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One thing I can say for my marriage: it has taught me what to look for in a healthy romantic relationship. Sometimes we learn best when we lack something in our lives. Having lacked a healthy romantic relationship for many years, I’ve come to appreciate the genuine effort and care that a person puts into their romantic relationship.
Each of us appreciates and values different things from our partner, so this list won’t speak to everyone. I may value things which aren’t that important to you, or maybe I left off something that would be an absolute deal-breaker for you. While this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, I hope it gets you thinking about the next romantic relationship in your life, before Mr. Cutie Pants shows up. If you know what you’re looking for ahead of time, you won’t just settle for any old guy who shows an interest in you. You are a valuable individual and you deserve to be in a healthy, two-sided relationship.
What’s important to me (in no particular order):
- Sense of humor — I’ve always had a good sense of humor and absolutely love laughing and having a good time. Life with my STBX quickly curtailed my sense of humor because of his extreme sensitivity. I found that I couldn’t be free with my joking because many times it was taken personally and I became the bad guy. It’s difficult to be joyful and full of mirth when you have to walk on eggshells around your mate. I want to be with someone who enjoys a good belly laugh and can see the humor in everyday life, laughing right along with me.
- Financial stability — I don’t need to be with someone who is rich or even well-to-do. I want to be with someone who is able and willing to work; someone who pays their bills and uses their money responsibly. I absolutely will not support someone who wants me to be the breadwinner while they sit home and play on the computer. Been there; done that. Not interested.
- Responsible — I already mentioned financial responsibility, but there are many other areas which I’d like my partner to be responsible in, too. Can I count on him to do what he says he will do, within a reasonable period of time? Will he help pay the bills on time? Will he make necessary phone calls? Will he make sure the children have taken care of their most basic hygiene needs if I’m gone for the day? If not, I’m moving on. For many years, I’ve functioned as a pseudo-mom for my STBX because I couldn’t rely on him to follow through on even the most basic tasks. I want a partner to share my life with, not someone who acts like a surly teenager and needs me to check in with them to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
- Uses kind words — How does he talk about others? Is he always critical and putting them down? How does he speak to me or my children? I want a man who uses his words in a positive way. Does he encourage me and say kind and loving things about me? Does he tell me that he loves me? Of course, nobody is perfect and we all say critical things at times, but is he generally more positive than negative? Also, if I expect this from my partner, I had better reciprocate.
- Shows affection — We all give and receive affection in different ways, with a couple of ways feeling more loving to us than others. (Read The Five Love Languages if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) The key is to find someone you’re compatible with, or being willing to appreciate your partners efforts at showing love, even if they’re not your primary love language. One thing I’ve discovered, is that when I am truly connected to someone, it is much easier and within my nature to display all of the love languages. When you’re overflowing with love for someone, you don’t hesitate to show that love in many different ways: loving touch, spending time with them, saying kind things about and to them, doing kind things for them, and giving them gifts. I want to be with someone who shows their love for me in a variety of ways.
- Likes kids — I have five children of my own, and I’ve been involved with kids since my teen years. It would go against my very nature to be with someone who didn’t like kids. Also, I owe it to my children (at least while they are young and in my home) to be with someone who will value them. I would never want to put them in the position where they feel like my new partner dislikes them.
- Sense of fun/adventure — I’m sort of a hippie by nature and love exploring the world and going on adventures. Even in my late 30’s, I’m still finding all kinds of things in this world that fill me with a sense of wonder and joy. I want to be with someone who wants to fully experience life with me and who sees it as a journey to be enjoyed together. If you are someone who likes to get out into the world and enjoy it, do not strap yourself down with someone who just wants to sit at home all the time. You will feel trapped.
- Likes animals — I’ve always loved animals and am a dedicated cat person. I like dogs, too. I prefer to enjoy other peoples’ dogs, though. If animals are important to you, make sure your mate values them, too. It will take time for your mate to develop a loving relationship with your pets, but make sure they’re able and willing to do it. No one wants to feel like they have to choose between their pets and their significant other.
- Sexual compatibility — I’m not arguing for or against sex before marriage, but this is something that needs to be addressed early on. With all the different sexual fetishes and preferences nowadays, you need to make sure that you and your partner are compatible. What would happen if you got married, only to discover that your partner likes rough sex and it makes you feel devalued and unloved? Again, I’m speaking from experience here. I highly recommend that you not pursue a relationship in which the sex does not feel loving to you. Sex should be an outward expression of the love you and your partner share. If it does not fit that description in your relationship, I want you to know that there is something better out there, with the right partner. Don’t ever settle for abusive or demeaning treatment in the bedroom. Period.
- Treats others kindly — How does your potential mate treat you, your children, your friends and family, the clerk at the checkout counter, their coworkers? There should be a trend toward positive interactions and treating others with respect and kindness. When a person treats others with kindness (even those “below them,” as in a checkout clerk), you get to see their true nature shining through. I certainly want to be with someone I can count on to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve. Very early in our relationship, my STBX treated my friends and family very poorly and I should have read that for the red flag that it was. Please don’t make that same mistake. If your mate can’t treat the most important people in your life kindly, you need to walk away.
- Awareness of self & works to better themselves — Not one of us is perfect and we all have character traits and issues that we need to work on. I want to be with someone who recognizes his own faults/shortcomings/issues and is committed to bettering himself. I spent more than fifteen years trying to point out an addiction that my STBX needed to work on. He chose not to act on it until I told him I was through. Do you want to be with someone who cannot/chooses not to see his/her own shortcomings and do the legwork to better themselves? If you are trying to be the best and healthiest version of yourself, wouldn’t you want to be with someone who values the same thing for themselves?
- Friendship — This one is absolutely critical for me. It was some years into my marriage before I discovered how important friendship is in a romantic relationship. Those fluttery butterfly feelings you get at the beginning of a relationship will fade, so what are you left with at that point? It is so important to enjoy being with your partner. I want to be in a relationship with my best friend. Do I enjoy spending time with him? Do we laugh together? Do we enjoy doing fun things together? Do we support one another? Do we have each others’ backs and treat one another well? In short, being friends with your significant other is important for the longevity of your relationship, especially once the highly romantic feelings start to mellow. You should really enjoy being with your mate and value them for who they are as a person.
The bottom line is: I can be friends with a guy all day, but if he doesn’t fulfill the basic traits that I am looking for in a mate, he will not go beyond friend material. I’ve finally gotten to the point in my life where I respect myself enough to not settle anymore.
I would also caution you (and myself) to be objective in assessing whether or not a potential mate is genuinely displaying the traits that are important to you. Look at their behavior over an extended period of time. Sometimes a guy (or gal) will act a certain way to secure a date or more permanent status with you, but once you’ve gotten comfortable, their true character and traits start showing through. Make sure you’ve seen how he/she reacts in a variety of situations — under stress, when angry, when having to wait for others, with children, with their money, with your family and friends, with animals, etc. You don’t want to find out too late that they actually hate children or treat your parents like crap.
Wishing you the best in your new relationship (whenever it might happen),
P.S. I’ll add to this list, as I think of new things. I already realized that I forgot one of the most important: He has to be my friend!