PICK a Partner (aka How to Avoid Falling in Love With A Jerk)

Can you relate?

Molly is a 28 year-old, single woman, who grew up the second of four daughters in a conservative, Christian home. Her parents met in college and married soon after graduating, as did her older sister and her husband. Molly assumed she would also meet her husband in college, but despite having a couple of relationships, Molly is still single. Growing up, the lessons Molly learned about dating were to date a Christian man with good manners and the intention of marriage, and don’t have sex before marriage. Molly is now venturing into the world of online dating and feels completely clueless as to what to specifically look for in a partner, besides sharing the same faith and views on intimacy.

George is a 55 year-old man and recently divorced from his wife of thirty years. Throughout their marriage, George felt criticized by his wife frequently and controlled by her manipulative relational style often. They share three adult children together, who are encouraging George to “put himself out there” and start dating again. While George misses the companionship of marriage and desires to have healthy marriages like many of his friends, the dating world is different now than the last time he dated. Not to mention, he is terrified of repeating the same mistakes in his next relationship and falling for the same “type” of woman as his ex-wife.

Enter the Premarital Interpersonal Choices & Knowledge Program, or PICK a Partner program.

What is the PICK program?

The PICK program teaches group participants how to pace the development of a relationship in a healthy way so that “red flags” aren’t overlooked and unaddressed. The program teaches five areas participants should consider in their romantic relationships that accurately predicts what their relationship will be like with that partner in the long-term.

What are these five areas?

1) Knowledge, including family background, conscience, compatibility, past relationships, and relational skills

2) Trust

3) Reliance, or trust in action

4) Commitment: definition of ownership or belonging in a relationship

5) Physical Touch, or intimacy

Why do we need a guide to dating?

We all know the phrase, “Love is blind.” When people in long-term relationships are asked if they saw any signs of relationship problems in the first 6 months of dating, they will usually say one of two things: they didn’t see any problem then, but they wish they knew then what they know now; and/or they saw the problem, but overlooked it because they were so much in love. Dr. John Van Epp, the creator of the PICK program, explains that the “Love is Blind” syndrome comes from a lack of knowing what to look for in the prospective partner, or from becoming over-attached to that prospective partner. Therefore, the PICK program focuses on five predictive areas to explore in a prospective partner, as well as how the five bonding dynamics listed above create attachments in relationships.

I first learned about the PICK program at a counseling conference I attended a few years ago, before I met my husband. As a single woman who had encountered her fair share of crazy in dating (and witnessed friends’ relationships as well), I was intrigued by Dr. Van Epp’s model and devoured his book. Throughout my years of dating, I wrestled with the tension of “nobody is perfect” versus “how much weight should I give to this particular ‘flaw’?” This model provided me with the validation that issues I perceive to be potential problems in a long-term relationship are worth exploring, even if the guy is great overall and it’s true that “no one is perfect.” The model also empowered me to make smart decisions when it came to accepting dates and pursuing relationships, especially in the world of online dating, where I could’ve been emailing with multiple people at one time. Not to mention the fact that online dating is very impersonal and makes it easy for assumptions to be made and the inevitable feelings of surprise and disappointment when those assumptions do not match reality. (Ask anyone who’s ever online dated – I promise you they have at least one story of this!)

One other caveat: in Christian circles especially, there is pressure for single people to marry. I could write an entire blog post (and maybe I will at some point) about this topic. But it’s true. More and more, I hear stories of clients, friends, friends of friends, etc. who marry within a short time period of knowing someone and end up completely miserable. We cannot assume that just because both people in a relationship are Christians that they should definitely get married. And get married FAST. If we preach the sanctity of marriage, then we also need to discuss what makes a healthy marriage, and take the time to cultivate healthy dating relationships.

What does the PICK program look like?

I recently became certified to teach the PICK program, and one of the many things I love about the PICK program is that it can be adapted across a variety of settings for a variety of people. It can be taught in 5 two-hour sessions or 10 one-hour sessions. It can be taught as a retreat, class, or Bible study (a Christian version that integrates Scripture with the course material).

It can be taught to singles groups, youth groups, college groups, divorce recovery groups, or as a parent education course. It can be taught in schools, churches, counseling agencies, community organizations, you name it!

Does it work?

Outcome studies for the program show that an average of 97% of participants found the program helpful and informative in their own dating relationships. Results also showed that participants reported an increase in the importance of getting to know a potential partner in the five areas that research and the PICK program deemed important. Participants also reported an increase in their ability to develop and form healthy relationships and that they gained tools to break off unhealthy relationships. They also reported using the skills they learned in the program in other relationships in their life, including friends, family, and co-workers. You can read more about the research studies here.


I’d love to meet with you and discuss ways in which this program can be implemented in your church, school, agency, organization, etc.! Please do not hesitate to call me at 314-392-2895 or email abundantlifecounselingstl@gmail.com.


About Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis

Julie Williamson is the Founder and Therapist of Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis LLC. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Registered Play Therapist. She enjoys working with adults and adolescents facing the challenges of depression, anxiety, relationships, spiritual struggles, and life transitions.