Have you had a difficult time finding someone with whom you can establish a great relationship that lasts beyond just a few months, before one or both of you have chosen to either break up or settle for being less than happy (rather than be alone)? If so, the challenge likely starts with why you chose to be together in the first place. Most of us were either taught to focus on the wrong priorities when identifying our ideal mate, or we operate with no standards at all, just trusting our “feelings.”
Do you actually know what to look for in a mate ideally suited for a healthy, lasting relationship with you? To get an indication, try this small exercise:
List your top 10 must-have qualifications in your ideal mate. (Really; take a few minutes.) Now, put a check mark next to anything on your list that represents what that person should look like (tall, curvy, blonde hair, nice abs, etc.), should have (a sports car, a six-figure income, a 700+ credit score) or can do (rock your world in bed, buy out the mall, make it to the pros). Then circle anything on the list that represents their character, personality or treatment of other people (loyal, caring, trustworthy).
If you have 4 or more checks, you are not likely to have a great track record of being happy in relationships that last more than a few months or so (the typical life-span of most relationships), no matter how ecstatic you may be when love is new.
The items you’ve checked are what we call attractors; they represent what a person is. The items you’ve circled are about who a person is (i.e. faithful, tender, compassionate, trustworthy, respectful); they are what we call sustainers. The problem is that attractors can and will change over time (income can be lost; a hot body at 22 will likely not be so hot at 35), bringing disillusionment, resentment and loss of interest as a result—all relationship killers. (A great reality check for this is to see how past relationship partners measure up against your list. An even bigger truth bomb: How do you measure up against your list? We don’t attract who we want, but who we are.)
A healthy relationship is about two people unconditionally loving and being loved for who they are, not what they have, what they look like, or what they can do. Attractors (such as basic decency, physical attractiveness, sexual chemistry, good job/income, education/intelligence, family/social status and religious affiliation) are inherently conditional and thus unreliable as a foundation for healthy relationships.
The problem is that these characteristics also tend to distract us from—or cause us to undervalue and overlook—those sustainer characteristics with a high correlation to a person’s capacity to establish, build and sustain healthy relationships. These include respect/admiration (appreciation), compassion, forgiveness, fidelity/loyalty (trustworthiness), unconditional acceptance, and safety (physical, mental and emotional).
While relationship attractors change over time, relationship sustainers go to the truth of who a person is and chooses to be and usually stay the same over time. When we commit to people based on attractors instead of giving them time to reliably exhibit the sustainers, we tend to end up in relationships which leave us dissatisfied and are unlikely to last.
Most of us have been socialized to believe that it is neither possible nor necessary to prepare for love; that it all depends on a mix of luck, fate, magic, sexual chemistry and divine intervention. Nothing could be further from the truth, which is exactly why we wrote our book, Loving In The Grown Zone: A No-Nonsense Guide to Making Healthy Decisions in the Quest for Loving, Romantic Relationships of Honor, Esteem and Respect. Sustainable, loving relationships are a matter of intention, learnable skills and practices, and a commitment to your own personal growth.
You can prepare yourself for healthy love. An important way to do this is to train yourself to go beyond the attractors that draw you to other people (and them to you), to identify and cultivate the sustainer chararacteristics healthy relationships need to thrive and grow.
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