of romance – as though I was questioning a deeply held religious conviction. But then I spoke to some millennials who, being two generations into a divorce-ready culture, were very interested in understanding how attraction and successful relationships worked. I realised that I needed a younger voice to speak to this generation, and who better than my dating coach daughter! Jiveny, with two parents who have worked as couple therapists, always had an unusually sophisticated understanding of these issues that sat on top of her deep coaching experience, and so the book received a major overhaul and here we are. 

Q. How do you think your writing partnership has enhanced the book? 

A. Having two authors from different generations come together for the writing of How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life has certainly made the book better than any one of us could have achieved on our own. Working closely together got us to discuss our thinking and expand our understanding of the issues more thoroughly as we shared our different perspectives and introduced each other to new research along the way. It’s also shown us that while there have been some seismic shifts in the way people approach and think about dating today, some aspects of dating haven’t changed much at all. Overall, it was a wonderful and powerful, father-daughter experience working together on this project.

How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life by George Blair-West and Jiveny Blair-West is THE indispensable guide to relationships – highly recommended.

Q. What do you hope readers will gain most from reading How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life

A. The Western world needs to appreciate that long-term, successful relationships are built, not found and, contrary to The Beatles song, love is not ‘all you need’ to make a relationship work. It’s time for a major rethink into how we co-create a life-long relationship with a partner as there is something incredibly special about building a relationship that lasts into the golden years of life. Two people with what we call ‘true love’ are not just twice as good at taking on the demands and vicissitudes of life, they are 10 times better off. The research is clear that happily married people have better health and live longer. A partner can literally mean the difference between life and death as they look out for you and access help when you might need it. 

In our book, we outline how you can make the biggest decision of your life the best decision of your life by choosing a ‘good-enough’ life partner to commit to. We distil the latest research, identify the most important green flags and, from our work with our clients, offer practical strategies to develop the necessary foundations of a healthy, lasting relationship.

Q. What is the greatest reader feedback you’ve received about the book? 

A. The best reviews are those where the reader clearly ‘gets’ the magnitude of what we’re trying to achieve. Perhaps it is this one from Amazon: This book is the perfect love letter to yourself for finding something special … This book should be discussed in schools so our future generations can flourish with the proper understanding of how to date. Read it, you owe it to yourself.

How to Make the Biggest Decision of Your Life by Dr George Blair-West and Jiveny Blair-West is out now on Amazon, published through Alclare Publishing and available in paperback and eBook formats, priced £14.99 and £3.99 respectively.

For more information, visit or You can follow dating coach Jiveny Blair-West on Facebook at @jivenyblairwest, Twitter at @jivenyblairwest or on Instagram at @jivenyblairwest.

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