Valentine’s Day is the time for a budding relationship to expand. But as anyone can attest, certain things can halt a date dead in its tracks. A date’s inattention, a lack of chemistry, or even worse – bad breath – can lead to a failure of an evening. And with the romantic holiday coming up, we want to help you avoid any of these issues, so we turned to an expert.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a renowned relationship/sex expert and psychiatrist. She has been featured on the TODAY Show, is a bestselling author, and has been called “a voice of wisdom and insight in a world of confusion and contradictions.” We turned to her, just in time for Valentine’s Day, in order to get the scoop on what habits and attitudes can make or break a new relationship:

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What are some of the key reasons that first dates fail? How are they preventable?

Mismatch of values, lack of any attraction, one party too self-focused, attempting to move too fast, overly inflated expectations. Think about asking your date about themselves and LISTEN. First dates are often awkward, so don’t expect high romance on the first try, but rather give it a chance to evolve and let it unfold slowly. Put your best physical foot forward by grooming to be appealing. For example, mouth hygiene is really important. In fact, according to a recent survey from Listerine, 76% of Americans surveyed consider bad breath to be a relationship deal breaker.

As a relationship expert, what are some of the common “deal breakers” you come across in your line of work or that people share with you?

No sense of humor, too self involved, treated others rudely, bad breath, bad kisser (sexually no connection or attraction)

If bad breath is a deal breaker based on the new national survey you mentioned, what’s a quick and effective way to refresh your breath before a date or a meeting? What regiment or product do you recommend people use? 

Regular hygiene like brushing, flossing, seeing the dentist helps, but right before a date swishing with a rinse like Listerine can make a good first impression and keep your mouth smelling attractive and kissable.

What are the biggest barriers for communication in a relationship? How do we overcome them?

Really listening to your partner and empathizing with their position, willingness to compromise, ability to talk about everything including money and sex lives, caring more about the communicating than the winning of an argument. For long terms goals, think about all these things and work towards empathy, compromise and caring about your partners feelings.

Nerves can get in the way of a new relationship. How do you suggest a boost in confidence when tackling a new romance? 

Feeling good about yourself matters, irrespective of the other person, confident, not arrogant. Know what you have to offer, and remember that just because one person didn’t mesh with you does not mean you don’t have great stuff to offer. List the things you bring to the table.

In an age of dating apps, how does someone go out and just meet people? 

Dating apps can increase your pool, but in person meeting is better because you can see body language and speak to each other which is a much better indicator of possible compatibility. A shared interest often bodes well, so taking a class where you could meet someone, at your place of worship, having a friend introduce you to a friend, doing a sport at a community center, etc.

What is the psychological connection between smiling and enhancing romantic relationships? Why is this important?

Your smile signals pleasure in the other person’s company which makes them feel there is a connection. But smiling with a healthy looking mouth also signals good health, which unconsciously is what everyone looks for in a mate. This is because from an evolutionary perspective it gives you the best chance of passing on your genes long term to offspring that will be healthy too.

What kind of body language lets you know if someone is interested? Why would someone avoid these obvious relationship-building gestures? And what kind of body language should you avoid?

Overall, body language that is “open”, meaning looking at them eye to eye, arms open, standing closer, occasional touching lets someone know they are interested. People would avoid these obvious relationship-building signals if they feel anxious (social anxiety is extremely common, low confidence, maybe self-conscious of their smile and overall appearance) and not because they are not interested, so you may need to give it a few dates to judge this kind of thing. This Valentine’s Day, if you’re trying to set the mood with a loved one or someone you like, you should avoid looking down, crossing your arms, standing back, as these signal discomfort and lack of confidence which may indicate lack of interest.

What advice would you give a couple celebrating their first Valentine’s Day this year? 

Have reasonable expectations, it is after all a Hallmark holiday and not a test of your love. Tell your partner what you are thinking and might like as opposed to hoping they do something and then being mad or disappointed they didn’t read your mind. Do something that feels romantic and NEW to both of you to add an element of excitement.

For more advice on how to find happiness in your life, check out our Happiness section

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