Before you jump into another relationship, you must first ask yourself “what am I really looking for in a partner?“
While some people might think that being this critical might take away the romance and “spur of the moment” of it all, but doing so is healthier when you think about it. A lot of people have gone through some bad breakups and later wonder why they dated that person in the first place.
Do you want to know why? More often than not, people only shows us one side of their personality and later reveal their toxic behaviors after being in a relationship for quite some time or after having a big fight. This does happen to a lot of people—and not just in romantic relationships.
So before getting involved with someone, knowing what you want and identifying the qualities you’re compatible with is essential. But what if you’re not sure what you want and where to begin?
To help you explore the possible ways of figuring out the answers, we asked experts “how to figure out what you want in a relationship?“
Here are their insights:
Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”)
Psychotherapist | Author, Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today
What do you want in a partner? Most people don’t know. They want someone nice. The same person wouldn’t buy a car, a new outfit, or a head of lettuce with such vagueness. I see so many men and women choosing people to date with less thought than they’d put into choosing a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. At least for the dinner, you know you’re getting a turkey!
A person you’re initially attracted to can turn out to be ineligible because he or she is not verbal enough, too verbal, too assertive, too passive, uncooperative, addicted to some substance or habit, dishonest, unreliable, uncaring, demanding, not intelligent enough or any number of personal quirks or traits you cannot manage to live with.
Many of these traits can fall within normal ranges, yet be unacceptable to you. Couples fight over smoking, eating habits, money, sleeping habits, religious differences, pets, children, friends, holiday and family traditions, house cleaning, and time schedules.
Finding the proper match in a person to date begins with knowing clearly who you are. As a unique individual, you need more than a cookie-cutter idea of who you want to date. Are you gregarious or shy? Physically active or more sedate? How much sex do you want? How much closeness, how much space? Are you a loner, or a people person? These traits point the way both to where you meet people and which of them to focus on.
Mentally step back and look at yourself as objectively as you can. Imagine a typical day in your life, and think about what you do: morning/evening routines, meals, work, play, and general lifestyle.
Mornings can be crucial in a relationship. Most of us are more natural and less rational first thing in the morning. You express your personality in your morning routine, and it is vital information for you and your potential partner to have. Couples who begin their mornings in harmony have a better chance of continuing to enjoy each other throughout the day.
Your work, and how much you like it, says a lot about your preferences, your strengths, and weaknesses. For example, if you enjoy a people-oriented job, you may be very outgoing and want to have many people in your private life. Or, if contact with the public is stressful, you may prefer lots of time alone when you’re not working.
Your stress level, travel schedule, work brought home, and other factors will also impinge directly on your relationship. You have also learned a lot of skills at work that you might want to bring into your relationships, such as how to communicate as equals and how to work together to solve problems.
How important is your work? If it’s more important to you than your relationship, or periodically takes precedence, you need to acknowledge this. It’s possible that your career occupies a primary place in your life. If personal time is something you only get when your career permits, you’ll need a different partner than if you make your home life a priority. Knowing this beforehand can save a lot of struggle and disappointment.
Evenings and weekends are usually considered a “couple time”. Look at your current weekend and evening lifestyle to see what activities you want to share with a partner.
You in Relationship
- What do you want to do in your relationship? It should be somewhat similar to what makes you happy now. Examine your fantasies of being in a relationship to see that they actually suit your lifestyle.
- If you spend lots of time home alone, a fantasy of being coupled with someone who is the center of a social circle could be very unrealistic.
- To get an accurate picture of what really would work for you in a relationship, examining your history, and comparing it with your wishes for the future, is a good place to begin.
Here are some ways to determine what you are looking for:
Listen to others: If you aren’t sure what to look for resources are all around. Our friends and family often want the best for us and could hold some helpful insight into what they think would work well for us in a partner. Take time to take advice from those that you consider wise and that know you best.
Related: Why Is Family Important?
Pay attention to red flags: Sometimes what we want can be affected by what we don’t want. Make sure that you listen to your intuition and don’t dismiss signs that this won’t work.
Take time for yourself: If you are fresh out of a relationship or still hurting from the last one, make sure you take some healthy time to grieve and take care of yourself. Having some time for yourself will help you feel stronger and better equipped to think about what the healthiest side of you would want in a partner.
Clinical Psychotherapist, Counselor
Ask yourself what’s most important in your life. This consideration will help because your values play a huge role in the direction you’re going in life. If its family, then in your relationship you might be looking for someone who is more rooted in the world you’re in. If it’s an adventure, faith, career, all of these things are huge considerations in what you want in a relationship.
Look at the relationship dream. A lot of people have had that dream of what they want their romantic future to look like. Activities, trips, home locations, and types, are all going to help you reach those pre-conceived notions of what a relationship should be. Start off the search for what you want in a relationship by helping yourself to meet your expectations.
Monica White, MS, LMHC
Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Founder, Wellbe To Go
I believe in keeping things simple. You might not be able to “have it all”, but you can be realistic and focused on your true core values that will actually stand the test of time.
Choose 3 top values that you must have and focus on finding partners who fulfill those 3 values. This may mean that you give up some qualities that aren’t as important such as looks, or career, or intelligence. For example:
- If I decide that I value: stability, freedom, and service – then I will look for a partner that has a stable career, who is very independent and gives back to the world.
- If I value popularity, success, and wealth, I will pick someone with those qualities – who has a social media presence, loves going to social events, and has a trust fund; and I might have to give up on family for example because I value those top 3 more.
- If I value variety, adventure, humor – I will pick someone with those qualities – maybe someone who likes to surf and hike; and might have to sacrifice career and wealth.
- If I value family, friends, and morality, then I might give up on traveling or adventure.
- If I value beauty, nature, and relaxation, then I will look for someone who is relaxed and attractive; but may not be financially successful or career driven.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
An expedient way to know what you want in a mate is a very simple exercise that points to very complex and complete knowledge of what you want.
Write Ten (10) Bullet Points on a list, titled, “Ideal Mate“. Do it without much deep thought. It can be deep internal or external qualities. No one but you is going to read it, so you can be gut honest. It’s okay to say I want someone who reads Shakespeare and has a flat stomach. It’s also okay to say what you don’t want. In counseling, “rule outs” are as important as “rule ins” for decision making. If you want someone who is not a liar, then you can put “honesty”, “trustworthy” or “has integrity” on your list.
Then do these three steps:
After you write your IDEAL MATE list, read it out loud to yourself, slowly and methodically.
- Ask yourself the person you know that is most like this. Don’t read the next step until you make the list and ask that question. If you don’t know the answer, you will in step two.
- This person is usually some version of YOUR ideal self. It should remind you of you! This holds a significant key that unlocks your relationships. You now have proof that you must like and love yourself or this list could not exist. It is not conceited. It is confidence. Confidence is wholeness. Wholeness is happiness and will not accept less than the best or tolerate toxic people.
- There is a modified 80/20 percent dynamic to this list. No one is exactly like anyone. The people you meet that are most like you will have about 20% in individual differences. That’s okay. It’s healthy. What is not healthy, is if one of the things on your list is the most important to you. For example, as stated above, if someone is dishonest, everything else can be in place, but this is a non-negotiable element. Put a big asterisk or star next to the most important things to you. Leave the things that are negotiable. It’s okay if you want someone who likes sports and you find someone who prefers theater. That is tolerable. It is not okay if a person is dishonest.
When you see and hear from your own voice and choices that you like you, then you will know what relationships are the healthiest and happiest. Being self-actualized and aware of who you are or who you want to be as your ideal self will create healthy relationships. You will attract and be attracted to those who will bring reciprocity and happiness in relationships.
Quite often, individuals enter into relationships from a place of need driven by their desire for emotional security, financial security or sometimes both. Societal and family pressures can impact their motivation to get “coupled”, too.
So, it isn’t uncommon for romance seekers to pack their relationship gut instincts and a dose of luck into their backpacks and quickly embark upon what they hope will be a brief journey into finding their “perfect” significant other.
Since gut instincts work only when the head and heart are aligned and luck isn’t a strategy, I recommend the following approach in order to figure out what one wants in a relationship:
Step 1: Take Time to Do Your Homework – envision the life you want first and then seek a partner who shares those similar lifestyle views. A partner who is in sync with your goals can team with you to devise a realistic action plan that will address the needs and desires of both parties.
Step 2: Know and Respect Your Values – if you value your independence, for instance, you’ll want to seek someone who understands this need and is willing to give you space and time to be who you are. Also, if trust is an important value, you’ll want to partner with someone who has demonstrated past reliability and will give you confidence that they will do their best to support building a healthy relationship with you.
Step 3: Find your Intimacy Comfort Zone – Understand your emotional and physical intimacy needs and what it takes to satisfy those. That self-awareness and knowledge will make it easier to discover a partner who will want to go with you through the process of developing healthy intimacy skills i.e. sharing open, honest communication, demonstrating affection and enjoying robust sexual activity.
Step 4: Ensure Bilateral Flexibility – Rigidity and control have no place in a sound relationship, so finding a partner who is flexible in their thought processes and actions will potentially reduce occasional friction that can arise in a relationship. Of course, this is a two-way street, so it will be incumbent upon you to behave in the same manner.
Step 5: Select a Team Partner – Even while living your happiest life, problems will arise from time to time. If you have a partner with whom you can collaborate, “that two heads are better than one approach“, will give you the support you need in finding critical solutions.
Certified Dating and Relationship Coach
Many women were raised that it’s selfish to put yourself first. They believe that in order to be a good wife or mom you need to take care of everyone first. They think their needs and wants are not important. Over time they learned how to tune into other people’s needs and got disconnected from their own.
It’s ok to put your significant other first if he’s sick or in need of temporary support. But if you do it for an extended period, you will:
- Get out of touch with your wants.
- You’ll train your significant other that his needs and wants are to be met first.
How do you recognize a woman who is disconnected from her wants? When you ask her what does she want in her relationship, she would usually reply: ‘I don’t know. I want my significant other to be happy.‘ She doesn’t know what she wants, nor she knows how to ask for what she wants. Her best answer might be something like; ‘I think I want…‘
As a Relationship Coach I would ask her; “Do you think or do you know?‘
How to figure out what you want in a relationship?
- Get in touch with your body. Women who don’t know what they want are disconnected from their emotions and feeling. Ask yourself; ‘How do I feel in this relationship right now? How do I WANT to FEEL?” (The emphasis in on the feeling). Do you want to feel loved, appreciated, respected, nurtured, etc.?
- Emotions and feeling are your GPS in life. They will always tell you what you want and what you don’t want.
- Notice the feelings in the body. Let’s say you answered the first question that you feel unappreciated in your relationship. Where in your body can you feel that? In your chest? Stomack? Is it a contracting feeling? Is it an anxious feeling? Then ask yourself how do you want to feel in your relationship and notice the quality and location of that feeling again. Is it an expanding feeling? Do you feel warmth in your chest?
- Now you know how you want to feel in your relationship. Next step is writing down what can evoke those feelings. Do you want your significant other to compliment you more often? Do you need more support with household chores? Do you need more affection? Do you need more connection with your significant other?
- Ask for it. If you don’t ask for it, you will not get it. Remember, if you are in touch with your wants and express them clearly, you train your significant other to give to you what you want. If you don’t ask for what you want, you train them not to give you what you want.
Couples Consultant & Coach
The key to a successful relationship is choosing the right person. Many count on one’s physical attraction to another and, while that is important, it can be misleading if one ignores other factors. For a relationship to work, the person has to be a good fit for your personality and lifestyle. There are a couple of ways to identify what that would look like:
Go through all your past relationships and write down what you liked about each of them and what you didn’t like. You will probably see a pattern emerging and this will guide you as you evaluate potential partners.
Make a list of adjectives that describe you and things that bring you joy. When you know who you are and what you like to do, it will make it easier to define the qualities you want in a relationship. Go through the list and decide which ones are must-haves in your partner—honesty, a sense of humor, ambition, etc.
Look at relationships around you, starting with your parents. Your expectations are formed by what you are exposed to. Identify what you like and don’t like about those relationships. Be aware that you probably behave in similar ways to your parents. Decide if you want to continue in that fashion.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that:
- People will grow and change over time, sometimes how you want, and other times not so much.
- No matter how long you have been in a relationship with someone you do not owe them any more time.
When we are looking for a mate, while sometimes it can be tempting to go for attractive people or people who are better off financially, what is most important is if that person makes you feel good about yourself, safe to grow in a loving environment and someone who isn’t going to jump off the boat as soon as the waters get rough. One of the best ways to get to know who you want is to date yourself.
To understand what you want in a relationship you need to understand yourself better, and not just the you that you are now, but the you that you would want to be. What better way to do this then to date yourself.
Figure out what you like, ask yourself the hard questions like “What type of role do I want to have in my family household; what are things that I like to do; what are ways that I want to impact the world; what are things that I know I am lacking at now; where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years.”
Get comfortable with you and your space. Start to take better care of your body, weed out shitty friends, love up on all the parts of yourself that you have been neglecting.
Related: Why Is Self Love Important?
Why is this the best way to figure out what you want in a relationship? Because when you take care of you, when you work through all of the personal trauma piled on from years of experience, when you start to love your own company and love the company of all the people that you still allowed to take up space in your life, then you will not stand for someone to come into your life and mess that up for you.
You will be more aware and heed more warning to red flags as they come up. You’ll learn from certain friends and certain mindsets how you do and do not want to be talked to and treated. And when someone walks into your life you will know that they are what you want and need because they only elevate you, challenge you and support you in loving ways that make you think, “Oh, shoot, yes! This is what I was missing, this is what I need, and this person is going to help me get to where I want to go paving the road with love and support.”
Here is the thing, when you are at your best, you are a catch for anyone. But when you are at your worst, you want someone who is going to work with you and make you better.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Most people know the feeling of walking the road of relationship and feeling disappointed and dissatisfied at the end. From my experience with clients, we’re using the wrong criteria to date.
Start by getting clear on your intention for dating. What is your long term goal, if you look as far into the future as you possibly can? For some people, this is marriage and children. For others, it’s just finding a sex partner. Only date people who have a goal that is complementary to yours. You will almost never change someone else’s relationship goals, so save yourself the headache.
Second, name your dealbreakers. These automatically end a dating relationship. Most of the time, we can find these by looking back at what ended your other relationships in the past. Most people see these were problems at the beginning but they ignored it and it ended the relationship anyway. Possible dealbreakers include marriage, kids, money values, smoking/drinking/drug habits, and religion.
Finally, use your past frustrating experiences to clarify what you don’t want. Ask: “What do I never want to happen again?” Use this list and look at the opposite for each item. This will help you clarify what you do want in a relationship. Each dating experience is a way for you to practice and to clarify what you actually want. Even when it doesn’t end perfectly, you can still learn more for the next time.
You’re not alone in this process. Many people feel that dating and relationships are frustrating. With a few simple tune-ups, the process can be more fun and you can have more success.
Confidence Coach | Divorce Recovery Expert | Author, Fearful To Fabulous, Unlock Your Power, Move on and Thrive after Midlife Divorce
When considering what kind of new relationship you are looking for, you will want to think about what are your overall goals for the next period of time in your life?
- Do you want to make major changes in your career or living situation?
- Are you going through any type of transition?
If these are true, then you may not be in a good place to begin a serious relationship. There are too many variables that could cause complications. Perhaps you are looking more for a fun dating situation rather than a long term situation for now.
An important question to think about is why you want a relationship at this time. If you are thinking that a new man can come in and save the day for you in a financial situation, or be useful to deal with all the things in life that you don’t want to face, then you leave yourself open to ending up in a one-sided, controlling relationship that will leave you in an uncomfortable place.
Make sure that you aren’t rushing into something new after a breakup as a way to find validation of who you are from an outside source. Again, this often does not lead to a sustainable or ultimately happy relationship.
Once you are feeling good about why and when you want a relationship, the who is the bigger part. This is the time to consider the lessons from your past relationship.
- Why did it end?
- What made you happy in that relationship?
- What made you uncomfortable?
Then you can sit down and make a list of what you believe are the important qualities in the person you will be spending a lot of time with. It may be things such as integrity, loyalty, sense of spontaneity for example.
Next, write down what you would consider being a deal killer for you. Someone who dismisses your opinions on things, for example.
Use these lists to find out where you may have lowered your boundaries in the past. By this I mean, where were you making excuses for behavior that you didn’t like from your partner. Now that you know the answers, be sure to stick to them.
After you have put so much thought into making these lists, you should be in a great place to understand what you want in a relationship- and you will be ready to find one that does not compromise your beliefs or self- esteem.
Success Life Coach | Yoga Teacher | Educator
Maybe I was a late bloomer, but figuring out what I wanted in a relationship didn’t really hit me until I was staring at my husband thinking, ‘This is not the relationship I want.‘ It was a really hard thing to admit that what I thought I wanted was actually something I didn’t want. The truth is, we usually know what we don’t want, so how do we go about figuring out what we do want?
After the end of our marriage, and another relationship that ended, I realized I deserved better than what I was getting but had no idea what I wanted. I decided it was time to work on the most important relationship in my life and quit dating for some time. I began focusing on myself, my wants and my needs.
Within months, I grew confident, empowered and full of life that when I started being willing to open the door to relationships, I was a lot more clear in what I wanted. My own stock value went up so my mate’s needed to be too.
I didn’t have time to fix anyone and knew what were the most important things for me to continue thriving. If he couldn’t handle it, he wasn’t worth my time.
Lawyer & Mediator
I am in a mutually loving and supportive partnership for six and a half years, after decades of choosing incompatible mates for a variety of reasons (e.g., because I thought I should, because I was lonely because I wanted validation or an escape from my life as it was then).
With the help of several books and the Curriculum for Living at Landmark Worldwide, I eventually came to realize that the unhealthy relationship patterns in my family of origin were still heavily influencing my dating relationships, even after therapy and other self-help journeys. My mediation experience and current profession continue to deepen my understanding and led me to discover a few very helpful tools:
- My daily gratitude journal. By listing 10 things I am grateful each day, I can see patterns pointing to my values. When I started looking for partners who shared my values, I had better dates and eased into my current partnership.
- My daily task list. Similarly, when I started tracking my time with an app, I could see where I spent my time organically. This also helped me see more clearly who I am and what matters most to me. I stopped making excuses for these and looked for someone who would accept them.
- My high emotions. I began investigating my highly emotional responses to everything from, “Do you think you’ll ever get married?” to “Don’t you want kids?” High emotions suggest there is a deep attachment or concern. As I allowed myself to feel what I felt, I was able to look more objectively at these relatively harmless questions (even when they were intended to hurt me) and choose answers that fit who I am in any given moment.
In short, as I became “unapologetically me”, I was able to find a partner who I (usually) don’t have to apologize to.