In the Market for a Relationship? Shop Here
About 20 years ago, a friend of mine in the midst of a break-up vowed to make better choices the next time around. Among other things, she proclaimed she’d never date another smoker. Yet, less than six months later, she was involved with a man who smoked. She convinced herself that because he was a “really nice guy who loved kids,” maybe the smoking thing wasn’t as crucial as she had thought.
Clients over the years have told me similar stories, confessing: “I thought his positive qualities would outweigh the negative ones,” or “I thought I’d get used to the things that bothered me,” or, the classic, “I thought he would change.”
People do change and even the qualities that most bother you will change…for the worse! What bothers you now will likely bother you even more in the future. It is best to assume that your potential partner will NOT change and to decide whether or not you can live with him “as is” almost always, is a better way of determining if a person is right for you.
Falling in love should not be left to chemistry, magic, luck, fate or first sight. If you are truly ready for a relationship, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood that you will attain a healthy, sustainable one.
Getting what you want is a bit like shopping. Do you rely on fate and magic to get the items you need? Before you even leave the house, you should know what you are looking for or you’ll come back with all the wrong stuff. It helps to make a list.
Because dating is a little like going to the grocery store, I was inspired to create an exercise I call the Significant Other Shopping List (SOS List), a simple and effective tool to help you choose a partner deliberately and mindfully.
This exercise utilizes your head before engaging your heart when choosing a partner. The SOS List has three columns:
- Things you cannot live without: This column includes those qualities that are absolutely essential in a partner. Examples may include respect, honesty, openness, flexibility, self-awareness, regulation, responsibility, effective communication and/or a growth mindset.
- Things that you cannot live with: These are the deal breakers. Examples may include substance use/abuse, annoying personal habits, large debt, over-dependency on family, poor work ethic, emotional outbursts or sedentary lifestyle.
- Things that are negotiable: This column includes those qualities about which you are flexible. Examples may include occupation, educational/financial background, spirituality, prior marriages/children, whether or not he has sense of humor, a social life or close extended family relationships.
Where do you find the information and inspiration to develop your list? Cherry-pick the qualities (values, attributes and behaviors) from previous partners that worked for you. Observe the people and well-functioning relationships you admire. Focus on the positive qualities you hope will be a part of your next relationship, but don’t forget to honestly face the characteristics of previous partners and relationships that led to something unhealthy and dysfunctional. Observing couples who are clearly languishing can help you parse out the aspects of a relationship that may cause it to deteriorate over time.
Developing the SOS List when you are not in a relationship will help you create an unbiased portrayal of what is important to you. It is a work-in-progress that you refine over time based on your experiences and evolving self-awareness. Additionally, working on the list between relationships will require you to focus on something positive and productive, while setting a goal of helping you identify the necessary qualities of a meaningful partnership.
When you are dating someone, remember to ask questions based on your list to help determine if there is congruence between your relationship goals and those of your partner. Be careful you don’t deny your wants and needs: compromising yourself once makes it easier to settle for something less than you deserve and will ultimately lead to heartache. If your relationship goals are not the same, move on and avoid the temptation to hope for a change of heart or character on his part.
As for my friend, she married the smoker and together they had a little girl. By now, you can probably guess how it turned out: they divorced after less than five years of marriage. There was, however, an unexpected “happily ever after” to this tale: my friend recognized that her values were non-negotiable, and now she is sharing this wisdom, confidence and strength with her beautiful daughter.