Having poured through hundreds of textbooks and journal articles on relationship issues over the course of my training and career, I’ve gained some great knowledge about the way relationships work. Yet what is most inspiring to me is the way my own clients and everyday individuals have shared their own insights and helped me understand relationships even better. I am always looking for wisdom nuggets to share with readers, and this particular one may prove helpful to you.
During a recent conversation with a relative, he shared that he had one primary goal when looking for a wife: to find someone who is a better person than he is. I thought a lot more about this goal, and realized there is tremendous wisdom value in following this approach.
In lay terms, calling someone a “better” person than someone else doesn’t really mean much. “Better” is too general a term and it isn’t fair or valid to rank individuals by overall human worth. That caveat aside, we can break down the term “better” into an approach that is meaningful. For example, it is meaningful to say that you want to find a romantic partner who is kinder, more nurturing, more ambitious, etc. than you.
When my relative said that he wanted to find someone “better” than him, what he meant is that he wanted to find someone who is kinder and more patient than he is. Quick verdict: This is a great goal for anyone looking for a relationship. Rather than focusing on, say, how much money the other person has or what they look like, this approach prioritizes something much more important: how that individual treats others – and that includes you!
Conjure either the person you’re dating now or the one you hope to start dating soon. Do you want to have a relationship 10 years from now with the same person? If so, it makes sense to prioritize finding someone who is naturally sweet and patient because they will be far more likely to treat you well in the future.
Signs that someone is nice and kind as an overall personality pattern:
There is no way to determine if someone is kind in a short amount of time. To see someone’s true character, you need to spend a lot of time with them over a period of at least a few months. In addition, you need to see that person across different types of situations, including times where bad things happen. I will tell you that you will never truly know someone until you have seen how they react to something bad happening, and until you have someone criticize or emotionally hurt them. These situations bring out what people call one’s “true colors.”
If someone is an especially kind and patient person, you will see any number of the following signs (and you could easily switch the pronouns): she is financially generous; he offers to help out with projects at your home; she is nurturing with kids; he gives people the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t rush to judgment; she lets others go first when driving or waiting in line; he is protective and caring with family members; and she always thinks about the feelings of her best friends. One word that does not describe the kind, patient person: selfish.
Find a nicer person than you with one caveat…
While prioritizing someone who is kinder than you is a smart, strategic goal, do not fall into the trap of idealizing anyone. When you idealize someone, you engage in black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking. “She is the nicest person I have ever met.” “I can’t believe I found the nicest guy ever.” Okay, slow down, turbo. Unless you have known that man or woman for at least a few months, you really don’t know them yet. Once you know them better, you may still find that they are, in fact, extremely kind – even kinder than you are – but you have to be real and honest with yourself, which means accepting that no one is just one thing – kind or horrible – through and through. In other words, find someone kinder than you but also remember that no one is perfect or perfectly kind. It is a realistic goal that you find a very kind person, but it is not realistic that you find a person who is nice every second of every day.
The rule to remember:
We are all human with varying levels of kindness and patience, but finding someone who ranks high on the kindness scale will help make you feel more secure and positive in your daily life, especially when things in your own life become difficult. Finding a partner who is kinder than you can help you become a kinder person, too. (We could all use that, right?)
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.