It's not always easy to parse out what the person sitting across from you wants in a relationship. Sure, you could always ask the woman you're dating what she wants (and in fact, you should), but let's be honest: That's easier said than done. To give those curious a look at what women actually want from men, here's a good place to start. Just remember: Every individual is different, so this list should be the foundation on which you can build. If you truly want to meet the needs of the woman in your life (or the woman you'd like to have in your life), it will take time, effort, and trust.
Be an intuitive and empathetic listener.
This is truly the basis for many of the positive traits you'll see on this list. The reason is simple: If you want to know what your partner wants, you have to listen to them.
In theory being an intuitive and empathetic listener sounds good, but sometimes it can be hard to understand what it looks like in practice. It means being present (not just waiting until it's your turn to talk) and able to follow the rhythm of a good discussion and adapt with it. It also means picking up on details and remembering to bring them up later. If this sounds like work, it's because it is: Being a thoughtful listener is a skill that must be practiced, honed, and worked on regularly.
Be communicative and honest.
In the same way that you would like your partner to articulate their needs directly to you, they very well might be feeling the same thing about your communication style. It should not be your partner's responsibility to solve your emotional state like some mystery and vice versa. "Couples that don't learn to consciously communicate will face issues when it comes to intimacy, conflict, and relational growth. Understanding your partner's inner world and having them understand yours is pivotal to true connection," therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, tells us. (Learn more about how to develop better communication skills here.) "If you struggle to communicate in a way that evolves your relationship, then over time you will find that you grow apart."
Be respectful of other women.
Speaking ill of the women in your life, like an ex-girlfriend or boss, can be interpreted that you don't respect women as a whole. Of course, not everyone is going to have perfectly pleasant interactions with the people in their lives, women or otherwise. However, it does read as questionable when you make blanket statements like "crazy" or "unreasonable" without being able to articulate why you feel this way. Be mindful of how you speak about women in general.
Understand the nuances of consent.
No woman wants to date a man who makes her feel unsafe, hard stop. So first and foremost: Understand the basics of enthusiastic consent. And from there, as you explore the boundaries of your sexual relationship, remember that it will likely involve a series of conversations about what piques your interest, what doesn't, what you're comfortable with, and what you are not. Use these conversations to move the relationship forward, and don't clam up at the first sign of confusion.
Value personal space.
When you enter a relationship, it might be tempted to let your personal life slide to the wayside. And as you develop said relationship, your lives start to converge naturally anyway. The result? The line between alone time and time together starts to lean in the latter's direction. "Being partners doesn't mean you have to—or even should—do everything together. Needing space does not necessarily mean your relationship is doomed. In fact, it can be a healthy sign that you're prioritizing yourself as an individual both inside and outside of your relationship," psychologist Danielle Dowling, Ph.D., tells mbg. (Read more about the balance between together and alone time here.) It didn't really matter what you do in your spare time, so long as they were engaged in something outside of the relationship, be it a hobby, side project, or a group of friends.
There are many ways to show your love—and people respond to signals of affection differently. It's commonly referred to as "love languages," a term coined by author Gary Chapman, Ph.D. As licensed marriage and family therapist Linda Carroll, M.S., LMFT, explains to us, love languages are varied and often evolving: "Seeing our partner as different and listening to what they need and want are essential skills of making any relationship thrive. These skills are part of what sustains the relationship in the harder seasons."
One of the best traits a man can develop in himself as he dates different women is variety. As long as you're showing the woman you date that you care about her in different ways—verbally, physically, with favors, time, or gifts—you'll cover your bases. And then as you grow closer with one partner, you'll be able to parse out the nuances of your specific love languages. But having a strong, diverse foundation of showing affection is a good place to start. It's also a great way to keep the relationship interesting long term.
Like listening, generosity is a value that acts as an underlying current in many other traits. "Generosity is important in every part of a relationship. Giving and accepting affection, doing things for one another to make life easier, forgiving each other, and keeping your partner sexually satisfied all require a generous heart," Carroll tells us. (Learn more about generosity in relationships here.) It's actually been studied quite a bit: Most notably, a large-scale 2006 survey found that the most important quality in marriage is "generosity."
Have emotional intimacy with others.
It's not wrong to view your partner as a friend or even best—but it's an entirely other thing to view your partner as the only friend you can turn to to talk about your interior world. On that note: A significant other is not a therapist. And if you are dealing with deep emotional problems, you should seek professional help to clear up the issues. It places too large of an emotional burden on your partner to be your sole sounding board—and an even larger one to assume they might have the advice you're looking for.
It's important that you take responsibility for your own emotional needs and are able to deal with them inside and outside of the relationship. "When each person takes responsibility for their own feelings and needs, then no one fears getting blamed for the other person's struggles," relationship expert Margaret Paul, Ph.D., tells mbg. This emotional integrity is a vital way to end up crafting emotional intimacy with your partner in the long run.
Be open to being wrong.
Defensiveness is a reaction that is deeply human. "We are all wired to protect ourselves, and this can lead to defensive behavior," says Carroll, explaining that all relationships experience defensive behavior at times. "But if you find that either you or your partner is always on guard, waiting on the front lines to pounce into a defensive mode of communicating, it can be deeply harmful to the relationship."
The problem arises when your defensiveness gets in the way of empathizing with your partner or admitting when you've done something wrong. (If you find yourself consistently stringing with being defensive, read more here.) The most direct way to get over defensive behavior is being self-aware, acknowledging when it happens, understanding where it's coming from, and communicating your feelings with your partner.
Emily Gaudette is a freelance writer and editor who has a literature and film studies degree from Bryn Mawr College. She has covered entertainment, sexuality, and relationships for Newsweek, SYFY, Glamour, Inverse, SELF, TV Guide, and more. She lives in Brooklyn.