December 31 may be all about the New Year’s kiss, but by New Year’s Day, most people are thinking about what comes after the kiss. This can be a good metaphor for our dating habits in general. The person we look to for instant passion, an immediate spark or even a New Year’s kiss is not always the same person we would be happy sharing our lives with long-term. With this in mind, it’s safe to assume that one major reason finding lasting love proves such a challenge is that the qualities we seek in a partner aren’t always those that lead to enduring intimacy.
The reasons we fall in love may be a mystery, but the reasons we stay in love are far less elusive. That is why this New Year I propose making a few resolutions about what we look for in a romantic relationship. There may be no such thing as the perfect partner, but an ideal partner can be found in someone who has developed themselves in certain ways that go beyond the surface. While we each seek out a specific set of qualities that is uniquely meaningful to us alone, there are certain psychological characteristics both you and your partner can aim for that make the flame not only stronger, more passionate and more fulfilling, but also far less likely to die out the moment the clock strikes midnight.
Many of these qualities won’t be apparent to us when we first meet someone, but as we get to know the people we date, these are invaluable traits to both look for in them and to strive for in ourselves. These ideal attributes include:
This statement is not meant to echo the ever-advised mantra that maturity is important. Being “grown up” isn’t merely a matter of not acting like a kid anymore. It’s not about a boyfriend who remembers to take out the trash or a girlfriend who never runs late. These qualities are nice, but to truly grow up means making an active effort to recognize and resolve negative influences from our past. An ideal partner is thus willing to reflect on his or her history and is interested in understanding how old events inform current behaviors.
When people mature emotionally, they are less likely to re-enact or project past experiences onto their current relationships. They develop a strong sense of independence and autonomy, having differentiated from destructive influences from early in life. As they evolve within themselves, they are less likely to look for someone to compensate for shortcomings and weaknesses or to complete their incompleteness. Instead, they’re looking for someone to share life with as equals and to appreciate independently of themselves. Having broken ties to old identities and patterns, this person is much more available to a romantic partner and the new family that they create together. Naturally, becoming emotionally mature ourselves helps with this process and dramatically improves our chances of achieving a solid and rewarding relationship.
The ideal partner is open, undefended and willing to be vulnerable. No human being is perfect, so finding someone who is approachable and receptive to feedback can be a huge asset to a lasting union. When someone is free-thinking and open-minded, it enables them to be forthright in expressing feelings, thoughts, dreams and desires, which allows you to truly know them. Their openness is also an indication of their interest in personal development and often contributes to the development of the relationship. Like perfect people, perfect unions do not exist, so finding someone with whom you can talk about an area that you feel is lacking in your relationship and who is open to evolving is more than half the battle. Conversely, being willing to accept feedback from our partners and looking for that kernel of truth in what they say allows us to develop ourselves in a similar manner.
3. Honesty & Integrity
The ideal partner realizes the importance of honesty in a close relationship. Honesty builds trust between people. Dishonesty confuses the other person, betraying their vulnerability and shattering their sense of reality. Nothing has a more destructive impact on a close relationship between two people than dishonesty and deception. Even in painful situations such as infidelity, the blatant deception involved is often equally, if not more, hurtful than the unfaithful act itself. The ideal partner strives to live a life of integrity so that there are no discrepancies between words and actions. This goes for all levels of communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Being open and honest in our most intimate relationships means really knowing ourselves and our intentions. While this can prove difficult, it is an effort worth striving for.
4. Respect & Independence
Ideal partners value each others’ interests separate from their own. They feel congenial toward and supportive of each other’s overall goals in life. They are sensitive to the other’s wants, desires and feelings, and place them on an equal basis with their own. Ideal partners treat each other with respect and sensitivity. They do not try to control each other with threatening or manipulative behavior. They are respectful of their partner’s distinct personal boundaries, while at the same time remaining close physically and emotionally. Valuing and respecting our partners’ sovereign minds and not trying to change them allows us to really know them as a separate people.
The ideal partner perceives their mate on both an intellectual, observational level and an emotional, intuitive level. This person is able to both understand and empathize with his or her partner. When two people in a couple understand each other, they become aware of the commonalities that exist between them and also recognize and appreciate the differences. When both partners are empathic, that is, capable of communicating with feeling and with respect for the other person’s wants, attitudes and values, each partner feels understood and validated. Developing our ability to be empathic helps us understand and attune to our partner.
The ideal partner is easily affectionate and responsive on many levels: physically, emotionally and verbally. He or she is personal, acknowledging and outwardly demonstrative of feelings of warmth and tenderness. This person should enjoy closeness in being sexual and feel uninhibited in giving and accepting affection and pleasure. Being open to both giving and receiving affection adds a poignant feeling to our lives.
7. Sense of Humor
The ideal partner has a sense of humor. A sense of humor can be a lifesaver in a relationship. The ability to laugh at one’s self and at life’s foibles allows a person to maintain a proper perspective when dealing with sensitive issues that arise within the relationship. Couples who are playful and teasing often defuse potentially volatile situations with their humor. A good sense of humor definitely eases the tense moments in a relationship. Being able to laugh at ourselves makes life much easier. Plus, it is one of life’s greatest joys to be able to laugh with someone close to us.
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