While it's easy to imagine, when you're single and desiring a partner, that a loving relationship is all couples dinners, hiking selfies, and luxurious Sundays in bed, the reality of partnerships has a lot more working parts and dynamics. It can be hard to tell
what you want in a partner when you're looking, especially in a day and age where you can flip through potential lovers like you're ordering on Seamless.
And while in some instances, the only way you can really know what works for you is to try and see what fits, you have to give yourself the space to ask some probing questions about your own fundamental needs.
"You have to take the time to see your desired future and be willing to sacrifice short-term wants — someone to text every day, physical affection, feeling pursued, and desired — for your long-term wants," therapist Dea Dean LPC, owner of
Counseling Collective in Jackson, MS, tells Bustle. The long-terms wants are things like belonging, deep intimacy, being known, and a healthy partnership, Dean says.
"It can be difficult to put off the short-term for the long-term because our short-term wants are
so valid," Dean says.
And if it takes awhile for you to know what you want, and to find what you're looking for, don't be discouraged. Finding love and partnership that feels good to you is a process that takes work. Below, take some advice from the pros on how to get a little more clear on what it is
you want in a partnership as you search for it.
Know What Your Dealbreakers Are
Make a list of your dealbreakers when it comes to a partner and the lifestyle you want to create.
"Know what issues you’re willing to sign up for and those you’re unwilling to sign up for," Dean says.
Before doing this, you have to do the work of knowing yourself, your preferences, and your long-term desires, Dean says. If that feels confusing or daunting, it can be helpful to simply ask yourself and start journaling, talking it out with a trusted friend, or seeking some counseling with the goal of figuring out some of your life's desires.
Think About What Your Values Are
You will want to ask: do you
share similar values with this person? Is this important to you? Maybe you could never be with someone who has differing political views. Maybe you're a devoted vegan and you want a partner who is as well. Or maybe these things don't matter as much to you.
"Couples navigate differences no matter the relationship," Dean says. "You’ll absolutely be negotiating and compromising somewhere on some issues but compromising around areas of instilled value can be especially challenging."
This can also be extended to thoughts on things like family, fidelity, and spiritual practices. Consider what values are non-negotiable to you.
Think About The Level Of Respect And Reverence You Want To Feel
One thing to consider is how you want respect to show up in your partnership, and how you want your relationship to be prioritized by your partner.
"There are so many other dynamics and people that can undermine a relationship — your families, your careers, even other [people] who might show interest in your partner," Dean says. So consider the things that will help you to feel as though your partner always has your back. Think about what trust really means to you in a practical way.
It can be as simple as knowing the ways you like to keep in contact with someone during the day, how often you check in about emotional weather, or what types of things you feel it's important to share with your partner.
Consider Your Financial Philosophies
"No one likes to talk about finances, but it’s one area that creates the most conflict," Dean says. Do you want someone who values working hard or someone who desires the same level of financial achievement? What would you do if you meet someone who wants a huge house in the suburbs when you want to travel the world in a camper?
While it doesn't seem like
the stuff of romance, if you what you are looking for is someone to share a life with, ultimately, that includes work, spending habits, financial abilities, and long-term goals. While it's not necessarily something that will come up on date one, your thoughts and habits around money are something to keep in mind.
Think About Boundaries Beforehand
"Do you want to be with someone who will swiftly and severely draw hard boundaries around the importance of being unified with you? Think about the practical ways you want to feel in your relationship," Dean says.
Is it OK if your partner confides in another person about your relationship? Would you tolerate your partner spending most of their time at the office? Do you want to be sexually monogamous? Are there certain topics you need to have discussed frequently?
Thinking about the boundaries that are important to you and why, as well as how you want them communicated, is a good way to ensure feeling safe in your partnerships.
Remember Not To Be Too Concerned With The External Package
When you think "ideal partner" you might want to think beyond "long hair and a mischievous grin."
"Try not to be overly concerned with the package your partner comes in," psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, owner of
Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "Instead, focus on the ways in which you would like to feel when you are together."
Ask questions about the kinds of things you want to feel, Scott-Hudson says. "Are you looking for a steady, comfortable person who feels like home? Are you hoping for someone who gets excited by the same hobbies that you do? Or would you be more interested in someone who is opposite to you, who brings new interests and skills to the relationship?"
Scott-Hudson says that a good foundation is to concentrate on three feelings you would like to have with your new partner. "Leave the rest to fate," Scott-Hudson says.
Make Sure You Are Really Ready For A Relationship Yourself
There is a difference between wanting a relationship and being fully ready for one. So, again, being clear as to your ideal is step one, as is going at a pace that feels authentic to you. Feeling that you have healed or moved on from past relationships is important, as is making sure you've spent sufficient time imagining your future.
"Know who you are and what you want, and feel clear about the validity of asking for it," Scott-Hudson says.
As the old — and sometimes annoying — saying goes, you can't love another until you love yourself. Spending quality time getting to know exactly what you want out of a partnership, as well as what you can give, is the first step to getting the kind of love you want!