We all know you shouldn't just throw yourself willy-nilly into the first relationship that comes down the pike. But what are the things you should look for in a relationship, specifically? For better or worse, we often hear more about the things you shouldn't tolerate in a relationship. Heading up that list, of course, is any kind of physical or emotional abuse — it is never OK to put up with behavior like that, and if you're experiencing such a thing, it's always a good idea to reach out and get help.
All of that said, though, it can be a bit of a head-scratcher to sit down and puzzle out the things you absolutely need in a relationship. Sure, it might be nice to date someone who loves romantic comedies as much as you do — but is that necessary? If you meet someone who loves them, maybe you'll feel like you hit the jackpot; but what if you meet someone who prefers horror movies, but has a really good sense of humor and kind eyes? In other words, what are the things you really should look for in a relationship, no matter what? Here are some possibilities, straight from the mouths of relationship experts.
1. Random Acts Of Kindness
"You need to look for the random acts of consideration and kindness," psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. "These are the things that will last you. For example, my toilet paper and paper towels have been magically refilled since a month into dating my husband." And it's not just about kindness for you — look for someone who's kind inwardly as well.
"You should also look for someone who cares about you at least as much as they care about themselves. That your happiness is their happiness, and that they love you, and will take care of your needs as they arise and never complain about it," Martinez says. "They just do it out of love. Kindness, surprise, selflessness, are all good qualities."
2. The Way They Treat Women
"If you are thinking about getting a serious relationship with someone else, take a look at how they treat other women first," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. This is crucial. "If they constantly use derogatory or patriarchal language, utilize cat-calling to get attention, or send unsolicited pics — we all know what I mean by that — don't even think about diving in," she says. Though this may seem obvious, it's easy to get caught up with something, and it's important to keep your head when you're dating or falling in love.
"If you see less than desirable behavior being used towards long-standing women in his or her life … that's also a pretty major red flag," Rogers says. "Overall, if the person in question can't even respect female strangers, let alone the existing women in their life, then chances are they won't respect you either," Rogers says. Truth. And respect is so important.
3. Sharing Silence
"How well do you and your partner do silence?" clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, asks Bustle. "In other words, can you both comfortably share downtime without words, without a task to perform … without the need to interact and relate? Even mutual meditation counts as a task. If you and your partner can experience silence together without feeling freaked and worried that something is wrong or — an even bigger red flag — feeling bored, then that's a good sign you can stand side by side on life's unpredictable journey." Silence is a good test of compatibility.
"The ability to compromise is a crucial component of any relationship," dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. "It may seem as though in a great relationship everything is always perfect, but how many of those relationships do you know of? And more importantly, if everything always went along seamlessly in a relationship, then where would the attraction and growth come from?" When we have conflict — but handle it well, and find the ability to compromise — our relationships can grow and change.
"The differences are what make us interesting to one another," he says. "An unwillingness to compromise or see things from another’s point of view would eventually breed discontent and eventually cause the demise of that relationship." So look for someone who doesn't always have to be right.
5. Excellent Conflict Resolution Skills
"The one thing you should look for in a relationship is good conflict resolution skills," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist tells Bustle. "People are generally great at communicating the warm and fuzzy stuff. But when it comes to working out the kinks and differences of opinion that lead to unpleasant fighting, most folks gets stuck." Be sure that your own skills in this arena are on point, and then search for someone who has the same abilities.
"Make sure your new partner has healthy good communication skills and the capacity to tolerate a different point of view other than his [or her] own."
6. Similar Relationship Styles
"One thing to look for in a relationship, is your — and your potential partner's — relationship style," Shamyra Howard-Blackburn, sex and relationship therapist and owner of Conquest Counseling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tells Bustle. "This includes paying attention to friendships, familial relationships, professional relationships and past romantic relationships," and having a look at the way they look, and asking yourself if that lines up with your own style.
"If you and your partner are able to form and maintain relationships, then you're both most likely to have a secure attachment with each other," she says. Also, have a look at the way breakups have gone in the past. "How you've dealt with breakups is also a good indicator of your relationship style and emotional balance," she says. If you're lining up well, you're good to go forward.
7. Getting Through Disagreements Without Fights
"Can the two of you talk about difficult things without fighting?" Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , asks Bustle. "If there’s something you’re not saying because you think your date wouldn’t like it, you need to say it, so you can see what happens when you disagree." Though fights are necessary occasionally — and I really do mean occasionally — you should always be able to tell someone what's going on without having them blow up.
"Learning how to handle disagreements and work together to come up with a solution is one of the most important aspects of good partnership," Tessina says. Without that, you're potentially throwing yourself into a snake pit.
"One thing you should always expect from a relationship is accountability," psychotherapist Michelle Farris, author of The 4 Essential Steps in Building Your Confidence, tells Bustle. "It's the kissing cousin of trust. Acknowledging your contribution — meaning what you say and do — is what defines accountability," she says. No matter what, you need to look for a partner who can show up and own their stuff.
"This quality sets you — or your partner — apart, because it is far more common to blame and focus on what others do. Picking someone who is willing to own their stuff makes relationships more successful," she says. No one wants to be with someone who isn't down for owning the things they say and do.
9. You Can Be You
In a relationship, you definitely want to find someone who likes you for who you are. It's vital "that you can just be you," Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle. You don't want to have to feel like you need to "break a sweat being the 'aspirational avatar" — you should just be able to show up and be you. You should find someone who allows you to be vulnerable and honest and feel safe doing so.
"If you rush to the bathroom to put your makeup on before he [or she] wakes up because you are afraid of what will happen if he [or she] sees the real you, then you are missing that one thing," Durvasula adds. That is not maintainable long-term.
10. A Good Listener
"Look for someone who is a good listener," Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, tells Bustle. "Someone who is really listening to you cares about what you have to say and what matters to you," she says. "They're investing time, attention, interest and their memory power." And if you are with a good listener, you'll have a better time in your relationship in general.
"I constantly get asked for advice on how to get a great personal gift for a significant other, and the answer is always just listen to them," Sepulveres says. "But it's not just about gifts — when a couple listens to each other they genuinely connect and hear the unspoken as well as what's verbalized." When this happens, you'll be a lot happier.
"When someone you're dating can recall details that you didn't even think were important from past conversations, it's an excellent sign that they are a solid partner." And it'll make you both feel good about being together.
11. The Same Sense of Humor
“You should look for someone who laughs at the same jokes and finds the same things annoying,” Samantha Daniels, professional matchmaker and founder of The Dating Lounge dating app, tells Bustle. “You will be spending endless and hopefully wonderful time with your significant other, so if he [or she] loves hanging out with his law partners and you find them to be incredibly annoying, or you love slapstick humor and he doesn’t even crack a smile during one of those movies, you are probably not well-suited for each other.” Even if you really like this person, a similar sense of humor (and a similar outlook on the annoying facets of life) is really crucial.
“You want to be with someone with whom you have a lot in common and can really enjoy each other’s company,” she says. If you have that, you’re golden.
12. Staying In Touch
When you reach out to your partner during the day, what does it look like? “Couples try to get each other’s attention throughout the day, whether it’s for support, conversation, interest, play, affirmation, feeling connected or for affection,” relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. “Each of these moments is an opportunity to connect with your partner. A person should look for someone who responds to them, or at least acknowledges them when they try to get their attention, because it shows that they are meeting your emotional needs —or at least trying to.”
Of course, your partner can’t respond every single time you send a text, and most of us can’t talk on the phone during the day. “Not every attempt will be recognized,” Chlipala says, “but couples can increase their awareness of when each person tries to connect with the other to strengthen their relationship.”
13. A Genuine Interest In You
“You should look for someone that comes across as interested in you,” Stefanie Safran, Chicago's "Introductionista" and founder of Stef and the City, tells Bustle. “If they are willing to really make time and get to know you by spending time talking, doing things together,” she says, and she suggests that you do so “before there is too much intimacy; this shows you that it's more about you than just a quick physical attraction.
"Give this person hints about things that are important to you, maybe it's that you like to make plans by Tuesday for your weekend, maybe it's that you like a certain restaurant or sports team, but have them show you that they are listening to your conversations about what makes you tick,” she says. If your partner laughs off your need for planning ahead or thinks your favorite restaurant is a bore, it might be wise to discuss it with them sooner rather than later.
14. A Genuine Interest In Their Health
“A relationship needs to have health — not just emotional health, but physical health,” Paiva tells Bustle. “If your partner does not care about your physiology or their own, you will end up resenting this often; I see it all of the time with spouses where one partner smokes and the other does not, and it becomes a wedge, because that lack of care, from smoking, to [not] wearing a seatbelt, to not showering” can really upset the person who does care.
From my own experience, I can say that I now wear a seatbelt in cabs, which I never did before I met my boyfriend. Whatever the case may be, if your partner doesn’t care and you do, it won’t be pretty. “[It] can be a symbol of lack of self-preservation," Paiva says. “Evolutionary speaking, we want a mate who wants to live and be strong, not someone who is hell bent on being a victim.” Yes!
“[Look at[ how well you both handle respective solitude,” Astarte tells Bustle. “In Celebrating Solitude , I urge couples to view solitude as a tool in relationship health.” Though it can be tempting to spend all day every day together, it’s important to have separate work lives and spend some time apart from time to time.
“Taking time for ourselves may seem selfish, as though we're avoiding our partner,” she says. “In reality, brief periods of solitude recharge our soul batteries and allow us to give even more to our partners and to the relationship itself.” What could be better than that?
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