How to Choose a Long-Term Romantic Partner
Three major ways we should not ignore.
Posted Apr 14, 2017
"Marry a man your own age; as your beauty fades, so will his eyesight." —Phyllis Diller
There are probably “fifty ways to leave your lover,” but far fewer ways to choose the one who will stay with you for the long term. The main ways to achieve this are based upon evaluating the person’s attractiveness, overall value, and their value as a romantic partner. Taking into account these three considerations significantly increases your prospects of finding a long-term love.
“Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house for three days?” —George Bernard Shaw
Attractiveness is a kind of magnet that can lure one person toward another. Physical attractiveness, and in particular sexual attraction, is one aspect of overall attractiveness, which leads to the desire to be with the partner.
Physical attractiveness is of great value at the beginning of romantic relationships. Most people emphasize the importance of such attractiveness in their choice of partner. Indeed, romantic evaluations of a partner tend to be more positive when the partner is physically attractive. The positive effects of levels of attractiveness on new relationships are robust and almost universal. However, over time, the weight of attractiveness in relationships decreases (Meltzer, et al., 2014).
In addition to the general decrease in the weight of attractiveness in the quality of the relationship, this quality also depends on the relative attractiveness of the partners. James McNulty and colleagues (2008) argue that physical attractiveness is typically associated with more positive outcomes in marriage, and wives who are more attractive behave more constructively during social support interactions with their husbands; husbands who are more attractive behave less constructively and are less satisfied with their marriages. McNulty and colleagues further claim that it is less relevant to the satisfaction and behavior of married couples that spouses be attractive on an absolute scale, or that they are equally attractive to each other, than it is that wives be more attractive than their husbands are.
2. The Overall Value of the Person
“I married beneath me. All women do.” —Lady Astor
“You could empty the trash and my love for you still wouldn’t fit inside. But just because it won’t fit doesn’t mean you shouldn’t empty the trash.” —Jarod Kintz
The comparative issue is significant not merely in the impact of attraction on the quality of the marriage, but also, and even more so, it is significant in evaluating the overall value of the person. Such evaluation refers to the appraisal of the partner as a person who exists independently of us. Hence, others can evaluate this aspect with the same degree of reliability, sometimes even with a higher degree, than the way the lover does. There is generally wide agreement about whether the person is handsome or ugly, and whether the person is intelligent and has a sense of humor. We can perceive ourselves as superior to our partner in all aspects, or just in certain significant ones. Empirical findings indicate that participants’ romantic evaluations of a partner whom they have (at least) met face-to-face tended to be more positive when the partner was physically attractive and had good-earning prospects (Eastwick, 2014).
This type of evaluation largely refers to the inferior-superior continuum, and in particular, to whether our partner is inferior to us or to another possible partner. If the partner is inferior to us, it implies that we deserve a better partner. However, the partner might be on equal footing to us, but still inferior to another possible person who also desires us. As long as we perceive our partner to be inferior to us or to another possible partner, we yearn for someone else, even if we love our current partner. Admitting our partner's, and hence in a way our own, inferiority is painful to both people. Considering the partner “not to be in our league” is humiliating. Such an expression, which grades romantic partners like we grade beauty queens and football teams, is degrading and contrary to the great admiration of the beloved that is typical of profound romantic love. The importance of this evaluation is expressed in the fact that contempt toward the partner, which clearly involves evaluating the partner as inferior, is one of the major predictors of divorce (Gottman, 1995).
Calculating the comparative overall value of a person is complex, as it involves many qualities that carry different weights. The comparison can take as its baseline the perfect prince mounted on a white horse or the next-door neighbor. Moreover, in evaluating our partner’s "score," we have some choice in allocating the relative weight of each characteristic, and hence we can improve the overall picture of our partner.
Despite the complexity in calculating the comparative value of a partner, people are typically aware of their evaluation. When there is a dissonance between the one we are with and someone we believe we could feasibly be with, we feel we are compromising and getting a raw deal. Marriage to a significantly "inferior" partner is a compromise that often leads to low marital quality and to divorce. The equity theory postulates that those involved in an inequitable romantic relationship consider themselves to be in an undeserving situation. This is the case for both the “superior” person, who feels that she could do better, and for the “inferior” one, who feels indignant at being unappreciated by the partner. Involvement in extramarital relationships is more likely for these "superior" and "inferior" people than for those who consider their partners to be their equals (Prins, et al., 1993).
3. The Value of the Person as a Partner
“He tells me over and over that he loves me so
He gives me love that I never got from you
He loves me too, his love is true
Why can't he be you?” —Patsy Cline
Appraising the value of the person as a partner is connected to the essence of romance: the suitability of the person we are with as a romantic partner. This suitability includes the strength of our mutual love; the partner’s characteristics, such as caring, sensitivity, kindness, generosity, reciprocity, etc.; and the partner’s ability and willingness to contribute to our flourishing. Our partners can be highly educated, attractive, rich, and famous, and we can consider them as somewhat above us, but they might just not be suited to us. We might not find them sufficiently sensitive to us or genuinely interested in our flourishing; they might sometimes even appear to feel threatened by our flourishing and autonomy. Since ongoing interactions and joint activities are essential to profound love; it is a major romantic compromise if we are unable to flourish together and to engage in diverse interactions and activities. A person who is unable to bring out the best in us is not a highly suitable partner.
Connection Between the 3 Evaluations
“I love you no matter what you do, but do you have to do so much of it?” —Jean Illsley Clarke
Each of the three types of evaluation has its own unique function. Attraction facilitates the initial contact between two strangers. Once the contact is established, other factors gain further weight, and the relative weight of attractiveness is reduced. The overall evaluation relates to the person's capacity to work together with the agent to establish a valuable living framework in which the romantic relationship takes place. No wonder that a major feature in this regard is the earning prospects of the person. The evaluation of the person as a partner goes to the heart of a romantic relationship: their capacity to participate in establishing and enhancing a long-term profound romantic relationship.
The three types of evaluation often influence each other. Evaluating the other as having high overall value frequently makes the other more attractive. Similarly, perceiving the other as attractive facilitates positive assessments of the other’s overall value and value as a good partner. However, as the focus of concern for each evaluation is different, the correlation is not always present. Thus, wisdom is a praiseworthy trait in the overall evaluation of the partner; but if the agent is not so wise, he might not be attracted to a very wise partner, as that could put him in a significant inferior status.
Romantic love requires some degree of positive value in all three evaluations. The unsuccessful yet familiar experience of trying to love the “right” person is indicative of the importance of attractiveness in love. The equally familiar experience of being attracted to a beautiful person until the moment he starts to speak stresses the importance of the other evaluations — especially the overall one. A failure to score high enough on the combination of the three types significantly reduces marital quality.
The Impact of Time
“This idea that being youthful is the only thing that's beautiful or attractive simply isn't true.” —Sharon Stone
Time plays a crucial role in love (Ben-Ze’ev & Krebs, 2017); however, its march is not always forward and upward. The weight of each evaluation differs over time, and accordingly, the feeling of making a romantic compromise because of a low evaluation in one specific aspect of the partner is likely to change at different periods of the relationship.
At the beginning of the romantic relationship, attractiveness has a greater weight than it does later in the relationship. Indeed, when people initially consider someone as a potential romantic partner, attractiveness is very important; the association between attractiveness and romantic evaluations usually reduces over time. Yet when the two people are together for a long period, other options are less feasible, and the association of attractiveness with romantic evaluations can slowly begin to increase again (Eastwick, et al., 2014).
In the long run, compromises on the overall value of the partner and the person's suitability as a partner are more painful. If the partner has a low degree of qualities such as intellectual ability, caring, kindness, social skills, sense of humor, ambitiousness, and personal developing prospects, this can become more agonizing in time, when the weight of passion is likely to decrease, and the weight of factors essential for long-term flourishing acquire greater weight. This is especially true concerning the value of the person as a partner.
Compromising on each of these evaluations is typically not an all-or-nothing game, but a matter of degree, and in many circumstances, the lover has some degree of freedom in assessing their relative value. Hence, a high degree in one aspect can compensate for a low degree in in the other.
Being aware of these differences, and especially of the essential role of time in developing love, is crucial for the survival of long-term romantic relationships. In this regard, Will Ferrell's advice is pertinent: "Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow Internet service to see who they really are."
Ben-Ze’ev, A. & Krebs, A. (2017). “Love and Time: Is Love Best When it is Fresh?” In C. Grau & A. Smuts (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gottman, J. (1995). Why marriages succeed or fail: And how you can make yours last. London: Bloomsbury.
Eastwick, P. W., Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., & Hunt, L. L. (2014). The predictive validity of ideal partner preferences: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin, 140, 623-665.
McNulty, J. K., Neff, L. A., Karney, B. R. (2008). Beyond initial attraction: Physical attractiveness in newlywed marriage. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 135-143.
Meltzer, A. L., McNulty, J. K., Jackson, G. L., & Karney, B. R. (2014). Sex differences in the implications of partner physical attractiveness for the trajectory of marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 418-428.
Prins, K. S., Buunk, B. P. & Van Yperen, N. W. (1993). Equity, normative disapproval and extramarital relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 39-53.