Awhile back, I started thinking about how I used to behave in relationships before I became a psychotherapist, and before I learned about emotions and attachment.
I was tough on guys.
When my relationships were going smoothly, it was easy to act nice and get along. But during times of conflict, like when my guy wanted to see his friends instead of me, or when he left his dirty socks in our living room, I took his actions personally.
I got angry and sometimes I said mean things, which I almost always later regretted. I’d speak in extremes like, “You never do _______________!” Or, “You always do ___________________!”
My training as a psychotherapist taught me the value of positive communication. What I learned changed my life.
Romantic relationships are a challenge for everyone.
No matter how great couples look on Facebook, no matter how many loving, hugging, kissing photos you see of your friends, no intimate relationship is trouble-free. That’s because of two facts that are in complete conflict with each other:
All of us have inborn needs for love, care, and attention, which when not met trigger core emotions of anger and sadness in the brain. Over time, we can defend against these needs in a variety of ways. But that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t happening — we’ve just blocked them from conscious experience.
People in relationships cannot realistically meet all of the needs of their partner.
Given these two facts, inevitably, there will be times when we feel unloved, uncared for, unappreciated, hurt and angered. That is not bad. That is not good. This just is!
Research by The Gottman Institute showed that how we handle conflict is a major predictor of relationship longevity. We can become pros at handling conflict. But, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, so we must pick a partner that will work with us to build a long and satisfying relationship.
Below I’ve shared 5 important qualities to look for in a partner. These qualities help ensure you will be able to move through the tough times and even grow closer as a result.
5 Qualities to Look for In A Life Partner:
The capacity for empathy.
Empathy is the ability and willingness to put yourself in the skin of another person and imagine how THEY feel. Without a capacity for empathy, treating you with compassion, kindness, and consideration will likely be hard for your partner.
When relationships are strained, humor can diffuse a struggle and transform a moment from bad to better.
For example, Wayne knew just the right time to use humor with Jenna. He could tell when her mood shifted for the worse. Jenna all of a sudden became critical of Wayne, nitpicking at things she usually didn’t mind. Wayne could sense Jenna was irritated with him. Instead of getting defensive or withdrawing, two strategies that rarely help, he would say to her with warmth in his eyes and a goofy voice, “Are you trying to pick a fight with me?” This stopped Jenna dead in her tracks and forced her to contemplate his question. “Am I trying to pick a fight?” she asked herself. “Yes, I guess I am.”
His humor made it possible for her to become aware of and own her anger. Now that her anger was conscious, she could figure out what was bugging her and talk about it with Wayne directly. She would not have been able to do that were it not for his lighthearted humorous “invitation” to talk.
Humor is not always the right approach. But when it works, it works well.
The willingness to keep talking.
Two people who love each other and who are motivated to stay together have the power to work out virtually all conflicts. Working out conflicts, however, takes time, patience, and skillful communication. Partners have to find common ground or be all right with agreeing to disagree.
It takes a while to resolve conflicts because there can be many steps to cover until both people feel heard. Talking involves clarifying the problem, understanding the deeper meaning and importance of the problem, making sure each partner understands the other’s position, allowing for the emotions the topic evokes for each person, conveying empathy for each other, and brainstorming until a solution that feels right for both people is found.
Problems have to be talked out until both people feel better.
Understands the basics of how emotions work.
During strife, emotions are running the show. Emotions are hard-wired in all of our brains the same way. No matter how smart or clever we are, no one can prevent emotions from happening, especially in times of conflict and threat. It is only after emotions ignite that we have some choice about how to respond. Some people react immediately, indulging their impulses. That is how fights escalate. Others pause to think before they act. Thinking before we speak or act is best because it gives us much more control over the outcome of our interactions.
Understands the Importance of Establishing Ground Rules.
Ground rules are the rules for how to fight constructively. The goal here is to learn specific ways that you can help each other in the midst of a disagreement. For example, you can agree to talk in a calm voice versus shouting at each other.
In setting ground rules, the idea is to anticipate conflict and arguments and rehearse how to do damage control. The goal is to stay respectful and connected while working through conflicts.
My Ground Rules:
- We don’t insult each other.
- We don’t walk away in the middle of a discussion without stating our intention to return and resume talking.
- We don’t shout.
- We remind each other that we love and care about each other even though we are angry.
- We don’t dismiss each other’s feelings.
- We don’t threaten to leave each other.
- A conversation isn’t over until both people feel understood and better.
Finding a partner with these 5 qualities may not be easy.
And, you will have to be somewhat vulnerable, summoning the courage to talk about these qualities. Hold on to the belief that you are worth it and you deserve to be in a mutually satisfying relationship.
The qualities shared above will guide you in finding your loving, life partner.