What Makes a Good Life Partner?
What Makes a Good Life Partner?
When you’re crushing on somebody, you’re not dreaming about how supportive they’d be if your mother was in the hospital, or how adept they’ll be at receiving your feedback in the midst of a furious argument. No — you’re much too focused on how cute their eyes look when they smile, or how nice they smell.
That’s because we’re attracted to people based on their physical appearance, and their personalities (insofar as we can know someone’s personality within a few months of dating).
This isn’t because we’re all shallow jerks — it’s just that we’re biologically primed to hone in on the qualities that make for an excellent short-term mate (short-term as in, long enough to make a baby and keep it alive until it can walk), rather than the deep personal qualities that actually make for a good life partner.
Whether you’re dating or in a relationship, it’s smart to spend some time learning about these deeper qualities, so that you can recognize them in others and cultivate them in yourself. If you can focus on character over chemistry in your relationships, you can create a partnership that’s healthy, strong, and truly built to last.
This article will tell you how. Using insight I’ve gained through working with countless couples over the years in marriage counseling and relationship coaching, I’m diving into what actually makes a good life partner — and how you can develop your own “good partner” skills to create better relationships. If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
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What Makes a Good Life Partner?
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a clear rubric for selecting a fantastic partner with whom you could have a healthy, loving relationship?
Or a set of guidelines that would help you know for sure that your significant other is indeed “The One,” so you could move forward with confidence into the next chapter of your life together?
While it’s true that who you choose to marry is likely the biggest choice you’ll ever make, it’s also true that whether or not you have a healthy, loving, enduring relationship with that person depends on the kind of partner you’re able to be.
Relationships are systems, and they always respond to what we’re feeding them. If you dump toxic sludge into a river, there will be dead fish bobbing on the surface before long. If you dump love-killing ingredients into your relationship, it’s going to be damaged, eventually beyond repair.
It’s worth learning about the qualities of a good life partner, not only so you can prioritize them in the people you date, but so that you can develop them in yourself. This is what gives you the power to create a wonderful relationship, rather than merely hoping to find one.
So, without further ado…
Good Life Partner Quality #1 — Psychological Flexibility
Psychological flexibility is the ability to stay open to new information, and to shift course based on what you learn, even if the information you’re receiving is different than what you’re expecting or wanting to hear. People who are psychologically flexible perform better on the job and are able to maintain a more even keel emotionally. They also do better in relationships.
We all have established ideas that we’ve developed over time. The more ingrained these ideas become, the more uncomfortable we may feel about being swayed by new information. People who are less psychologically flexible experience more discomfort around information that doesn’t fit with their established ideas, and this becomes a barrier to understanding people who think and feel differently than they do. When their partner tells them something that conflicts with what they think and feel, they may invalidate them or try to change their mind, rather than seeing things from their partner’s perspective and making appropriate changes.
So how can you tell if someone is psychologically flexible? Pay attention to how they act when you disagree about something. Do they listen and ask you thoughtful questions to understand your perspective? Do they allow themselves to be influenced by you? Do they ever ask for your feedback, and modify their behavior based on it? These are all signs of psychological flexibility.
Good Life Partner Quality #2 — Empathy
Every healthy relationship is built on a foundation of empathy.
Empathy is emotional attunement. It’s the ability to understand the feelings of others and to respond to them appropriately. People who are lower in empathy aren’t necessarily serial killers — in fact, most of them are perfectly nice people whose intentions are good. But if they’re not skilled at noticing other people’s feelings, caring about them, and responding appropriately, they’re bound to have some trouble in relationships.
So what are the signs of an empathetic person? People with higher levels of empathy tend to talk about other people as complex individuals, rather than as one-dimensional characters who are either all good or all bad. They also tend to be pretty insightful about the hearts and minds of others, rather than confused about why other people think and feel as they do. They’re not often surprised to hear someone is upset about something, and responding with compassion comes naturally to them.
Good Life Partner Quality #3 — Commitment to the Concept of Mature Love
On the list of good feelings a human can feel, falling in love is near the top. But life-long, real-deal, show-up-every-day love? Drive-your-partner-to-43-chemo-appointments love? That’s not a feeling, that’s a commitment to something that’s bigger than you — even when you’re not really feeling it.
The chemical rush of new love is what brings people together, but it doesn’t keep them together through all the challenging and painful stuff that life throws at them. When a relationship lasts, it’s because two people have a mature conception of love. They are committed to their partnership, and to each other’s well being — as strongly as they’re committed to their own. They know that real love isn’t about feeling good all the time. When life gets hard, they get through it together, rather than moving on to the next good-feeling thing.
Of all the Good Life Partner qualities, this might be the toughest to suss out with a new match. You wouldn’t expect to see this kind of commitment at the beginning of a relationship — in fact, that would be a major red flag.
But, early on, you can pay attention to how they talk about other relationships in their life. Are they close and committed to their friends? Their family? Do relationships with others seem important to them? Do they think in terms of “me,” or in terms of “we?”
Good Life Partner Quality #4 — Emotional Intelligence
Finally, a good life partner is emotionally intelligent.
People who are high in emotional intelligence are adept at understanding and managing their own feelings, and connecting with those of others. They are aware of their own internal emotional state, and they can take guidance from their feelings to make adjustments in their life and in their relationships when things are feeling bad.
Emotionally intelligent people are also good self-soothers. They allow themselves to feel the full spectrum of their feelings, but they’re not easily bowled over by big emotions — or, when they are, they’re able to recover fairly well. This makes them more resilient and better able to meet life’s challenges.
Finally, emotionally intelligent people are able to notice other people’s feelings, have some insight into why they may feel the way they feel, and respond appropriately. You can imagine what a handy skill this is in the context of a marriage. It takes more than love and care for your partner to understand how they’re feeling, why that may be, and what they need from you — it takes emotional intelligence (and emotional maturity).
The good news is, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be built with practice, and we all have some room for growth in this area. If you’d like to improve your emotional intelligence, working with an EI Coach can help.
Good Life Partner Quality #5 — a Growth Mindset
If you’re dating or in a relationship, don’t just evaluate these qualities in your partner (or in yourself) in terms of where they stand today. We all grow throughout our lifetimes, and our relationships can be the site of our most significant personal growth spurts — as long as we have a growth mindset.
People with a growth mindset believe in their own power to determine their outcomes through their efforts. This helps them to persist through setbacks, learn from mistakes, and view challenges as opportunities to further develop themselves. When something starts feeling difficult in a relationship, someone with a growth mindset will work to solve the problem, and that will naturally lead them to develop healthy relationship skills like emotional intelligence and psychological flexibility.
How can you tell if someone has a growth mindset? A good indicator is whether or not they take responsibility for themselves. Do they believe they have the power to make their life better by applying effort? Or do they seem to think that the power to change their life for the better (or the worse) resides outside of themselves, with other people?
If they recognize they have a lot of control over the outcomes they experience, and work to shift those outcomes by learning and growing, they most likely have a growth mindset… and the bones of a good life partner.
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What Makes a Good Life Partner?
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
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Episode Show Notes: What Makes a Good Life Partner?
[2:27] Becoming Attracted
- Attraction is at the heart of how we form relationships.
- It can be physical attraction, attraction to their personality, or other characteristics that we value.
- We tend to idealize and see the best in others when we first meet them, but we often overlook the crucial factors that matter in the long run.
[8:48] Are We Taught to Become Good Life Partners?
- Putting positive things in your relationship that elicit positive responses from your partner will help you build a strong bond, but not everyone grows up watching this kind of relationship unfold between their parents.
- Starting with yourself, you can make unilateral changes in your relationship.
[12:21] Psychological Flexibility
- Psychological flexibility refers to the ability to shift course based on new information.
- We cannot be good life partners without that openness, receptivity, and ability to be influenced or changed by another person.
- Empathy is emotional attunement that allows you to understand the feelings of others without necessarily feeling the same way.
- People who are lower in empathy can still form healthy and meaningful relationships if they put forth the extra effort.
- Finding a partner who notices and cares about your feelings is critical.
[22:23] Mature Love
- Love is an orientation towards others, not a feeling.
- True commitment takes time to develop, and rushing into it can be a red flag.
- The way they talk about other people in their lives gives you insight into their conception of love.
[29:26] Emotional Intelligence and Communication Skills
- It’s not about being perfectly emotionally intelligent or having perfect communication skills; it’s about being open to growing in those areas.
- Self-awareness, effective management of one’s own feelings, noticing others’ emotional states, and relationship management skills are the four components of emotional intelligence.
Music in this episode is by Angharad Drake, covering Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” on the “Summer of Love” album. You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://angharaddrake.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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