hands with anchor tattoos

How do you know when a relationship has long-term loving potential? Since my last relationship ended, I took time off to figure out what went wrong, then dated casually, then dated a little less casually. I haven’t committed to anything serious…

At this point, I am hyper-sensitive to potential pitfalls in a serious relationship. My brain and my heart scan the horizon for incoming threats. This is not ideal.

As much as I know love is not logical, nor can it be planned to the tiniest detail, I still have a desire to go about this with my eyes open and some kind of guidance system. I know I can’t protect myself from heartache. I know sometimes you just have to leap and then work at it, but I feel better having a few litmus tests and red flag detectors in my pocket.

Here are a few of the tools I find helpful:

Knowledge of attachment theory: I wrote about attachment styles in Finding and Maintaining a Secure Relationship: Back to the Dating Drawing BoardA partner who can create or work toward a reassuring and secure relationship with me would be wonderful. I have anxious and avoidant attachment traits. I am hyper-vigilant about feeling disconnected (anxious) and  slightly afraid of being needed too much (avoidant). Other relationships taught me to be more responsive. I expect respect and caring. Mixed signals turn me off. Therefore, I have securely attached traits as well.

Gut check: How do I feel when I am with someone? Relaxed? Energized? Bored? Strung out? How do I feel after they leave? Calm? Excited? Exhausted? Relieved? I’ve learned to pay attention to my intuition. It is not 100% accurate but its voice doesn’t go away. It influences one way or the other over time. As it gathers information, it speaks more. Ultimately, I’m looking for a feeling of home — safe, comfortable, warm, loving.

Non-negotiable needs: In The Marriage Decision: Everything Forever or Nothing Ever Again, Tim Urban suggests using a list of deal breakers as one way to logically determine if your mate is forever. Urban even gives suggested prompts such as, There’s no way I can figure out how to be happy with someone who does / doesn’t ____, to help you soul search. A few of my non-negotiable needs are: A partner who supports my work; makes me feel understood; is curious; has a positive outlook; is good with my children.

Chemistry: Although this has led me astray a few times, I still find it impossible to overlook. There has to be a spark to keep me interested. I’ve dated the most wonderful, sweet, thoughtful and committed men, but not felt one iota of excitement or heart flutters. I don’t want to kiss them. Without chemistry, it’s platonic.

Who would my mom NOT like? I subconsciously used to use the opposite question, Who would Mom like? as a determinant.  My mom was fond of my ex-husband and my last boyfriend. Part of their appeal was that Mom approved. I mistakenly thought the kind of man my mom enjoyed would be a good fit for me. Not true. My mom and I were patently different people. She was an ESFJ, traditional, conservative woman. She herself struggled with finding healthy relationships. Perhaps we had that in common…

Who would my other family and friends like? In Wired for Dating, Dr. Stan Tatkin recommends letting your friends and family vet your potential partner.Your closest people take note of how you act when with your mate. They notice how they treat you. They notice how your partner talks about you when you are not around. My sister and brother-in-law have proven to be decent vetters. We have similar lifestyles, personalities and a close relationship.couple on bench

Travel test: After doing two road trips this summer with my kids and several trips with my last boyfriend, I’ve come to believe trips are a good test of a couple’s mettle. First of all, does your potential partner like to travel? Can you ride in the car with them for hours? Are they interesting? Do they get intense and angry when dealing with logistics? Is their idea of fun the same as yours? How do they relax? Do you still like each other at the end of the trip? The bottom line is, can you spend extended periods of time together?

Can share joy: This is one my newer tells. It’s all about relating. If something inspires me at church, can I call and tell my partner about it? Will they find it interesting too? Will they share a similar experience of their own? If we go to a comedy club together and the comedienne says something hilarious, do we look at each other to share that greatness? Sharing joy is one of the best things about relationships. If your person finds joy in similar things and looks to you to share and amplify it, life is grand.

I know this all sounds formulaic and impossibly idealistic, but it’s what I carry with me into relationships. I’m still open to surprise, figuring out I’m totally over-thinking, and discovering something totally different. In fact, that would be amazingly attractive. 🙂


What are some of the tell-tale signs of a great match for you? What are your deal-breakers? How important is chemistry to you?