While visiting my mom over the holidays, I picked up the February 2012 issue of Psychology Today and read an article titled “Are You With The Right Mate?” by Rebecca Webber. What struck me as particularly interesting was the theory behind this article that much of what makes a long term relationship successful and satisfying is not compatibility but rather by having certain qualities, the absence of addiction and abuse, coupled with a willingness to self-asses and grow plus a genuine interest in putting forth the effort. This article gave me some insight on why my previous relationships failed and what I should really be looking for in a future mate (in addition to some insight on what I need to work on myself). My friend, Dr. Leticia Flores sums this up as, “Finding a person with compatible neurosis.” (She is very smart.)
The first step is to understand that another person lacks the power to make us happy. We are responsible for our own happiness in spite of other people. According to the article everyone reaches a point of disillusionment in a relationship which is the ending of the ever so wonderful infatuation phase- that heady fun beginning part of love or as I like to call it, natures intoxicating trick to induce procreation. Often at this transition point, one sort of “wakes up” and thinks “Oh my gosh! Did I really choose this person? They are totally wrong for me! AGGGHHHH!”. According to Christine Meinecke, a clinical psychologist from Des Moines, this is the point where we Americans typically blame our partner for our unhappiness but in reality it is a sign for us to work on ourselves.
I really enjoyed reading that because after 30 or so propositions from married men (It happens approximately once per month- seriously- and usually over a business related lunch predicated by the words, “My wife just doesn’t understand me.” – fodder for an upcoming blog) I have come up with the pat response, “That is very flattering but you may get a more satisfying experience by engaging a therapist and working on yourself.” In other words- I already understand this concept that it really isn’t about the other person it is about being responsible for yourself.
This disillusion is necessary, however for the real relationship to have a chance to grow. So rather than a panic moment , it is a good thing. It is an invitation to examine our needs, our fantasies about relationships and how we might contribute to the relationship to make it better and more satisfying for ourselves and our partners.
So long term committed relationships are not about finding the right person but more about becoming the right person. The trick is finding someone who has the right stuff to work on a relationship with you.
According to the article the characteristics to look for in a potential mate are:
- A sense of humor
- An even temper
- A willingness to overlook your flaws
- A sensitivity to you and what you care about
- An ability to express caring
All of those with the exception of number 3 you can figure out through dating. That initial rose colored glasses phase of attraction may prevent one from seeing the potential mates flaws clearly so I guess this is where knowing yourself and your bottom line limits comes in handy.
UCLA psychologist Thomas Bradbury says that a willingness of both partners to be open and vulnerable; to listen and care about each other is what makes people the right mates for one another.
Traits that impede relationships include:
- chronic lying
- chronic worrying or neuroticism
- emotional overactivity
- proneness to anger
- a propensity to harbor grudges
- low self-esteem
- poor impulse control
- a tendency towards aggression
- self-orientation rather than an other-orientation
Addicts, gamblers and serial cheaters are all in the “bad choice” category. I have been down the addict road and know for sure that that is impossible.
So the best chance one has for a fulfilling, committed, long-term relationship is to know yourself and be willing to express your needs and expose your inner life to your partner. In this way we create a sense of connection and expand our capacity for intimacy.
If anyone cares to expand on the definition of 3,7 an 9 from the “things that make a relationship not work list” feel free.