I keep reading articles about relationship red flags to look for in your partner. There are lists of things NOT to do in a relationship or people to avoid. These articles catalog ways to know if your partner isn't into you, is narcissistic, or just biding time.
It makes sense that we want to know the danger that awaits us in our relationships because our brains are wired for a negative bias. We are on the alert to see what signs are out there in the ether to protect ourselves and survive.
There are not many articles that suggest looking for what is right rather than what is wrong. My therapist often nudges me to "ask for what I want." I tend to frame things in terms of what I DON'T want.
When I change my thinking to look for the good in others, the things that are working well, the ways you are turning towards me, I am more likely to be unconsciously cued to see the very thing I long for in you.
It's me, AND it's you!
What exactly do you long for in a partner?
What are the behaviors that invite you to be present and engaged in your relationship?
Why do these behaviors make a difference in your relationship?
Let me be clear: I am not talking about a perfect, nirvana-centric connection that never falters.
I am talking about how we aspire to be our better selves and put that energy of positive, connective joy into the space between us. When we do this, we feel safe, more curious, more flexible, capable of being vulnerable, open to trying things in new ways, and more at ease in our relationships.
Dream Relationship Recipe - 10 Ingredients
Ingredient #1 - Looks for Ways to Resolve Differences
Having a partner who quickly and easily resolves differences means that it's okay for us to take turns, have different opinions, and trust that sometimes we get what we want.
Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes we compromise. Couples researcher John Gottman says that 67% of the differences between us are unresolvable - and that is the good news.
Having differences helps us to differentiate from one another. Differences are not the same as right and wrong. My way is mine, and yours is yours. We can hold them simultaneously. When we differ, we look for ways to meet.
Ingredient #2 - Let's You Know How Attractive You Are to Them
My partner lets me know in a million ways that he wants me and finds me attractive. He initiates tender touch, sweet and humorous innuendos, and sexy references. He looks at me with desire; you know that look.
My partner welcomes me into his arms when I initiate contact. He tells me I am beautiful and that I have the softest skin. He plays with my hair and rubs my feet. He appreciates my availability to him. He validates my desires.
Ingredient #3 - Tells You What They Want and Feel
For me, I want my partner to ask for what he wants directly. While it is not always going to happen when and how one expects, it is critical to ask. Asking for what you want suggests that you know what you want. Asking goes a long way towards knowing, and that begins to be the basis of being known by your partner.
The same is true regarding feelings. When clearly shared that you are angry, disappointed, sad, lonely, elated, ecstatic, or satisfied, your partner becomes tuned into your expression and emotions. We are better able to understand emotions that are articulated over those that are off-loaded on to us.
Ingredient #4 - Shares in the Workload
Often, I hear the complaint of the unequal burden of household tasks falling on one person in the relationship. Perhaps it is a generational bias. While I wholeheartedly support that tasks should be shared, some things are easier to do than others.
My partner is an ardent gardener and will happily mow the lawn each week. I will die before I mow a lawn. We each do our own laundry-because I am picky about my laundry. I do most of the cooking. He does a tremendous amount of the cleanup.
Is it equitable? Probably not. But when he has a busy week or extra concerns, I am happy to pick up the slack. When I need additional support, he shows up to listen, take care of things I need to set down, and offer alternatives when I ask.
Sharing the load acknowledges that things are not always balanced, and we take turns as needed.
Ingredient #5 - Has Resources Beyond You to Manage Challenges
Partners who plan what they need are more available to support you when you ask for help. Self-care is the only successful path to relationship resiliency. You cannot tend the space between us if you are working from your reserves. When I eat good food, get enough sleep, spend the right amount of time with good people, I am more likely to show up as my better self when it comes to the care and tending of us.
A partner who practices good self-care knows what things are appropriate to bring to me and what things may require an outside expert, family member, or friend.
Ingredient #6 - Is Sensitive to Your Vulnerabilities
Caring, attuned partners recognize your vulnerabilities and move softly and gently about them. They are conscious of their word choice and body language. They notice response cues. They check-in to see if you are still present and able to engage.
Sensitive partners can pause and move at the pace that is best for the most vulnerable person. They slow down and trust that what needs to be said and done will happen in good time.
Ingredient #7 - Makes You and the Relationship a Priority
A partner who makes tending to the relationship the number one priority, after self-care, understands that we are better together. All else comes after this imperative. Work demands, friends, family of origin, hobbies, interests, and mind-numbing scrolling are second to the connection between us.
Relationship priority is demonstrated through eye contact and the act of doing one thing at a time. With my partner, when he sets down his phone and physically turns to me, I know that he is making us the priority. When I ask for his opinions about how we spend money, time, or energy, he knows that I want what is best for us.
Ingredient #8 - Seeks to Reconnect After Ruptures
A partner who wants to be connected more than she needs to be right will work towards repair when things go off the tracks. Having a system of time outs or a reset button is valuable.
Repairing ruptures means being willing to say:
"Let's try that again."
"I think I can do that better."
"That is not actually what I meant to say or do."
"Can we reset?"
"I can see that my words upset you, help me understand why."
"You may be right."
"I may be wrong."
Ingredient #9 - Understands You From Your Perspective
A person who wants to take the time to hear and understand is a treasure! Being seen and heard are at the heart of being understood. Being understood is the very soul of being loved. They can communicate in the language that you speak. The more you know about their way of being, thinking, feeling, and sensing, the more you will genuinely empathically understand them as they understand themself.
Walking in your partner's world, learning about how they came to have particular beliefs, practices, and certainties shifts you away from seeing your partner through the lens of your beliefs, experience, and understanding and towards theirs. Real connection is based on real understanding. When the connection feels weak, be curious. Wonder what it is that you do not know that is preventing you from understanding your beloved.
Ingredient #10 - Expresses Appreciation for Things You Do and Say
Verbally expressing appreciation consistently brings things we think about each out into the space between us. When you appreciate your partner, they feel seen, validated, and motivated to do these things more. If you do nothing else to change your way of being in your relationship, try exchanging just one daily appreciation with mirroring and a hug. It will take all of five minutes and will be transformational!
"Are you available to receive an appreciation?"
"One thing I appreciate about you today…" (Your partner mirrors what is said.)
"When you do (or say)…I feel…"
"Thank you for being you!!"
Switch, repeat, and end with a ONE MINUTE (longest minute in the world!) silent HUG. You're welcome!
What we all Really Want
What we most deeply long for is to be loved. If you want healthy love, be more loving and lovable. If you are bringing these traits to your relationship, chances are your partner will meet you there and stretch and grow with you.
Our relationship vision is always sitting before us, urging us towards greater safety, consistent warmth, and reliable attunement. This is the connected relationship that brings out the best in us.
If you are struggling with creating your dream relationship, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!
This blog post was written by Hayley Hoffman, MA, LPC
Hayley is a psychodynamically trained clinical counselor focusing on helping couples and individuals to live relationally and to navigate life’s terms. After obtaining a Master’s in Clinical Counseling from Northwestern University, she became a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. She is currently earning certification in sex therapy for couples (CSCT).
Hayley works from an empathic stance, helping clients through the process of noticing, identifying and understanding patterns of behavior that, while once useful coping mechanisms are no longer working. Together with her clients, they explore attachment meaning, past and current dynamics, and new behaviors that lead to consciously connected relationships with self and others.
Hayley’s practice is rooted in “unconditional positive regard,” creating a safe haven for exploring vulnerability and change, and a spiritual approach to life’s ups and downs, drawing on the lessons she has learned in Imago Therapy, 12 step work, and psychodynamic clinical theory. Her client base is focused on adults, individuals, and couples. Her area of focus is couples, relational difficulties, group therapy, overcoming anxiety and depression, faith/spirituality and establishing and meeting personal goals.
Prior to her work at The Imago Center, Hayley worked in management with national and local businesses. She completed a Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She has more than a decade of experience with 12 Step programs. Hayley and her husband have lived in DC off and on for the last 35 years. Between them, they have 5 adult kids.