On my book tour for Love Cycles, three of the most common questions I was asked were these: "How do I know this person is right for me?" "How can I tell if they will make a good life partner?" "What is the most important thing I can ask them?"
None of these questions has a simple answer. When we're under love's spell, most of us are willing to do anything, say anything, and be anything. Anyone who has watched Oprah can give the right answers; it's how we live that holds the key to really knowing us. The way we feel when we fall in love doesn't necessarily mean that we are with the right person. This is why we call it "falling" in love. It doesn't mean that we are compatible — only that we are human and have body chemistry.
It's better to look for clues using the logical part of our brain to determine whether the other person has the right "stuff" to make a suitable long-term partner than to feel our way to this decision. Our course, what we feel is essential, and someone may be a great fit with all the important qualities that we are looking for, but if our body doesn't react to them — no attraction, no chemistry, no "wow" — it's just as important information on which to base our decision. We need both heart and head to decide.
Here are five clues that will help you find out whether or not someone has the qualities to go the distance:
1. Family history
Here we're concerned with how connected a potential partner is to their family members and the quality of these relationships. I look for two red flags when I'm talking with a client about their family history. One is when they indicate that everything is or was terrible; the other is when they say that everything is or was perfect. Try to determine how much they are able to accept, forgive, and have family members' backs.
Look for how much they blame or make trouble for others. A good sign of balance is, for example, the following description of a family member: "Well, my dad's an interesting guy. He's so loving and generous. He had a hard struggle with depression. He's a glass-half-empty sort of guy, yet he tries hard to be more upbeat. The problem is he's very reluctant to seek help and kind of stuck in his ways. But, growing up, I remember how, most of all, he always loved and supported me. Although he didn't often show up for my activities, I always knew that it wasn't because he didn't care." This is balanced; he tells it like it is.
2. Past relationships
It is important to discover what kinds of friendships someone has had or currently have. The best sign is that they still keep a few of their oldest friends. See if they've been able to take some responsibility for their failed relationships. Do they speaking of past lovers in derogatory terms, such as "She's a total narcissist" or "What a borderline he is"? Occasionally, it might be true, but most of us look pretty unappealing to the other at the end of a relationship, and it's not usually the whole truth. Ask whether your potential partner tries to be fair-minded.
3. Handling anger
This involves your observing rather than asking. Watch how they behave when they don't get their own way, are disappointed, or feel angry. In life, we have to manage not getting our own way as well as hurt and disappointment. How people act with others under these circumstances says a lot about how they will one day act with you.
Since this is considered the No. 1 key to a good relationship (according to a long-term study at the University of Virginia), watching how generous your potential partner is in their treatment and discussion of others is extremely important. When we are love-struck, we are all generous and loving, but you need to look for indications of how generous someone will be when the love potion wears off.
5. A full life
Determine whether they have meaning in their life that doesn't relate to you — interests, passions, a history of expanding themselves. Do they have big dreams or a history of making those dreams come true? Paradoxically, the key to intimacy is the ability to be separate. Until you know yourself and feel whole and clear in what you want for your life, you'll never be able to be the best partner you can be. It's counterintuitive, but we really only get the most intimacy out of a relationship when we have done the most work on ourselves.
Imagine there are two parts to an "interview" with a potential partner (like with a job applicant). In part one, trust your heart, the chemistry, and your intuition.
If only things were so simple. This is clearly not enough. I bet 99 percent of you have felt that someone was "the one," only to be shocked and disappointed when, later in the relationship, you find out a whole lot of things that you totally missed. In part two of the interview, look at their abilities, their references, their experience, and all the other objective data that points to whether they are a good fit.
We have two parts to our brain, both of which are essential to use in the interview. The "feeling" part is an important indicator, but the part where rational and reasonable decisions are made must be an equal partner.