As a marriage therapist, I am often asked if there is a fail-proof way to pick the right spouse or how to find a good partner? It can seem overwhelming and we often follow the many myths that perpetuate in society and culture that we believe will lead us to a forever, happy marriage or relationship. These romanticized notions have created such a disservice to those looking for real and lasting love. So let’s talk about these myths and take a look at the qualities in a partner that may just stand the test of time.
One of the myths is to find someone who has the same interests as us. While that can be a helpful tool to find joy together, it doesn’t mean your relationship is going to last through the ages and the tumultuous storms that can come with marriage. You see, two people can love Disneyland but also fight like cats and dogs while being there, so similar interests aren’t the magical ingredient to a lasting relationship.
Another misconception of a successful relationship is having your partner reciprocate; meaning, I scratch your back and you scratch mine. Tallying up what each of you do is a good sign that there may be tension in your relationship. Having a partner that reciprocates kindness is great and can be helpful in fostering loving feelings, but reciprocating should come because of a desire to give rather than just a need to meet an expectation by your partner. Score keeping tends to feed resentment.
Then there’s the good ol’ avoiding conflict myth. Many people believe that a relationship where you don’t fight or disagree is the golden ticket of marriage. (“We never fight! We hardly disagree!”) If I’m honest, clients that tell me there is no conflict in their relationship, raises red flags for me. That tells me one of two things. First, that one of the partners is the one who is really making the decisions and the other is lacking in their boundaries or, both partners are avoiding all conflict in hopes to protect ‘the peace.’ These types of relationships are guaranteed to create resentment over time because one or both partners don’t feel heard. Conflict is normal and healthy. The problem really lies in how we fight.
So what do we look for in a partner or a potential spouse? Other therapists may have different views but this is mine: change and introspection. No one is perfect and no one is going to fulfill your expectations of what the perfect partner will be. What you can look for is someone who is willing to look at themselves and make changes when needed. I’ve told people before that you are really just picking a set of marital or relational issues no matter who you choose to be with. There is no one that will check off enough boxes to create that ideal person that you’ll never have to fight with. Again, conflict and disagreements are normal.
If we are looking for someone that has this trait, then we really have to ask this question: am I also that person? Am I willing to be introspective enough to make changes? I think these are difficult questions to answer. I think it’s challenging to become uncomfortable with changes that may feel foreign to us and we often will avoid that process, sometimes purely out of the need to protect parts of us that have helped us for a long time. But are we willing to find space to change and embrace something new?
If we are wanting another person to be someone that can change and be introspective, we should be seeking out ways to be that person as well. Take some action, think about times you have sought change in yourself. Have there been things that you’ve needed to change? What did that look like? Was it hard? Was it helpful? What issues seem to be repeat patterns that cause different types of issues in your life?
It can be helpful to write the answers down to these questions and take time to listen to what our minds and bodies are telling us. And, if you need a little more guidance, give us a call 🙂
Kaela Judd, LAMFT