“I’m sick of reading about red flags,” a client said.
She’d been badly burned in a relationship and, after a couple of years in hiatus, she was ready to date again. “It seems like there’s so much you have to watch out for before you can actually let yourself like someone.”
Is he a narcissist in waiting? Does he have mother issues? A dark past? Will he have anger problems? Be a sex addict? A serial cheat? Got a family in another town?
It was a fair point. If you Google “red flags in a partner” you’ll get 22 million warning hacks flung back at you. That’s an awful lot to worry about.
When people have been hurt in love, they’re already carrying a lot of trepidation going into a new relationship; they’re already second-guessing taking the leap.
So more advice on what to avoid/run from doesn’t do anything to settle their insecurity — it’s more likely to ramp it up.
Instead, it can be helpful to look at new relationships from the other end: What could be good — and healthy — about a partner.
So for my client, and others in a similar place, here’s a place to start.
9 Healthy Signs in a Partner
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” — George Eliot
Obviously, it’s impossible to know for sure about someone at the start of a relationship. After all, we’re all presenting the best of ourselves, not the worst. And people change, sometimes with stress, sometimes with circumstances, sometimes with time. But it’s helpful to look for some positive signs — or things that work for you — as you move forward.
1. They’re open about themselves — and interested in you.
A healthy partner is not evasive; they don’t vanish into the bathroom for hours with their phone. If you ask a question about their past, they’ll look you in the eye and give an honest answer. They talk about themselves in a free ’n easy way — but they don’t hog all the air time either.
They’re interested in you — in a balanced way. They ask good questions. But they’re not all over you, questioning you, searching out your secrets and vulnerabilities and squirreling them away for later use (against you).
2. They don’t keep you a secret.
When appropriate, they tell others about you. They introduce you to their important people. They invite you to things that involve more than just the two of you. They think this: Why would you hide someone you’re proud of?
3. They have a life (so it’s not going to be all you.)
They have friends/people and activities they enjoy and want to spend time with and doing. They don’t immediately shape their whole life around yours. It’s good to be loved unconditionally, but it’s draining to have to provide a life support system for someone else.
4. They respect your boundaries and priorities.
A healthy partner will respect your boundaries, they won’t walk all over the top of them. For example if you need space to yourself in your week, if you need to take your time in the relationship, they’ll be okay with it. If you have children, as my client did, they’ll respect your need to prioritise them and their needs.
5. They’re independent (in the way YOU value).
This is about what matters to YOU and where you’re at in your own life. For example, if you want someone who is financially independent/has their own house, you’re allowed to hang out for that. But beware of someone who’s so independent that they keep you waiting for a text while they see their friends, ride their mountain bike, invent an app, visit their mother and do a million other things before getting back to you around midnight to see if they can come over.
6. They’re not weird about sex.
They’re open about their sexual preferences and needs — or as open as you can be early on. I remember one young man telling me about the things he wanted his girlfriend to do in bed — but she was reluctant. I listened, trying not to show my surprise. We all have our own views on “normal” so let’s just say there were very clear reasons she would say “no” to these things. Just know that if it feels weird, or wrong to you, you don’t have to do it. And this might not be the partner for you.
7. They manage their emotions — especially anger.
Healthy management of all negative emotions is a high bar: We all have our not-so-proud moments. It’s hard to pick good emotional regulation early in a relationship but for a general guide, check in on how they manage their stress, frustration, disappointment and — especially — anger. Do their moods swing wildly? Do they have healthy ways of calming themselves down? Unchecked anger can be dangerous but, even if it’s not physically harmful, it’s emotionally taxing and scary to be around. If there’s no sign of anger in the early days, ask them how they manage when they get wound up, then see if they follow through. And also watch what they do when you have a disagreement. A person’s go-to conflict style is revealing.
8. They align with the things that matter to you.
You don’t have to be matchy-matchy on all your values — like religion, culture, sex, marriage, kids, money, which country/town you want to live in, use of drugs/alcohol/porn — but a general compatibility helps. For example, if you want kids and your partner absolutely doesn’t, don’t expect them to warm up to the idea. Have the big conversations as early as is appropriate.
9. They’re kind, in a consistent, behind-the-scenes way.
Kindness comes in all sorts of packages. From being nice to your mother to giving you a foot massage after a tough day to anticipating what might make your life a little sweeter BEFORE you’ve dropped 1,000 hints. A person who makes an effort for you, for no particular reason, and without expecting a fanfare or a payback, is gold. Especially if — as the weeks, months, years pass — they keep it up.
You’ve seen right through me, haven’t you? This is what to look for in a partner, sure. But it’s also what to look for in yourself :)
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