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15 Questions to Help Decide if a Relationship Has a Future

Answering simple research-based questions can help assess a relationship.

Key points

  • Relationships are important, but evaluating the quality of your own is tricky.
  • Gut feelings about key areas can help gauge where your relationship is headed.
  • 15 questions based on relationship science focus on areas like personal growth, closeness, friends' thoughts, trust, and red flags.
Just Life/Shutterstock
Source: Just Life/Shutterstock

Decisions are a part of life. You may need to choose the best vacation spot, job candidate, babysitter, or place to live. However, your most important decision may be identifying your best romantic partner. Relationships matter – a lot. They have implications for your health, your reactions to stress and even how you look at the world. How can you determine if your current partner is the best of the best? It’s hard to know what factors truly matter and what to ignore.

Gut Reactions Add Nuance

There are two general ways to make assessments: data and your gut feeling. As Malcolm Gladwell famously observed in his book Blink, snap judgments can have surprising accuracy. As a psychology professor myself, one example that always amazes me is that student assessments of a professor based on a 30-second silent video clip matches students’ evaluations based on the entire semester.

Relying on gut feelings isn’t perfect. But intuition is an important component of decisions, especially social ones. Clearly, people rely on instincts in a variety of situations, such as deciding which job to take, which daycare is best, and who to date. Trusting your own feelings is sometimes necessary because expert information is hard to access – published research articles are often locked behind paywalls, for example, and not typically written in a way that aids comprehension. And of course, the very nature of science and statistics is to focus on what is most typical in a population, not what’s best for any one individual.

Experts also aren’t perfect and research shows that people have a sense of when to value nonexpert opinions over experts. In fact, some experts admit to using intuition themselves: A study revealed that marriage therapists acknowledge using their intuition and consider it a valuable tool in clinical settings.

Is Your Relationship Hall of Fame Worthy?

Perhaps with the value of instinctive evaluation in mind, famous baseball statistician Bill James created the “Keltner List.” The list is a way to assess a baseball player’s Hall of Fame viability, and it's named for a seven-time All-Star with borderline qualifications. To be truly Hall-worthy, numbers may not tell the whole story; the judgment should be almost visceral. A true Hall of Famer would be clear based on a few key questions. While James is a statistician, his Keltner List is intentionally nonscientific. It’s a collection of 15 questions anyone can quickly answer to help guide an overall assessment of a player’s worthiness for the Hall. (Example: “Was he the best player on his team?”) The answers are not meant to provide a definitive conclusion, but rather to force a careful consideration of the most important information.

Back to relationships. A similar process can help you determine whether your current romantic partner is Hall-worthy for you. Inspired by the Keltner List, I’ve put together a list of 15 questions to highlight what matters most. Like James's list, my assessment is intentionally not scientific and has not been tested empirically (though that isn’t a bad idea for future research). That said, I consulted the existing research to ground each question in the science of what contributes to a healthy relationship. Note that this list isn’t about helping you pick the best Tinder date, hookup, or short-term fling. The questions focus on what matters for serious, long-term, sustainable love. To benefit from this exercise, you need to be honest. If you lie to yourself, you won’t gain any insight — or as computer scientists say, “garbage in, garbage out.”

A Keltner List for Relationships

Consider each question and answer truthfully with a simple yes or no:

  1. Does your partner make you a better person, and do you do the same for them?
  2. Are you and your partner both comfortable with sharing feelings, relying on each other, being close, and able to avoid worrying about the other person leaving?
  3. Do you and your partner accept each other for who you are, without trying to change each other?
  4. When disagreements arise, do you and your partner communicate respectfully and without contempt or negativity?
  5. Do you and your partner share decision-making, power and influence in the relationship?
  6. Is your partner your best friend, and are you theirs?
  7. Do you and your partner think more in terms of “we” and “us,” rather than “you” and “I”?
  8. Would you and your partner trust each other with the passwords to social media and bank accounts?
  9. Do you and your partner have good opinions of each other – without having an overinflated positive view?
  10. Do your close friends, as well as your partner’s, think you have a relationship that will stand the test of time?
  11. Is your relationship free of red flags like cheating, jealousy, and controlling behavior?
  12. Do you and your partner share the same values when it comes to politics, religion, the importance of marriage, the desire to have kids (or not) and how to parent?
  13. Are you and your partner willing to sacrifice your own needs, desires, and goals for each other (without being a doormat)?
  14. Do you and your partner both have agreeable and emotionally stable personalities?
  15. Are you and your partner sexually compatible?

Interpreting Your Answers

At this point, you may be tempted to tally your responses. But as much as you may like a definitive scoring system in which a partner with at least a 12 out of 15 is a “keeper,” that isn’t the goal here. Relationships are complex. Any attempt at an easy answer is inevitably an oversimplification. These questions are meant to be a self-guided tour through what relationship science knows is important in relationships—the relationship "green flags." In other words, the best answer for every question is a quick, certain, and unqualified “yes.” If any question gave you pause or leads to a clear “no,” that’s an area that warrants attention and improvement. (Here are 4 science-based suggestions for a Relationship Maintenance Plan.)

Looking at the list, you may take issue with a question or two and think, “that’s not important.” First, the scientific evidence begs to differ. But that’s also why there are 15 questions: More questions provide greater accuracy. While any one question may not perfectly capture your relationship, 15 different research-backed perspectives give a fairly complete picture. Are there different questions you could ask? Sure. More questions? No doubt, but Bill James stuck to 15 questions for his Keltner List, so I did as well.

In relationships, there are few guarantees for what the future holds. Consider your responses to these questions as data points that provide new ways of looking at your relationship. Don’t stop here, though. When you make important decisions – like who you’re going to spend the rest of your life with – collect as much data as possible. Consult the experts, yourself, and, as Question 10 suggests, your friends. By using both your head and your heart you can make the best decision about whether your romantic partner is Hall of Fame material.

For more, take a look at how rituals can reveal if you're headed for marriage. and how paying attention to ups and downs in the relationship predicts marriage likelihood.

Facebook image: Just Life/Shutterstock

More from Gary W. Lewandowski Jr. Ph.D.
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