We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: underrated relationship qualities you shouldn't overlook.
Q: I’m in my late twenties and have had four serious relationships. I feel like I know the basics of a good relationship — love, respect, good sex, etc. I’ve had all of those things in each of my relationships, but they still didn’t work out. What are other qualities that I should look for in a relationship or a partner? Is there something that I might be missing — more subtle things that I also shouldn't compromise on?
A: Thanks for the question! First, I just want to acknowledge that your late twenties can be a scary time for a woman looking for love. It’s easy to overanalyze every tiny detail of your partners or relationships, or agonize over what you might be “missing.” There are definitely qualities that are important to look for in our partners, but sometimes relationships just inexplicably work. You have to find a balance between looking for the good stuff but not obsessing over checklists or perfect matches. All that being said, here are nine underrated relationship qualities to look for.
1. There's An Ease To It
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “relationships take work” hundreds of times. It’s true — having a long-term relationship requires a lot of patience, communication, forgiveness, and effort. But there’s also something to be said about ease. With some partners, all of that work really feels like work. With others, it’s almost like it feels more natural to put in that same amount of effort. Lots of people romanticize the notion of “fighting for the relationship,” but the reality is that fighting is exhausting. Look for partners where the relationship just seems to come more naturally.
2. There's A Willingness To Communicate
No matter how easy your relationship feels, you’re still going to need to communicate. Sometimes it’s about small things, like juggling your schedules for the day, and sometimes it’s about huge things, like whether or not you want to get married. Look for partners who understand the importance of communication and are willing to engage. It’s hard to be with people who shy away from direct communication, or struggle to express their honest emotions. A good communicator is also willing to take a break from talking, and give both partners space to sort through their feelings on their own. We all have our challenges when it comes to communication, but the willingness to try is what’s most important.
3. They Make You Laugh
I’ve worked with hundreds of couples in my sex therapy practice. I always ask them to describe what initially drew them to their partner, and which qualities they admire. The quality I hear about most frequently is humor. Laughter is one of the best ways to connect with someone. We love laughing at the same things and creating inside jokes with each other. The act of laughing in and of itself just feels fun. Even when couples are in really dark places with each other, they’ll still say things like, “he cracks me up” or “we used to spend hours just giggling together.” Don’t underestimate the value of having a partner who can make you laugh throughout all of life’s ups and downs.
4. You Have Similar Relationships With Money
Money is perhaps the most unanticipated cause of relationship problems. I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve worked with who were surprised to find themselves having frequent and terrible fights about money. Our relationships with money are extremely personal, and often have deep ties in our past. For example, you may have grown up poor, and find yourself pinching your pennies even as a successful adult. It’s really difficult to be in a relationship with a person who treats money far differently than you do — like if the aforementioned penny pincher were to date someone who spent money lavishly. Fortunately, this an easy characteristic to get a sense of right from the get-go of a relationship. What does this person spend their money on? How do they talk about their money? What kind of dates do they plan?
5. You Have Compatible Fighting Styles
Fights are a part of any relationship. Most couples will have their first few fights within the early months of the relationship, so fights can offer you a good peek into your long-term compatibility. You want to look for partners that have compatible fighting styles with yours. If you tend to clam up when you’re upset, you’re not going to pair well with someone who insists on talking it out in the moment. If you’re an even-keeled person, you’re not going to respond to someone who hurls insults and screams. Of course, fights usually bring out the worst in us, and we can all stand to improve our fighting behaviors. But similarities in fighting styles can make the process so much easier.
6. They're A Quick Learner
In any relationship, you and your partner are going to have to adjust to one another. You’ll learn that your partner values keeping the bedroom spic and span at all times, or that they don’t like to be late to events. One of the most underrated qualities in a partner is someone who is able to learn and adapt relatively quickly. For example, recognizing that you need alone time when you get home from work, and giving you that space. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean your partner is a doormat, or is willing to contort their life around to fit what you want. And of course, you should take their needs and preferences just as seriously.
7. You Have Similar Sex Drives
You’re never going to find a partner that has the exact same sex drive as you. Even if you both wanted sex twice a week, you’re going to feel desire in different moments. That being said, it’s good to try to find a partner whose drive is similar to yours. It’s possible to navigate different sex drives in a relationship (I’ve written about it here before), but it’s a lot easier where those differences are relatively small. It you want sex every day and your partner wants sex once a month, you’re going to have a hard time finding a compromise.
8. ... And Similar Attitudes Towards Experimentation
You also want to find partners who are interested in the same things inside the bedroom as you are. One easy way to think about this is in terms of how important experimentation is to each of you. If you’re both happy keeping it vanilla, that’s great. If you’re both interested in exploring kinks or fantasies that’s also great. But it’s tricky when one partner is content with the status quo and the other partner is constantly seeking out new thrills.
9. The “Rounding Up” Factor
I don’t agree with everything Dan Savage says, but one of my favorite Savageisms is his idea of “rounding up to ‘the one’ ”. Savage believes that soul mates don’t exist, and that rather, we have to look for 0.67s or 0.71s that we round up to “the one.” In other words, there is no such thing as a perfect match or a perfect relationship. There are people who are good enough. In Savage’s mind, this isn’t about “settling” or lowering your expectations, but about being realistic, and not missing out on great relationships because we’re looking for something perfect. But if you're going to commit, you can at least make sure they pass that rounding up test.
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