“I can’t believe he said that!” “She asked you what?!” “That’s so offensive!”

When judging how a date went, many of us tend to rehash and hang on every word exchanged on the date, and every question asked. Of course, in a perfect world, everyone would phrase things just right all the time and no feelings would be hurt. But here’s the problem: If you hyper-focus on your date’s communication style instead of the underlying meaning of their words and their character, you just might be dismissing someone who really does have what it takes to be your other half.

Before disqualifying them as a suitable life partner, first give them the benefit of the doubt and try to understand what your date is trying to communicate to you about him or herself – their fears, experiences, hopes and dreams – just like we are trying to convey ours to them.

When we do this, we realize that questions that may have sounded somewhat off-putting at first may actually have been your date’s way of trying to protect him or herself, as opposed to trying to offend you. One common way we do this is by self-disclosing (sometimes too much or too soon) to communicate our deeper need to feel appreciated and respected for who we are and what we’ve accomplished.

For example: “When I was a kid, I had a terrible, traumatic experience….” What s/he really wants you to know is: “I’ve overcome many obstacles in my life to get myself to this place. I hope you will recognize and respect me for my personal growth.”

If your date is a normal human being with normal human vulnerabilities, s/he is likely trying to probe for signs of safety to get closer to you. For example: your date said: “Why aren’t you married yet?” What s/he really wants you to know is: “You seem really great and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have already found another wonderful person to settle down with.” Depending on your date’s tone of voice, another possible meaning of this question could be: “Are you truly serious about getting married? Do I need to protect myself from getting hurt in case you aren’t?” In the latter case, treat it as food-for-thought and don’t waste the opportunity to do some critical introspection: Are you sending the message that you’re not so serious about the relationship? If so, are you perhaps afraid of commitment?

Your date said: “So how many other people have you gone out with?” What s/he really means is: “Is it safe for me to let my guard down with you?” In this case, as in the previous example, there’s an attempt to test the waters of emotional safety. Granted, it may not be the best or sweetest way to express this need, but let’s be honest: Aren’t we all a bit guarded and just doing our best to seek out safety and warmth in a partner? It may be unpleasant to hear (and you shouldn’t feel pressured to answer the question itself,) but here’s the clincher: If a comment like this is met with an empathetic response, rather than a defensive one, you will most likely see the person’s guard come down and their defenses melt, allowing an opening for real intimacy to build.

So if your date says something a bit shocking, bear these points in mind and think twice about the person’s intended message before deciding they aren’t for you. Throughout your dates, listen and look out for indications of strength of character, goals and values, the factors that are really important in a life partner. Whether the person’s subconscious goal is to create security in the relationship or to win your respect, keeping their underlying intention in mind goes a long way toward finding and building a loving relationship that can last.