Why do so many people end up in suboptimal relationships? What qualities should you look for in a potential partner to maximize your chances of having the relationship you want?
There are two reasons people struggle to look for the right qualities in a romantic partner. First, we tend to prioritize immediate benefits over future benefits. Second, we assume that whatever gets our attention is more important than what doesn’t. When dating, these tendencies make us pursue the wrong people.
Here’s what to look for in a relationship to increase your chances of finding a long-term partner.
What You Should Be Looking For
When dating, many people prioritize the wrong qualities that don’t indicate long-term compatibility. For example, you might look for an extremely good-looking person because you want to find them hot and their looks grab your attention. But good looks and lust both fade—so how physically attracted you are to someone isn’t a good measure of compatibility.
In her book How to Not Die Alone, dating coach Logan Ury explains what to look for in a relationship to maximize your chances of finding long-term compatibility.
1) Look for someone who is nice and even-tempered—both qualities that researchers have found are highly predictive of long-term relationship success. Nice people treat people who can’t help them (like service workers) well; even-tempered people respond with grace even when they’re stressed.
|When Kindness and Even-Temperedness Don’t Help|
While choosing a partner who’s kind and even-tempered may help you develop a long-term relationship, it’s not a guarantee. Researchers suggest that while kind people will treat their partners well, their kindness doesn’t improve the relationship unless the receiving partner expresses gratitude for this kindness. So, consider complimenting your partner when they treat others—like service workers—kindly.
Additionally, if you’re not even-tempered, choosing an even-tempered partner can backfire. If you stress out over something that your partner doesn’t consider a big deal, you’ll grow upset that they don’t understand you, leading to even more stress for both parties. Avoid this trap by choosing a partner who’s only slightly more or less even-tempered than you are.
2) Look for someone with whom you can get through the hard times. Such a person will have a growth mindset—a belief that people can learn and improve—so they’re prepared to fight through challenges, both in your relationship and in their own lives.
This includes being good at fighting with you: Your arguments should be productive and not instill fears about the health of your relationship. Relationship researchers contend that someone who’s good at fighting well will have two main characteristics. First, they’ll find a healthy way of dealing with the unsolvable conflicts that make up most couples’ arguments, like how often one partner wants to spend time with their friends. Second, they’ll actively try to defuse the tension during fights, such as by apologizing when they’re wrong.
3) Look for someone who has a complementary personality. Many of us assume we’ll be happy with someone just like us—but research doesn’t support this finding. Rather, find someone who helps you be your best self. For example, if you’re set in your ways, someone who’s adventurous might pull you out of your shell and help you try new things.
(Shortform note: Researchers add that someone with a complementary personality might make a better long-term partner because they’re good at the things you struggle at. For example, an extroverted partner might enjoy talking to the kids’ teachers, while an introverted partner might be better at helping with the kids’ math homework.)
|How to Become a Partner Who’s Good During Hard Times|
Ury recommends looking for someone who already has a growth mindset and is good at fighting, but these are both skills that you can develop—which might be helpful if you already have a partner or are trying to become a better long-term candidate yourself.
To develop a growth mindset, actively confront and reframe thoughts that suggest that you can’t improve. For example, if you struggle to learn drawing, confront your immediate thought of “I’m bad at art” and reframe it into “I can improve my art if I work at it.” To deal with unsolvable conflicts constructively, switch from complaining about what you dislike to requesting what you want, which will make your partner more open to fulfilling some portion of your request. And to defuse the tension during fights, learn to customize your apology to your partner’s needs—some people prefer dramatic apologies while others prefer a brief acknowledgment.