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How to pick a good partner to build a life with

Picking a partner to build a life with is a big decision. In fact, many relationship problems can be avoided if we just learn to pick better partners for ourselves.  In our culture, we don’t often talk about what makes a good partner. Most of us make this decision blinded by attraction and lust.

So, how can you pick a good partner?

It starts with you

Though this may sound cliche, before you find a partner it’s crucial that you understand yourself first.  Knowing your wants, needs, shortcomings and blindspots can help you avoid picking someone who isn’t right for you.  

In the work I do with couples, I can’t tell you how often a person will pick a partner based on what feels familiar from their own relationship history.  Sure, it’s great to go with something familiar if you had healthy, secure relationship role models. But all too often we end up repeating and recreating the negative relationship patterns we saw growing up.

Your relationship role models

We learn to be in relationship with other people based on how we see relationships modeled for us growing up.  For most of us, our baseline for what a relationship should look like comes from our parents. Again, great if you’d like to have the sort of relationship your parents had. Not so great if your parents had a horrible relationship. What types of relationships did you see modeled growing up? Was there betrayal or substance misuse in your family? Those types of patterns tend to repeat if we’re not careful.

Often times I will ask couples if they want to replicate the relationships they saw modeled and much of the time the answer is an emphatic “No!” We learn by example, so it’s helpful to know what those examples have been like.

Your relationship history

If you’ve dated before, what have those relationships looked like?  Often times we’ll get out of one bad relationship and find a slightly different version of the same thing with the next partner.  We’re attracted often times to what feels familiar. The good news is that you can change the pattern.

Have you done meaningful work on yourself?  

If you’re single and thinking about dating, have you done some meaningful work on yourself first?  If you’ve explored your relationship role models, your history and what you need and want from a partner, you’ll be ahead of most.  Individual therapy, meditation, coaching or personal exploration are important tools that can help you understand your past and plan for your future.

Picking a partner

So you’ve done some work on yourself and you’re clear about what you’re bringing to the table in a relationship.  Congratulations! The next step is finding a good partner. Yes, sexual attraction is a big part of the initial draw to a new person, but often times that initial attraction will fade.  If we want to look beyond attraction when finding a long-term partner, it can be helpful to look out for shared values, interests and mutual respect for one another.

Red, orange and yellow flags

All too often in the early stages of a relationship we’ll overlook certain warning signs.  Hormones are flowing, intensity is high and it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new love.  But if you know yourself and what your deal breakers are, you can cut the cord sooner rather than later and spare yourself time and pain in the long run.  If you’re in tune with yourself, you should know deep down if the warning signs are deal breakers.

Internal vs. external qualities

Often times when you ask someone about their ideal mate, you’ll head about external factors like career, money and looks.  While those may be important factors to consider, it’s the internal stuff that lays the foundation for great relationships. Do you respect and admire your potential partner’s character, values and integrity?  Do you think they’re a good person? Will they be someone you can rely on in tough times? Do they make you laugh? Are they kind?

Can you be yourself with your partner?

Sometimes we are cast in certain roles in relationship with our partner.  If you notice that you hide certain parts of yourself from your partner for fear of rejection or attack, chances are that’s not the person for you.  In a healthy, secure relationship you partner will love you because of who you are. They will accept, support, encourage and advocate for you. That’s the kind of person you want to build a life with.  The longer you’re together, there will be difficult challenges that come up. And you want someone loyal and dependable by your side.

Big ticket deal breakers

There are some big ticket deal breakers that are important to explore and discuss before you commit yourself fully to a relationship.  For example, if you want kids and your partner does not, you may not be a good fit in the long run. We can hold out and hope that someone will change, but that may just be kicking the can down the road and delaying the inevitable.  

Don’t expect them to change

If you enter a relationship hoping that eventually your partner will change, that is a recipe for disappointment.  Change typically has to be self motivated for it to stick. Just like you deserve to be accepted for who you are, your partner is entitled to the same in return.  It’s not fair to be with someone with the hopes that they will be a different person for you.

In summary

Before you start dating, do some work on yourself and become clear about your wants and needs.  Know your history and be intentional about your future. As you start dating, look out for deal breakers and warning signs. Have tough, authentic conversations about what you want. You’ll be thankful in the long run.

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett

Tom Bruett, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist with an office in San Francisco, CA. Tom feels passionately about helping people have better relationships. The purpose of this blog is not to provide advice or to take the place of working with a mental health professional. For more information please visit the homepage.