Must Love Dogs: A Relationship Plan
These are the sentiments clients often express in my office when trying to explain why their marriage is ending.
Sadly, these words—love, trust, respect, and many other relationship words—are rarely defined and are often a moving target. These words mean different things to different people. It’s no wonder that a husband or wife might not measure up to a definition that is rarely defined and is often difficult to articulate.
Different Definitions, Different Paths
Consider someone telling you, “You can’t sing.” It’s very likely that you really can sing; virtually everyone can sing. It’s clear the accuser has a specific definition of “sing” in mind, and, in his opinion, you don’t measure up. The ongoing conversation often turns into a barrage of, “Yes, I can sing” and “No, you can’t sing.” Rarely is there a pause to understand what “sing” means to each other.
I have found that when clients are struggling to let each other go, a useful clarity develops when they can separate loving each other versus loving the marriage. My article, “But I Still Love Him,” offers insights about how often people cling to the marriage because they are scared of change or loss, not because the spouse’s qualities bring great things to the relationship.
Relying On Love-At-First-Sight Is Risky
The notion of what qualities you want in a partner is the key to relationship success. Sometimes the qualities that seemed endearing during your courtship are annoying now. Some of my clients remember the spontaneity and adventure that sparked their romance. Now that’s viewed as a negative, wishing instead for the other to grow up and take responsibility. It is natural for individuals to change priorities as life’s challenges emerge. The key to long relationships is finding ways to change together.
What I have learned is that individuals have rarely given thought to what qualities they want in a partner. Short of completing the profile on Match.com or other online dating sites, very few people take the time to accurately describe what they are looking for in a partner.
I have invited many clients over the years to consider the following exercise. Most are not only intrigued, but grateful. Here’s what I suggest.
Qualities of a Desirable Partner
1. Over a period of 2-3 weeks, jot down the qualities that you might want in a partner.
The list must have at least 30 qualities. You want to get past the usual loving, respectful, trusting, kind sort of qualities and dig deeper to learn what really matters.
2. When you’re driving in the car, exercising, or doing the dishes, words like “sense of humor,” “energetic,” or “healthy” will emerge.
Jot them down.
3. Keep your list positive.
For instance, replace the quality “not selfish” with a word like “generous.”
4. Do not think of your current partner, and do not share this with your partner.
This is your heart’s yearning, your magic wand; any quality you choose is acceptable.
Define What the Qualities Mean to You
5. Once you have a list (and the longer, the better), the next step is to define what the qualities mean to you.
Again, this may take a couple of weeks. Take your time. This is an essential step. Write three or four sentences about what each quality means to you. For example:
- The quality: Sense of humor. That might mean: I think the morning comics are very funny. I laugh out loud every morning when I read them.
- The quality: Energetic. That might mean: I get up early (what’s “early” to you?) every day and just keep going all day with gusto and without complaining.
6. Review the qualities and find the top four or five that are not negotiable.
I imagine that every person has all of the qualities on your list at some level. However, they likely do not define them the same way as you do. Or their preference for its strength or definition or order is different from what is important to you. Remember: Everyone can sing, but it matters what your definition of “sing” is.
Consider sense of humor. Your idea is laughing at the morning comics. Your current partner’s idea is teasing other people. You both have a sense of humor; you each define it differently.
7. It is likely that your spouse has all the qualities (in one way or another) that you listed.
But the ones you have as non-negotiable are not his/her strong suit. They have good and fine qualities, but not the ones you need to sustain an adult relationship.
Now You Have a Relationship Roadmap
What you have developed is a roadmap that will guide you through life regarding the notion of partnership. It is not intended to be a criticism of a specific person. It is your private guidebook about what is important to you.
My Relationship Roadmap Experiences
I have actually done this exercise several times. Of course, the order and even your definition of the qualities does change over time. My list when I was married at age 21 would have looked quite different than it does now.
For example, I will share with you what my current number 2 non-negotiable quality is. I cannot and will not live with a partner who does not love, embrace, adore, and want to have dogs. Yes, that’s right. I might love someone, trust and respect that person. But if they do not share my love and passion for dogs, I will not partner with them because that is essential to me.
There is an expression: “Any road will work if you don’t know where you are going.” On the relationship road, you need to know how to read the signs and understand what they mean for your journey. Only then can you change roads when needed or return to journeying together.
Photo Credit: ©Can Stock Photo