The one aspect to look for.
By Jean Fitzpatrick
Last updated on Dec 01, 2023
Photo: Karsten Winegehart | Unsplash
You just met someone new and you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is he the one?” You’re probably tallying up all those checkboxes.
Is he attractive? Fun to be with? Do you have shared interests?
You wouldn’t be dating if the answer was “no”, but in the end, those checkboxes don’t tell you the one thing you need to know.
Maybe you’ve done a mental fast-forward to your potential future with this person: Does he love kids? Is he building a career? Is he loyal? Is he willing to make a commitment that might lead to marriage?
All are qualities worth considering for a long-term relationship, but in the end, they’re not the one thing you need to know either.
Here’s how to truly tell if he’s the one:
1. Ask, “Will this person work with me on the tough stuff — large and small?”
That probably doesn’t sound very romantic.
But after decades of working with New York couples from all over the country and the world — not to mention decades of marriage myself — I get reminders of this every day.
Couples who care deeply about each other still end up hurting each other’s feelings and even when they have the best of intentions, they still have regular misunderstandings.
That’s why a healthy relationship is all about working together to get over those rough spots.
No matter how magically in love you feel now, and no matter how blissfully you get along, the two of you will run into conflict.
It may be about small things, like whether you make the bed every day or how punctual you are.
Or maybe you’ll face bigger issues (for example, if you want to get married or when you want to have children).
Either way, success as a couple will depend on your shared capacity to commit, work on those conflicts together, and move forward.
How can you know whether your partner has the one thing? Well, a partner who will work with you doesn’t always think they’re right.
2. Look for a willingness to hear both sides of the story.
A partner who will work with you will ask for what they want up front, rather than suffering in silence and blaming you afterward for not doing it.
A person who will work with you can be flexible — not a doormat — and willing to brainstorm solutions to concerns and problems rather than digging in their heels.
They will show empathy, trying to see things from your perspective as well as their own.
Instead of attacking or scolding you, this partner will bring up a concern clearly but gently, with a focus not on how terrible you are but on doing things differently next time.
3. When you’re upset about something, a partner who works with you won’t clam up or get defensive.
They may find your words hard to hear but will care and want to respond.
A partner who has this one thing won’t try to win every argument.
Instead, they will understand conflict as an opportunity to understand each other better and to grow the relationship.
Think of your relationship as a house you’re building together.
Every time you address a concern or conflict, partners are either adding a brick to make that house more solid — or knocking down a wall.
It all depends on how you work on things.
Working on things doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Partners can learn how to do it.
If a relationship is important to you, books by John Gottman, Sue Johnson, or Stan Tatkin are helpful. Or find an active couples therapist who will coach you.
So as you think about committing to a future together, that’s the one thing you need to see in your potential life partner: the capacity and willingness to work on the tough stuff.
And, of course, this is the quality you need in yourself. Do you have the one thing?
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Jean Fitzpatrick is a marriage counselor and psychotherapist who has served couples and individuals in the New York area for over twenty years. As a relationship therapist, Jean helps busy people “expand their relationship toolkit” and discover new ways to connect with the people they love.