We are so quick to pick apart our date or relationship.
She seems a bit heavier than what you normally prefer, he isn’t as ambitious as you’d like, he’s kind of messy, she’s too bossy…
Basically, the other person just isn’t what you imagined for yourself. People become disposable commodities who either fit our checklist of what we want or they are discarded for being less than perfect.
But what happens when someone surprises you? They don’t fit the checklist, but you just can’t keep yourself from loving them anyway. When do you throw away your checklist, and when do you pay attention to the imperfections? How do you know if your preferences are requirements or desires, and does the difference matter?
I think the difference matters.
Yes, we all want what we not only require but what we desire…but sometimes our desires can outstrip our “requires” by a long shot, and that’s when we run the danger of asking more from one human being than is humanly possible.
If you keep finding yourself running the same relationship patterns of finding someone, dating for a certain length of time, and then dumping them or not being able to find someone to fit your standards, perhaps take a look at your require versus desire list and see what’s going on.
Some examples of requirements to hold onto and not compromise:
Respect. This person respects me and the people around them.
Character/integrity. This person is the same person from situation to situation, whether alone or in front of others.
Trust. I can trust this person.
Faith. We match on what we think is important as far as faith and how we want to share that part of ourselves with another.
Finances. Our priorities as far as spending, saving, and investing match, or we are at least able to find a common ground from which to work.
Family. We want the same things as far as children, family time, and commitment.
Fidelity. We have the same idea of what a healthy relationship looks like as far as sexual exclusivity or openness, marriage or not, and so on.
Partner. This person has what it takes to be a real partner for life and won’t revert to selfishness or finger-pointing when the going gets tough.
Some yellow-light issues (things worth working on before ejecting from the relationship):
Sexual incompatibility. I’ve heard stories of couples who manage to work it out and deepen their relationship at the same time. And I’ve heard of couples destroyed by it. It’s worth working on and investing some time in seeing if you can resolve the issues—unless it’s abuse-related (in which case, see below).
Your families are incompatible. This one is really tough, but many couples decide to set appropriate boundaries with their parents/siblings/family members rather than just walk away from love. You both need to make sure you are united in how you want to handle the issue to avoid resentment, blaming, or one family taking precedence over the other.
Addictions. Make sure the person with addiction issues is in an active recovery pattern, complete with accountability, recognition of the problem, and a plan of action for staying clean. If you need more info about this, contact your nearest 12 Step group or a professional counselor. It’s not something to ignore, but it’s also something that can be worked with.
Health issues. Be clear on how this health issue affects day-to-day life and possible financial or activity-related restrictions. If you are okay with the sacrifices, this is also an issue that can be dealt with through honesty and compassion.
Red-light issues (AKA get out now. Do not pass GO or collect $200. The plane is going down, so bail out now! You are on the Titanic…you get the idea.):
Unresolved addiction issues. No person is magical enough to entice an addict away from their drug of choice, so don’t try. They need to have decided for themselves that they want to be better, and most 12 Step programs recommend at least a year of no dating after the initial sobriety period. Also note: “Relapse rates for addictive diseases range from 50 percent for resumption of heavy use to 90 percent for a brief lapse.”
Abuse. I’m sorry, but there is simply no excuse for abuse. Even if they swear it will never happen again. If you suspect that you may be in an abusive situation, get help. Talk to a trusted friend or family member to help you make the decision to get out and stick with it. Find a professional to talk to. Find a program for people in your situation. Oftentimes, people get into an abusive situation due to low self-esteem and stay in out of shame and fear. Just know that there is help from other people who have been in your shoes and found hope at the end of the tunnel.
Your value systems don’t line up. He wants exclusivity in a life partner, she wants an open relationship. She firmly believes in raising the children in her church, and he firmly believes children should be exposed to everything and allowed to make their own decisions. She thinks its okay to cut corners with things like paying taxes and bills, and he believes in being above reproach. Ninety-five percent of the time, it’s just not going to work. You’ll be able to see the fault lines in the things you argue about or avoid talking about completely. Do you end up screaming at each other about politics or disrespecting the other person for the way they handle their family? You just might have an unresolvable issue.
Examples of desires that should never take precedence over your requires:
Anything having to do with physical appearance. I know you don’t want to think about it, but looks really are the first thing to go, and when you have a screaming kid in your hands, you aren’t going to say to yourself, “I can’t wait till my hot spouse comes over here to help me out!” You’re going to think something more along the lines of, “He is such a great guy to be taking care of all the bills and making dinner while I try to get junior back to sleep.”
Wealth. Just in case you missed what’s been going on with our economy, that trust fund girl you hung onto for the money may not be so rich anymore, that finance guy you latched onto for his yearly bonus, well, he isn’t getting that bonus anymore. Wealth is here today and gone tomorrow. Look instead for attitudes around money to give you a better indicator of your date’s character around money and possessions.
Charm. Another “here today and gone tomorrow” trait. Charm can be deceptive, even while incredibly fun. A charmer is better left in the “flirt with only” category. Humor, intelligence, personality. These are all important and desires worth holding onto. But if he has all of these but no respect or isn’t trustworthy, you are going to regret the way you lined up your priorities. Just make sure to put the right things first.
If you aren’t sure whether your issue is a real issue or not, your community can turn out to be a lifeline for you—especially if you’ve cultivated relationships with happily married couples or centered/balanced friends who want the best for you. Avoid making your decision in a vacuum by seeking counsel from those you can trust.