Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Dating Checklist: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Falling In Love Again

Men and women often focus on the wrong questions when choosing their partners.

Good relationships start with good decisions, and evaluating your beliefs about relationships and love before you start a relationship is the most important thing you can do. You must be sure that your expectations are realistic in order to have a happy and functional long-term relationship, and I’m including a quick cheat-sheet below you can use to do a little self-exploration in the romance department. I pulled these questions from a checklist in my book, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome, where I include three entire chapters to hands-on checklists and inventories about your love life. With each question, I also share my advice!

What are the three most important characteristics to look for in a partner?

Men and women have the hardest time with this issue, as they’re usually too focused on sex appeal and personality ‘sparks,’ and focusing too little on the factors that actually matter the most. Simply put, the most important characteristics are kindness, reliability, and emotional stability. If you’re lucky enough to be spend much of your life with someone who has those qualities, you are going to have years of happiness and peace ahead of you.

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What is the primary purpose of a romantic relationship?

It took many years of studying psychology and working with clients to get to the bottom of this one. When we’re young, we believe that the purpose of a romantic relationship is to provide you with an ultimate family: first a partner, then kids. But the purpose of a romantic relationship isn’t about procreation, necessarily. Actually, the purpose of a romantic union is to provide support and bring out the best in each other, so that each individual has the nourishment and strength to go out in the world and reach the life goals that each individual has. Meanwhile, in bad relationships, the relationships actually drain both partners and hold them back from what they could otherwise be doing to advance themselves and to keep evolving as individuals.

What is the main difference between a good relationship and a bad relationship?

Good relationships nourish, and bad relationships distract and harm. Good relationships, at root, allow each partner to feel accepted, while bad relationships often involve trying to change your partner. In bad relationships, men and women spend much of their time feeling frustrated, sad, angry, or resentful.

How do you know when it’s time to end a relationship?

It’s time for a relationship to come to an end when your main emotional needs are not getting met, and haven’t been getting met for a while. To be fair and responsible, an unhappy partner must be sure that the problem behavior has become a true pattern, rather than an isolated event. Once you’ve noticed that it’s a bona fide pattern, talk to your partner and be specific about the behaviors that you need to change. Next, give your partner some time to change, and this may take some time —a matter of months. You need to decide the time frame that is acceptable to you, and then wait. At the end of that time period, you’ll have your answer, and that answer should determine whether it’s time to stay or go. If you have kids, it gets more complicated, but remember that kids can sense when their parents are unhappy together, and that’s not a great model to expose them to as the kids grow up.

How sexually attracted should a person feel toward a prospective partner at the beginning of a relationship?

If I could jump through the computer screen for emphasis, I would do it to underscore the importance of this issue. Oh, this one drives me nuts! I spend a lot of time working with clients who believe that they need to feel that excited ‘spark’ when they first meet someone, or otherwise they know in their bones that they’d never want to be in a relationship with the new person. Quite honestly, here’s my response: No, no, no. In fact, if you’re someone who has a history of feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationships, you need to walk away when you meet someone witi whom you feel a serious spark. In such cases, the spark signifies that there is a part of you that is afraid that you couldn’t ‘get’ him or her to be with you, which triggers excitement and the attempts to try to prove to yourself that you’re good enough to get him or her to be with you. Instead of searching for sparks, be on the lookout for someone who has the same characteristics you look for in friends. In other words, you should feel the same intensity of spark with a new friend that you feel with a new romantic interest!

Ultimately, asking yourself these five questions can make an enormous difference in your future relationships. I go into greater detail on these issues in my book, Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome, but these questions provide a great starting point. Relationships aren’t easy, but they’re easier if you make sure that the person you get involved with is someone who’s truly compatible with you from the very beginning.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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