What to Look for in a Potential Partner

communication

When people are asked what aspects they value in a potential partner they tend to list physical qualities, socially desirable characteristics, and unrealistic expectations.  Furthermore, as we learned in the previous blog posting, we tend to make judgments about the other person’s trustworthiness, competence, and likability within the first tenth of a second, during the first glimpse of that person.1

We know that, for short-term relationships, physical qualities are valued but for long-term relationships, honesty, warmth and intelligence are valued.2 Other qualities typically valued are sensitivity, consideration, generosity, respect, responsiveness, and responsibility.  Yet none of us demonstrate these qualities all of the time.  We sometimes show the polar opposite, such as insensitivity, inconsiderateness, selfishness, rudeness, apathy, and irresponsibility.

Therefore, we should not expect these valued qualities to be fully formed and demonstrated all the time.  In fact, partners in growth-promoting relationships develop these qualities to a deeper degree as their relationship and they, themselves, mature.3 Yes, do look for these qualities but don’t expect them to always be present.

There are three qualities, however, that are especially important to look for in oneself as well as in a prospective long-term partner. They are so important that they actually predict the ability to form a lasting and growth-promoting relationship.4

These three qualities (some may even call them skills) are empathy, acceptance, and intimacy.  Empathy is the capacity to accurately understand others’ experiences and motivations, to appreciate others’ perspectives even if one disagrees with them, and to be aware of the effect of one’s own actions on others.  Acceptance is an unconditional love, a love without requiring oneself or the other to be a certain way or meet one’s expectations. Intimacy is the ability to engage in caring, close and reciprocal relationships; to strive for cooperation and mutual benefit; and to flexibly respond to the range of others’ ideas, emotions, and behaviors.5

Does your potential partner listen so carefully to you that he/she can acknowledge the essence of what you said?  Does your potential partner make you feel loved just for who you are or does he/she often criticize you for not meeting his/her expectations?  Does your potential partner spontaneously disclose what he/she is thinking and feeling at a given moment and respond to your thoughts and feelings in a way that helps you feel close to that person?

1. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17(7), 592-598.

2.  Regan, P. C. (1998). What if you can’t get what you want? Willingness to compromise ideal mate selection standards as a function of sex, mate value, and relationship context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1294-1303.

3. Beck, A. T. (1988). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New York: HarperCollins.

4. Rogers, C. R. and Sevens, B. (1980). Person to person: The problem of being human: A new trend in psychology. New York: Pocket Books.

Block‐Lerner, J., Adair, C., Plumb, J. C., Rhatigan, D. L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2007). The case for mindfulness‐based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: Does nonjudgmental, present‐moment awareness increase capacity for perspective‐taking and empathic concern?. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 501-516.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14‐Year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41(1), 83-96.

5. Reis, H. T. (1990). The role of intimacy in interpersonal relations. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 15. doi: 10.1521/jscp.1990.9.1.15;

 

When the Unpleasant Feelings Emerge

love and hate

In a truly intimate relationship, the rejections, irritations, and disappointments are as much a part of loving as are the securities, pleasures, and dreams.  No marriage is made in heaven and no relationship is built on only the heavenly feelings.  But no one ever forewarns us about the trials and tribulations.     Instead we believe that if it’s really love it will be sunny days forever, with no dark clouds to muddy up the horizon.  After all, we were always told that love is never having to say you’re sorry.

So, with our trusty aphorisms tucked deep within our hearts, we rush off to find the perfect love or, at least, a lover who will never hurt us.  And we begin spending a lot of time and energy just trying to avoid any unpleasantness in our newly-found relationship.

What never bothered our partner before, nor bothered us about our partner can become exasperating.  We notice he isn’t paying attention when we are talking (has he ever?).  Or she has left the door open to welcome the flies again (such a generous spirit).  Each morning he leaves her lists of things to do (does he think he is her boss?).  She tells him he is headed for diabetes if he doesn’t lose some of that weight (as if she has any control over this).  These little quirks and sins against the relationship gradually slip out, with the cumulative effect being disillusionment, resentment, and hurt.  What was comingled starts becoming unmingled.

Often, when this inevitable unpleasantness creeps into the relationship, we don’t know how to deal with it.  We leave our lover (either emotionally or physically), hoping to find a new love, one which will finally measure up to our ideal. Anyone who has ever been left by a lover knows that love hurts but, by then, it’s too late.

But, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, nor does it have to be a relationship of shared misery. You could use your unpleasant feelings to begin a conversation with your partner.  This conversation can help each of you understand the other’s point of view, and even draw you closer together.  Or you could realize that you can get past the irritation into a more accepting attitude towards your partner and yourself.  Yes, sometimes your partner is selfish and sometimes you can be selfish.  So, it is important to let your partner know how his or her behavior affects you.  But it is up to your partner to change this behavior, not up to you to constantly complain about it. So why not just accept your flawed partner instead of trying to change him or her?

Don’t Just Say “I Love You”. Show It.

don-t-listen-to-them-you-re-not-fat-you-re-fluffy

You may think saying “I love you” is all that is needed in your relationship(s).  But, if you live each day as if it could be your last with the person(s) you love, you will find many ways to show your love rather than just announcing your love.

Here are some proven ways to show your love.

Give Reassurance and Emotional Support

               Both men and women feel loved when their partner gave assurances that he/she would always be there and supportive.1   Give your partner security by saying you are there for them when they most need it.  Show emotional support by being attentive though making eye contact and actively listening by repeating back a bit of what you heard.

Touch

Don’t let a day go by without touching your partner.  Maybe it is a hug or a kiss, or a shoulder rub.  Touch does not have to always signal, “I want sex”—it can signal, “I care about you.” 2   In fact, contrary to stereotypes, men in long-term relationships who get lots of kisses and cuddles report being more sexually satisfied.3

Be Positive

               When you are cheerful and optimistic, your replies are comforting for your partner.  This positivity also includes being patient and forgiving, showing a cooperative attitude during disagreements, and avoiding criticizing your partner.  Researchers have found that both men and women can show this equally in relationships and it is much appreciated by both genders.4

Do Things Together

               Sharing household tasks, working together on a mutual (fun) goal, walking and talking (but not about problems), and having a night out all communicate that you love to be with your partner.  Although one study found no difference in the men and women using this way of showing love, one other study did find that men tend to using this strategy more than women.5, 6

Show Appreciation

               When your partner does something you like, make sure you say so. And, often, just out of the blue, compliment your partner by saying what, specifically, you love about him/her. 

Do Things for Your Partner (Especially Surprises)

               Have a plant or flowers sent to your partner at work.  Wrap a warm blanket around your partner when he/she needs comforting.  Pack a suitcase for each of you and take your partner on a surprise weekend trip.  A lot of what love is all about is the attraction, caring, and intimacy you are showing through these actions.7

  1. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  2. Marston, P.J., Hecht, M.L. & Robers, T. (1987). True love ways: The subjective experience and communication of romantic love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 387-407.
  3. Heiman, J.R., et. al. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 4, 741-753.
  4. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  5. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  6. Schoenfeld, E.A., Bredow, C.A., & Huston, T.L. (2012). Do men and women show love differently in marriage? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 11, 1396-1409.
  7. Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.