I grew up with two father figures: one was my father, and the other was my late grandfather.
For the first ten years of my life, I lived with my parents, forming an attachment to my father. When my parents were too busy with their business, I moved to live with my grandparents and my grandfather acted like a father to me.
These two important men in my life are the opposite of each other.
My father is obsessed with work and emotionally unavailable for most of my life, while my late grandfather was a family man who would look after his family’s everyday needs.
Interestingly, my sisters, raised by my grandfather from the age of two, ended up happily married to two men who were very similar to my grandfather. Meanwhile, I spent most of my early twenties looking for my father in all the men I dated.
Not surprisingly, I chose emotionally unavailable men who put work before everything else and made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Their lack of emotional depth and empathy often pushed me to the edge of my anxiety and sanity.
Deep down, I knew I wanted to be happy and loved, but my attachment to these men pushed me further and further away from this very basic need, causing me endless pain.
In 2019, I hit my rock bottom. I was approaching my mid-twenties, and I thought I couldn’t keep going down this self-destructive path any longer, or else there might be permanent consequences — I was terrified.
I decided that I would stop trying to fix my relationship with my father — which was counterproductive anyway — and start living the life I wanted for myself.
So I took a dating hiatus for the first time in my life. I went to therapy. I broke toxic attachments. I built trust with myself.
I finally took my father off the pedestal.
I realised that the way he lives his life and treats his loved ones didn’t align with my values, and I was done with men like him.
After all, my grandparents’ marriage was successful while my parents are now separated — it’s clear who I should be learning from and it’s not my father. He didn’t get to model for me what it means to be a man and what’s normal for a marriage.
I should be making that call for myself since I knew myself best and I’d seen those real-life case studies in my family and read many research papers to understand what would work and what wouldn’t.
When I was ready to put myself out there again, I changed my dating approach completely. I let my core gifts, such as emotional capabilities, lead the way. Soon enough, I met my now serious partner, who is the opposite of my father. He embodies my core values, takes care of me in little and big ways, and makes me laugh every day.
Though I know, he didn’t just appear out of thin air. I found him because I knew exactly what a healthy partner and relationship looked like for me.
If you’re someone who is looking for a serious relationship and values deep connections, here are the two qualities to look for in a partner.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
A highly empathetic partner feels your pain and understands your emotional needs. They’re naturally equipped to build a meaningful and emotionally fulfilling relationship with you.
Being with my partner has been an eye-opening experience for me. When I show as much as a frown on my face, he immediately asks me if I’m okay and investigates to the bottom of my annoyance.
When we have a disagreement, he makes me feel understood and respected by owning up to his part and acknowledging my perspective. He lets me express myself and remains patient, which helps me calm down and quickly get us to a satisfying solution.
When I went through family issues not long ago, he stayed by my side and showed me his full presence—ready for me to share anything with him if I wanted to. His attentiveness and emotional availability allow us to build deeper intimacy each day.
Tips to spot an empathetic partner:
- In conversations, observe and see if they only talk about themselves or they ask you personal and thoughtful questions; when they tell stories, whether they only share facts or they talk about how they feel — If they show selfish behaviours and avoid sharing about their emotions, it’s bad news.
- When you have your first disagreement, notice how your partner responds or reacts to you. Do they care about how you feel? Are they present? Are they aware of your feelings? Do they see your perspective? Do they make you feel understood and respected? — If the answer is no, they’re not suitable for you.
A family-oriented person is committed to their relationships and values their time spent with loved ones before anything else.
They put effort into building close connections with their family members and show their love and care in every way they can.
I’m lucky enough to have observed this trait in many great men in my life, such as my grandfather (back in Vietnam), my brother-in-law (London), and my current partner (London).
Notably, these men are not family-oriented at the expense of their careers. They are (and were) successful as individuals because they understand (and understood) the importance of having strong family support.
As someone who has been away from my home country for many years and has an absent father, I was impressed by how close my partner is with his family of many members and how caring and loving they’re towards each other.
He treats me with the same love and care. Despite having a highly demanding job, he never fails to make me feel like the most important person in the world to him, and he makes it clear daily through his words and actions from the very early days.
Tips to spot a family-oriented partner:
- They’re close to their immediate family — they talk to their family and genuinely enjoy spending time with them.
- They tell you explicitly they’re looking for a long-term or serious relationship with you, and they demonstrate this intention by showing their consistency and respect towards you.
- If they talk too much about their jobs and it seems like they tie their identity to their jobs, be wary.
What You Need to Bring to the Table
When I was younger, I might have some idea about finding an empathetic and family-oriented partner, but I didn’t necessarily appreciate these traits in the real men I met. I might even find them repelling because I hated those traits in myself.
Now, after intensive self-work inside out, I’ve learned that a healthy relationship takes two — I need to be healthy myself to embrace my core gifts and confidently choose the partner who shares the same.
10 Ways I Successfully Became Securely Attached and So Can You
I used to have severe dating anxiety and an anxious attachment style. Now, I’m secure. This is exactly how I did it.
Here are the three things to help you recognise and appreciate good values such as empathy and family-orientedness in a partner:
1. A serious intention.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know what qualities you need in a partner. You will accept whatever is given to you and get together with incompatible people for superficial reasons.
However, if you have a serious intention, you will be able to set a goal that works specifically for your life and break down the requirements for this goal. From there, you can set appropriate boundaries and standards that help you move closer to your goal.
Maturity means you know what’s good for you, and you do what’s good for you. You’re able to prioritise your long-term benefits over short-term rewards. You have a clear set of values and principles and high emotional intelligence.
When you have a goal, you stick to your plan. You don’t let external factors and instant gratifications sway you. You take your time to get to know your romantic prospects, and you assess them holistically and thoughtfully before making the next steps.
Having a loving relationship with yourself is how you feel immensely drawn to people who share the same core qualities as you and walk away ruthlessly from those who don’t see you for who you are.
It helps you believe you deserve love and care from your partner and feel comfortable when they prioritise you or rely on you for emotional support. It acts as the foundation to invite good things into your life and allow these blessings to stick around indefinitely.
As you keep investing in yourself and start living intentionally, the right options will present themselves to you — your job is to choose the best one for yourself.