Dating advice often focuses on finding red flags—signs that a potential partner is not really Mr. or Ms. Right. We’re advised to avoid anyone who treats waiters poorly…or who leaves his/her phone on the table at dinner, for example. These red flags have merit, but they create an undue focus on the negative.
The secret to finding a great partner is not just about weeding out anyone who has anything wrong with him or her, but rather selecting someone who has lots of great qualities—someone with the traits and temperament to participate in a happy, healthy relationship.
Here are eight of the most important “green flags” to look for in a partner. Some of these may be evident very early in a relationship…some after you’ve been dating for a while. All are crucial to a satisfying relationship.
He/she can express and take responsibility for his own feelings. It’s a big green flag if a partner can say, “I’m feeling sad” or “I’m feeling angry,” rather than sulk, rage or give you the silent treatment. Such a person is open about his feelings, which is a lot better than bottling them up inside until they explode.
It’s even more promising if a partner not only identifies his feelings but also does not hold you responsible for them—even when your actions contributed to them. We are always responsible for our own feelings, regardless of who or what might have triggered them.
Example: You make an ill-considered joke at your partner’s expense. It’s a good sign if rather than saying, “You made me upset,” she says, “I’m feeling upset” or “That joke upset me, but I understand that you probably weren’t trying to upset me. I’m a bit touchy about jokes like that because I was teased in school. Would you be willing to not tell jokes like that anymore?”
Similar: It’s also a great sign if a partner realizes when he is too emotional to have a productive conversation and says something such as, “I’m too angry to talk right now. I need time to calm down. Can we talk in about a half hour?” then returns to the topic later with less emotion.
He/she responds with both empathy and honesty when you mention a behavior that doesn’t work for you. What characteristics and behaviors are especially important to you in a partner? If your partner says or does something that’s not in alignment with your needs, calmly explain that this matters to you and listen to the response. It’s a green flag if that response is not defensive. Your partner calmly discusses your needs while staying true to his. It’s a bad sign if your partner makes excuses…denies falling short in this area…belittles your priorities…and/or makes no real effort to improve.
Example: You value punctuality, but your partner often is late. Explain that you need a partner who understands that your time has value and who does not regularly leave you sitting around waiting. It’s a great sign if this person acknowledges having a punctuality problem and makes an honest effort to improve, perhaps by starting to get ready for dates 10 minutes earlier—even if he never becomes as punctual as you would like.
He/she is responsible with money. This is important even if you never tie your financial lives together by getting married. People who are financially responsible tend to be responsible with other aspects of their lives as well—including their relationships. A partner who lives within his means is much more likely to live up to his promises and make you feel safe and comfortable than one who has revolving credit card debt and likes to gamble.
Similar: It’s also a great sign if a partner eats right and exercises. These, too, point to overall responsibility.
He/she continues to evolve and learn new things. It’s a green flag if a partner continues to seek out new hobbies…enjoys traveling to new places and trying new restaurants…and is interested in a wide range of subjects. A partner who enjoys growing and trying new things is much more likely to continue to be interesting as time passes. When you first meet someone, that person might seem interesting simply because he’s new to you. But if this person is set in his ways, there’s a good chance that the relationship will eventually stagnate…or that he won’t be willing to modify his life to include things that you like.
He/she has strong friendships. People who have multiple close friends tend to be people who have the emotional health and interpersonal skills needed to sustain a romantic relationship. They’re also less likely to expect their romantic partners to fulfill every interpersonal need, something that is not feasible or healthy.
Similar: Consider it a good sign if your partner wants to introduce you to her friends. It shows that she’s proud to be with you and that she is taking your relationship seriously. (Note: It is advisable for single parents who are dating to delay introducing romantic partners to their children until they are in a serious long-term relationship. This is particularly important if those kids are still young.)
He/she asks for your input on decisions. Obviously a partner should include you in decisions that involve you. But consider it a green flag if a partner also asks for your opinion on matters that do not directly involve you—a career decision, perhaps, or the selection of a new car. This shows that the partner respects you…and that his general attitude is one of collaboration.
He/she accepts a share of the blame for past relationship failures. Most couples eventually get around to talking about what went wrong with their prior relationships. It’s a green flag if your partner admits that he was at least partially to blame. This shows a willingness to take responsibility as well as general maturity. It also hints at an ability to improve—people who are willing to admit their mistakes tend to be people who learn from those mistakes and do better in the future.
You feel just as good about your relationship when you’re apart as when you are together. Some people have sufficient charm or physical appeal to make their partners feel good when they’re with them, but that tends to fade fast when they depart. With a good partner, there’s usually a deep-down sense of security that the relationship is right—even when the partner isn’t around.