Recent research by psychologists at the University of Chicago has shown that couples that meet online do better in their relationships than those that meet in other ways. This study of more than 19,000 American couples found that:

“…marriages that began on-line, when compared with those that began through traditional off-line venues, were slightly less likely to result in a marital break-up (separation or divorce) and were associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction among those respondents who remained married…”

This is a fascinating statistic that has got me thinking about the pros and cons of online dating.

When I first started working as a relationship counsellor over 10 years ago, it was a novelty if a couple said they met online. However, today it is much more frequent for a couple to meet online. This is hardly surprising given the huge number of people that are turning to the Internet to find a partner.

So while we might not yet be able to specifically determine why online dating is leading to longer-lasting marriages, we can certainly look at how you can best use online dating to your benefit.

Here are my 5 tips for successful online dating:

1. Use online dating as a conduit for meeting new people

I often describe online dating to my single clients as a tool that facilitates you meeting new people. Nothing more. Nothing less. If you have high expectations of immediately meeting the partner of your dreams, expect to be quickly disappointed.

However, if you consider it’s just a way to bring people together in the real world, and then you take it from there, this is a more realistic perspective on what it can offer.

2. Try to make some contact on the phone before meeting in person

The Internet is very two-dimensional, so I encourage you to have a quick chat to the person you’re thinking of meeting to ‘sound them out’ before meeting in the real world.

This is important from the perspective of listening to your gut reaction and making sure you do want to meet this person.

You will also find that adding the dimension of voice to their profile will give you more information about whether this is someone that might interest you.

3. Make sure you meet in the real world

Don’t fall into the trap of constantly messaging people back-and-forth with no actual meetings. Once you’ve made the connection and you decide you want to proceed with a first date, make sure you schedule it soon so you can then decide if there is any common connection between you.

Sending endless messages for weeks or months does nothing but serve your fantasies of who you think this person is. It’s better to meet their three-dimensional version in the real world so you can get enough information to decide if you want a second date.

And I might be stating the obvious here, but when you first meet, make sure it’s in a safe location where there are lots of people around and you can easily say goodbye without being alone in a isolated place with your date.

4. Be open to new connections and don’t judge people instantly

There can be a tendency for some people to instantly judge a date and decide within minutes whether there is a spark or not.  Many of us have been brainwashed by Hollywood for decades about what an ideal relationship is. But the reality is all sorts of relationships begin in all sorts of ways.

Don’t immediately judge a book by its cover. Give your date a chance to reveal their personality and allow yourself to relax and get to know him or her. Also give yourself time to reveal some of your personality to your date, so each of you can see what you might have in common.

5. Be open to the possibility of friendships if you don’t feel a romantic spark

Not every date has to lead to a romantic connection. Be open to the idea of forming new friendships as well. In fact, if you consider dating as just a way of connecting with new people, it can take a lot of the pressure off that you may feel to find a romantic connection. Many couples I’ve worked with over the years formed a romantic connection after months or years of a friendship connection.

Your feelings can change over time, and not every relationship starts like a bolt of lightening has hit you. That said, if you truly don’t feel any sort of connection for someone, it’s important not to pretend. Be polite, decline a second meeting and move on with dignity.

Online dating can help you meet lots of interesting people that can potentially become romantic or friend connections if used purposely and with the right frame of mind.

Most importantly, be open to new connections and have fun!

Clinton Power is a Sydney-based Gestalt therapist and the owner of Clinton Power +Associates – a private practice dedicated to helping singles and couples move out of relationship pain. He is also the founder of Australia Counselling Directory, a free directory for find counsellors and psychologists in Australia. Clinton is also a passionate coach and consultant for healthcare professionals.  Find him on Twitter or Google+