Ten Important Questions You Should Ask a Potential Partner
Find out crucial information about someone before you get serious with them.
Posted Dec 17, 2014
Many of my patients have asked me when it is appropriate for them to find out crucial information about someone they are thinking of continuing to date. They want to know early on if they should invest the time and energy that a quality relationship requires. My answer most often is: “When you are not yet invested in the outcome.” That means as early in a new relationship as you can. Their next obvious concern is the type of questions they should ask.
There are many things you could ask that would gain you the information you need, but there are 10 potent and successful data gathering questions that successfully begin the process of really knowing who someone is. Because they are deeply intimate inquiries, it is also important that you approach your potential partner from authentic curiosity and a love of mutual exploration.
If you both are interested in knowing what you can expect from each other in an intimate, long-term relationship, you should be readily willing to be just as open in return. Being willing to be as honest as you are able will give you the best chance of creating a heads-up as to what your chances of success are down the line.
Following are 10 questions that are often successful initiators of a strong beginning, along with some explanations and examples. As you go through them, explore what your own reactions and answers would be were you to be on the other end of someone who is looking for the same kind of genuine intimacy.
Question #1: “What are you like when you don’t get what you want?”
We all are likely to have specific desires of our partners that are unlikely to be met over time. Those disappointments often result in frustration and sadness. People who are flexible, confident, and innovative don’t react with anger, pushiness, or attempts to control. Instead, they will talk about why their request is important to them, or offer to negotiate by giving something in return. If nothing works, they depend on their own resources and don’t punish.
- Great answer: “I’m embarrassed to say that I sometimes pout a little, but I would never want my partner to do something she didn’t want to. There are plenty of other ways to get what you need.”
- Lukewarm answer: “It depends whether or not it’s really important to me and my partner could give it if he wanted to, but is withholding because he’s mad about something else. I can give it up if it’s going to be a real problem, but not forever.”
- Warning sign: “If it’s important, I push until I get my way. It’s only fair.”
Question #2: "If you disagree with your partner about something important, what tactics do you typically use to convince him or her to be on your side?”
Disagreements happen in all relationships. People come from diverse backgrounds with multiple layers of both painful and treasured memories that are manifested in each new partnership. As people get to know each other, they encounter biases and prejudicial attitudes of their partner’s attitudes and behaviors. Depending on how deeply entrenched those preferences are, either partner may use a number of behaviors to get the other person to see it his or her way.
- Great answer: “The best solution is for both of us to listen carefully to what the other feels and thinks and then tries to find common ground. Sometimes I have to give way, and sometimes he does.”
- Lukewarm answer: “I give her every chance I can to convince me that she’s right, but if she can’t, I expect her to come over on to my side.”
- Warning sign: “If he needs to disagree with me over something that’s really important, I usually just back away and pretend I don’t care. I get back at him in other ways when he’s into power and control.”
Question #3: “If your partner asks you for something you can’t or don’t want to give, do you blame him or her for wanting it from you?
People who tend towards thinking they should automatically provide whatever their partner wants can feel that they are not measuring up if they can’t, or may not want, to provide it. To feel less guilty, they often are upset they are put in that position at all and blame their partners for wanting it in the first place. That is especially true of new lovers who want to be everything to each other. Sometimes what one person wants is simply not available from the other, despite deep feelings of love. Blame should never be the response.
- Great answer: “That would be easy but absolutely not fair. If I want something and she isn’t into it, it’s never her fault. I would make it really clear how important it is to me, but blame never solves anything.”
- Lukewarm answer: “I try not to see my partner as the bad guy if he can’t give me something I want, but, seriously, most guys who are really into you try hard, whatever you ask, don’t you think?”
- Warning sign: “If she doesn’t even try, why wouldn’t I blame her? She needs to keep her priorities straight if she wants me to keep loving her the way she wants in return.”
Question #4: “Are you open to new ways of looking at things even if they conflict with your own opinions?”
New lovers typically focus on the ways they feel the same about everything. They want one heartbeat, one dream, and one path. They will tend to ignore or suppress any major differences that could threaten that mutual reality. Yet, eventually they will surface. When confronted with a new idea that may challenge an established view, most partners will do whatever they can to resolve their differences as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that may not always be a relationship-positive response. Couples with the best chance to work through those disparate ideas listen very carefully to each other before they respond.
- Great answer: “I had a dad that was a self-proclaimed definer of reality. It didn’t matter what you thought or felt, it was always his way or the highway. I’m a real believer that my partner will always have a lot to teach me and vice versa. You can always go back to what you think, but it’s great to look at things from a different point of view.”
- Lukewarm answer: “Well, I have to admit, I have some strong opinions on things that are important to me. I’d always listen, but I’m not easy to convince.”
- Warning sign: “I put a lot of time and energy into what I think and do. I don’t like it when someone tries to tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. People need to stick with what they know and what works for them. It takes a hell of an argument to make me listen to something that doesn’t feel right.”
Question #5: "When something is important to you, what techniques do you most often use to get your partner to do what you want?”
When people have strong desires for something they want and are concerned that their partners may not be willing to give it to them, their responses can run the gamut from pouting, withholding, pushiness, charm, irritation, disconnection, martyrdom, negotiation, or begging. The partners on the other end may have equivalent responses learned from their own past relationships and emotional baggage that can greatly influence the outcome.
- Great answer: “Well, sweet-talking first, of course. You can get more out of anyone you love when you’re kind in your approach and not pushy. If it’s very important, I just tell her why it matters so much and listen to what she needs to feel good about giving me what I want. I’m a big negotiator, not a pusher. Much better in the long run.”
- Lukewarm answer: “It depends on whether or not he has some credit at the time. If he’s been nice to me for a while, I’m more likely to just ask and hope for the best. If he owes me one, I’m going to get in there and fight if I have to.”
- Warning sign: “I’m pretty much willing to do anything I have to if it’s really important to me. I start with a reasonable style, but I can get pretty intense if I feel I’m being denied what I deserve.”
Question #6: “When you feel disconnected from your partner, what do you usually do to get back together?”
Disconnections between lovers are all too common and, if not resolved, can result in a growing gap between them. When confronted with too much frustration or threat, some people retreat to their corners to lick their emotional wounds, waiting for the other to come forth and apologize, or, at least, a peace offering of some kind. Others leave and figure things out on their own, hopefully to come back when they feel ready to connect again. Sometimes, both partners harden in their righteousness and only return when they can no longer bear being apart. Without resolution, there have been no lessons learned and the pattern is too likely to happen again. Too often, it is only one of the partners who tries to get things back on track, and that imbalance will hurt the relationship over time.
- Great answer: “Whatever it takes. I hate being separate from her for very long. When we fight, it’s usually over something trivial or something we’ve just not put in the time to solve. I don’t believe in withholding love just because I’m angry.”
- Lukewarm answer: “I need to make sure that he’s going to be receptive. I don’t like being rejected and I’m not likely to warm up to him unless he makes the first move if he was wrong.”
- Warning sign: “I wait for her to make the move. I hate seeing it when guys wimp out. When a woman comes to you, she’s much easier to handle during the make-up. You’re more likely to get what you need out of the deal.”
Question #7: “Are you honest with your partner about what you need in a relationship?”
Too often in my office I hear, “I can’t tell him that. He’d never open up to me again.” Or, “She’s way too sensitive to what I have to say. She’ll just get angry, and then cry. I always end up saying what she wants to hear.”
New lovers generally intuit what the other wants. They only ask for what they feel will be perceived by the other as appropriate or has the best chance of being granted. That is what gives them the invisible halo of a perfect match. Over time, other desires are bound to emerge, whether covert or overt. If people can’t be honest up front with what they want from an intimate partner, they will present only what they feel will be accepted. That foundation of inauthenticity is a fragile one.
Honesty is not an excuse for meanness or attack. It is merely a means to convey a person’s true nature and what makes them happy. Without that information, no partner can know how to give what is needed.
- Great answer: “Pretty much about anything. I’m a little antsy if I think it’s going to hurt her for no reason and I do like my private thoughts when I’m trying to figure myself out. But anything she needs to vote on that’s going to affect her, or us, absolutely.”
- Lukewarm answer: “Most of the time. I think guys really don’t want to know what women do to orchestrate the outcome sometimes. They just want the prize at the end. Besides, I like guys to care enough to figure me out.”
- Warning sign: “Hell, no. Well, not what goes on in my mind. I tell her what she needs to know to satisfy what I want, but the rest of me is off-limits. I’m a guy. Women don’t get us if we’re too open.”
Question #8: “Are you trustworthy?”
Most people immediately think of infidelity, but infidelity is only a subset of breaking an agreement that two people have, at one time, made in earnest. Those contracts are always open to negotiation, but never to intentional welching on the deal. In great relationships, both partners honor an altar place of their own creation, something greater than themselves that both willingly adhere to. That altar place is the faith of their relationship, a place of behavior and thought that both hold sacred. If either partner “breaks that faith,” they are being unfaithful to that which they have agreed.
Passive-aggressive behavior, promise-breaking, repeated excuses over failed compliancy, and secret behaviors where the other partner doesn’t get to vote, are all severe breaches of trust. Of course, there are special circumstances, but they are neither consistent nor frequent, and they lead to creating a new foundation where trust is stronger.
Trust is the crucial foundation of any good friendship, business partnership, or intimate relationship.
- Great answer: “I’ve made some mistakes in my life by thinking I could get around things but they always backfired. I’ve really learned that keeping promises and being authentic about who you are with the person most important to you are inescapable truths in any good relationship. My partner deserves the best of me straight."
- Lukewarm answer: “I’ve never understood what that really means. I’m not ever going to tell him stuff that might make him question his love for me unless there’s no way out of it. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him as long as I’m clear on the important stuff.”
- Warning sign: “She doesn’t need to know everything about me. I like my independence and my freedom. I’m great to her and what I do on my own is my business. I don’t lie outright, but I make it pretty clear that she takes what she sees, or I’m out of the relationship.”
Question #9: “Do you hold on to resentments?”
It is crucial that the partners in an intimate relationship do not get behind on their emotional credit cards. If they store up resentments without resolution, they will eventually have all the evidence they need to withhold love and wait for the other to “pay back” before they consider opening back up again.
Resentments pile up and feed upon themselves. They can exponentially grow until there may not be a way home again. Most people who keep a stockpile of old hurts and disappointments have learned that behavioral pattern in childhood. It can be changed, but only with commitment and hard work.
- Great answer: “I try to let go of negative stuff between us as soon as I can. I’ve learned that guys hate rehashing or nagging. I do want resolution between us so the same stuff doesn’t come up over and over, but keeping a backlog of anger just leads to being miserable inside and to him.”
- Lukewarm answer: “Sometimes. When she blows up and attacks then expects me to just be there whenever she’s over it. I don’t want to be pushed around, and just give in easily when it’s convenient for her. When it takes her a while to get me back, she’s better to me.”
- Warning sign: “When guys are mean, you have to let them know that your price goes up when they don’t do what they’re supposed to. I stay mad until he clearly gets that he owes me one. I like the power.”
Question #10: “How do you most typically express your love for someone?”
It is almost a given that men often express their love sexually and by behavioral caretaking, and women by emotional tracking and anticipation of their lover’s needs. If each agrees that those expressions are received and appreciated, there isn’t a problem. But when either is more sexual, more in need of emotional sustenance, more affectionate, or more interested in hanging out than the other, then those differences are likely to result in disappointments and disillusionments.
Often it is just a matter of teaching each other what someone means by certain behaviors or asking more specifically for what works. Other times, each partner must translate what the other says or does to appreciate love expressed differently that might feel more fulfilling.
It is important to remember and accept that showing love in a way the other doesn’t feel or need it may not have the positive results that are desired. Often partners will show love in a way they would like it and not take the time to translate their words and behaviors into those their partners will experience as loving. Open communication is never more important than in the ways love is expressed and experienced.
- Great answer: “In whatever way they can feel it. I know that loving someone takes a lot of patience to get to know what is meaningful to them, not just to me. I’m pretty innovative. I do tell my partner that I want her to be open and real in telling me what makes her happy.”
- Lukewarm answer: “I’m a really affectionate woman. I touch and caress all the time. It’s important to me that my partner appreciates how nice I am and tells me so. I need that kind of caring back and I’m not a happy camper if he doesn’t do that.”
- Warning sign: “I like sex, period. I can do all the other things women say they want, but if there’s no gold at the end, there’s no rainbow. Cuddling is for kids and animals. Humans need to get it on.”
As these 10 questions are presented and answered by both potential partners, they can open the floodgates for the many others that will hopefully follow. And though it may seem hard and a bit awkward to risk asking them up front, you will be surprised at how successful the results will be.
Find Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, at heroiclove.com.