5 Key Factors To Consider When Choosing A Life Partner

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist By Linda Carroll, M.S., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Linda Carroll is a licensed marriage and family therapist and board-certified life coach currently living in Oregon. She received her master's degree in counseling from Oregon State University and has practiced psychotherapy since 1981.
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As a therapist, some of the most common questions I receive have to do with how to choose a life partner: 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. 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. Moreover, when we're under love's spell, most of us are willing to do anything, say anything, and be anything. Anyone who has watched The Bachelor can say the "right" things; it's how a person lives that holds the key to really knowing who they are.

It's better to use 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. Of 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" — that's also 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

It's important to know how connected a potential partner is to their family members and the quality of these relationships. Try to determine how much they are able to accept, forgive, and have family members' backs. Also look for how much they blame or make trouble for others.

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.

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.

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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.

Additionally, see if they've been able to take some responsibility for their failed relationships. Do they speak of past lovers in derogatory terms, such as "She was crazy" or "He was a total narcissist"? 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. How they handle anger

You'll need to observe this one rather than asking about it. 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.

4. Generosity

Generosity is considered the No. 1 key to a good relationship, according to a long-term study at the University of Virginia. Watch how generous your potential partner is in their treatment and discussion of others. When we are lovestruck, 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.

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5. How full their life is

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.

Putting it all together.

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% of people 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 when choosing a partner. The "feeling" part is an important indicator, but the part where rational and reasonable decisions are made must be an equal partner.

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