Dear Chaya, Top Ten Qualities to Look For In A Spouse


Dear Chaya,

I’m tired.

I’m just so tired of being disappointed in Mr. Wrong.

I want to get married, but I just feel like it will never happen. I keep picking the wrong type of guy for me and always wind up disappointed and hurt. Everywhere I look, it seems like everyone is getting married.

Except me.

I think I would have a chance to be happy if I focused on the right things, but I’m not really sure what those are.

Do you have any advice for me? 

What are the healthy qualities I should be looking for in a guy for a long-term relationship/marriage?

Thanks, Seeking Mr. Right

Dear Seeking,

**Deeeep Inhale.**

Girl. Trust me, I feel you. They say there is a sea of men out there, but sometimes it feels like the sea is filled with garbage and the fish are just dying. How do you choose the right one? And forever? It’s a scary thought! 

Marriage is a gut-deep commitment and is not to be taken lightly.

I’m glad to see in your letter that you want to focus on the right things. There’s definitely a level of maturity that comes with dating experience. (I have – *GASP* – 20 years of that experience myself…shudder).

I know it sometimes feels impossibly hard to find the right person – especially when a forever commitment is involved. It’s hard to tear your focus away from some of the unhealthy qualities we’re sometimes attracted to, particularly when said qualities don’t mesh well with your desire for a life partner.

How many of us have fallen for “bad boys,” charming narcissists, emotionally unavailable men, and those guys who are only interested in us when we aren’t interested in them?

While I’m not a relationship expert, what I do have to offer is pretty good: experience, and a whole lot of it…. both mine and that gleaned through the observation of the failed (and successful!) relationships among my friends and family.

I can also tell you that in my 20 years of dating, I have been in my fair share of unhealthy, painful, charming, lonely, heartbreaking, and disappointing relationships.

You’re not alone!

I’d like to think I’ve come out of my past experiences wiser; therefore, in my humble opinion, I’d like to share with you my Top Ten Qualities to Look for in a Partner:

1.   Emotional Availability.

Incredible Photo by Andre Reichman

Emotional Availability sounds kind of…new-agey.

It’s not. It merely means you can understand and handle your emotions properly. You communicate well with others, resolve problems as they come, and “put yourself in their shoes.”

Empathy is huge. 

The ability to understand and consider how another person feels is crucial. 

You cannot have a happy partnership without it.

A partner must also be able to resolve conflict and always consider your feelings. Notice I did not say your partner must always “agree” with you – because no one agrees all the time.

I would argue that a partner who disagrees yet still works together to resolve a problem shows character and a willingness to put someone else’s feelings above his own. If he can disagree and still respect your feelings, and handle his own well, you have a winner.

I believe marriages succeed or fail based on emotional availability. If your partner is incapable of expressing or communicating their feelings, your relationship will struggle. A lack of connection with someone on an emotional level is a recipe for devastating loneliness.

2.   Communication.

Another big one. This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Communication is so much more than just words: it is openness, it is transparency. It is being clear about Who You Are as a person, your needs, and your feelings.

But Chaya, you say, that sounds kind of selfish. Who wants to deal with someone who’s always talking about “me, me, me” all the time?

It’s not selfish – really. This is information your partner needs (and deserves to know) about you. It enables him to meet those needs, to understand where you’re coming from, and allows him to connect with you. 

Give him that chance!

When you don’t tell your partner what you need, you’re not sharing the Who You Are. How can you get what you need from him if he doesn’t know? Your partner is at a disadvantage, and it’s that much harder to maintain your relationship.

This goes for your partner, too! He needs to tell you when he’s upset, anxious, or is just tired of Chicken Paprikash for dinner the third time this month. If he can’t talk about it, you can’t work together to fix anything. You have to know about a problem in order to fix it.

Unexpressed emotions will stay bottled up inside until they explode into A Big Thing that could’ve been A Non-Existent Thing – if only it had been handled at the beginning.

Communication isn’t just about feelings or opinions, either. It goes far beyond – from Major Life Things to Minor Life Things: life goals, the future, preferences, everything. 

You have to truly know each other to love each other.

Allow your partner to know who you are.

3.   Connection.

You know what I’m talking about here. When you just “click” with a person. I like to describe it as a “soul alignment:” the attraction, the sense of adventure, the contentment, the sense of inner peace – it’s all there.

It’s deep and secure. This person will hold your heart in their hands and cherish it; they will listen to your dreams, values, and beliefs with full support. They will be your best friend, cheerleader and biggest advocate.

There’s nothing like being with someone who “gets” you, and you “get” them. That’s special. That spark of connection creates a bond and bridges the mental and emotional gap between two people.

You know it when you feel it. 

This is someone you’re not afraid to trust with your truest self: the good, bad, and the ugly! From the quirky, funny side you tend to hide from everyone else to the annoying habits, to your personal grief and pain.

This is a person you look at and think, this is where I belong. 

It’s like your home isn’t a place – it’s another person.

It’s like nothing else, and you can’t have a great marriage without it. A relationship thrives with connection, and withers without it.

Josie Rosario, a couples therapist, explains it so perfectly that I want to give you her words here:

“An emotional connection is of the utmost importance in a relationship. Think of it as the anchor in the relationship that allows a partnership to weather any storm and sail seamlessly on calm waters. We are hardwired for connection, and as such, it makes us feel safe and secure, like we are seen, heard, and taken in.”

 If you can’t connect with someone, it’s best to move on. If you do, hold on to it!

Cherish it. It’s a gift.

4.   Respect.

Girl. If he doesn’t respect you, RUN.

This is critical. The consideration of another’s feelings and placing them at the same level as your own is the essence of respect. It means that your partner considers your feelings and point of view as much as his own, and he behaves accordingly.

The right partner will respect you, whether or not he agrees with you.

If you are not respected by your partner, you feel it deeply in your soul. When there’s no respect in marriage, it feels almost as if humiliation has taken its place. Someone who doesn’t respect their partner will steamroll every conversation and decision, resulting in feeling small and unworthy.

If your spouse doesn’t care about your feelings, needs, or wants, your relationship is in trouble. 

You can’t have trust or happiness with a partner who doesn’t respect you.

            You deserve respect. 

You are worthy of it.

            Don’t forget that.

5.   Sense of humor.

Incredible Photo by Andre Reichman

Many people may not consider humor to be a top-ten quality, but for me, it absolutely is. Humor finds the funny in tough times. Sometimes life can beat us down. It’s rough. And when it does? Laughter really is the best medicine.

There is nothing better than a big belly laugh. It’s a delight, and it’s a joy, and it comes from down deep!

The real humor is found in the everyday moments that you share together. Have you ever cried when you were laughing so hard? 

I have, and there is Nothing. Like. It.

Humor is one of my favorite things. It brings color to our lives, covering us in a blanket of happiness and warmth. It’s good for the soul, and it reminds me that life, for all of its troubles, has its gifts, too.

And Honey. If your partner can laugh and make you laugh, you will have a bright, fun future. A partner who can laugh at himself and his mistakes is key, and he should also be able to take joy and humor in every situation.

Mom always tells Pop, don’t take yourself so seriously. 

Humor doesn’t take itself too seriously, after all. 

I’ll close with this quote from Mark Twain: “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

Humor reminds you that life is beautiful!

6.    Affection.

Giving and receiving affection is one of the most critical parts of a healthy relationship. It helps build and maintain a bond. 

I want to share with you this gem I found on Marriage Builders:

“Affection is the expression of care. It symbolizes security, protection, comfort and approval — vital ingredients in any relationship. When one spouse is affectionate toward the other, the following messages are sent:

  1. You are important to me. I will care for you and protect you.
  2. I’m concerned about the problems you face and will be there for you when you need me.”

In my opinion, they said it perfectly. Affection is critical – the care and consideration that goes into expressing it is foundational for a relationship. 

Expressions of affection do not have to be A Big Thing. I have seen time and again that it’s the little things that matter: asking about your day, a warm hug, listening to your worries, making the beds, writing a love note, cooking a favorite dinner. 

I would argue that the little things are actually bigger – because a lot of little things speak to consistency. If these little things are the norm, affection is a constant in your relationship.

When you’re not getting that from your partner, there’s a pocket of loneliness that opens up in your soul. The longer it goes on, the bigger the hole grows. 

In fact, lack of affection (tied with “communication,” which is ALSO on this list!) is the number one reason couples seek therapy

You won’t “learn to live with it.” Nor should you!

This is something that you need for a happy relationship, and if your partner is unable or unwilling to provide it, move on.

7.   Generosity.

Don’t even get me started. I have seen so many relationships flourish or wither based on this. So grab your tea and listen to me.

Yes, generosity may include money, but it’s not the main point. Generosity extends so far beyond money and material things. I’m talking about other sacrifices: time, effort, acts of service, showing gratitude, and him washing the dishes after you made dinner.

I’m very serious about this. Giving, be it time, effort, words, gifts, or money, involves sacrifice. 

But let’s talk about money, too. Many relationships dissolve over fights about it. Money is a means of independence and even (I hate to use this word in this context), power.

Therefore, pay attention to how a potential partner regards it, especially when it comes to you.

Big and small sacrifices – they all matter.

8.   Honesty.

If he can’t tell you the truth, don’t even bother with him. Do Not Pass Go, do not Collect $200, just send him out the door.

I am completely serious about this. A dishonest partner skyrockets my blood pressure.  **Calming Breaths. **

I have seen too many people suffer in relationships fraught with dishonesty and infidelity, so spare yourself from that.

Honesty is the anchor of any relationship, and you’ll be adrift without it. If you feel the need to constantly look over his shoulder while he’s texting, or scroll through his phone while he’s in the shower? There’s a problem.  

If your partner has an honesty problem, they have a respect problem, because the two are linked. If a person respects you, they will not try to deceive or manipulate you with lies and half-truths.

People do not change who they are. A dishonest person shows you that they will lie to you for their own benefit. It’s selfish, and there’s no room for selfishness in a marriage.   

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Maya Angelou

9.   Kindness.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the quotes about “kindness matters” too, and yes, it does sound a bit simplified. But at the same time, it’s so true.

I really believe that the best thing you can do for your relationship is just…be kind.

Seriously. Is there anything worse than an unkind person? Kindness is so easy to give, it’s free, and it makes our crazy world a little bit better.  

Can’t spare some kindness? Move along, please.

Incredible Photo by Andre Reichman

Every day brings a chance to do something kind, to do OGD – One Good Deed. We never know what others are going through – a smile or a kind word may be just the thing someone needs to keep going.

Humanity is beautiful in that way. A small gift that costs the giver absolutely nothing can be a lifeline to someone who is drowning and we just don’t know it.

Mostly the cost comes in with time and effort. And even then, not often. (Holding the door for someone takes mere seconds.)

I believe kindness is a strong indicator of character. We all have the power to be kind or unkind. Someone who chooses kindness uses what power they have for good instead of evil.

And if kindness is that important with strangers or even friends, imagine the weight it carries with marriage! If your partner is kind, the rest of the qualities I’ve listed above seem to flow in naturally. 

Kindness is similar to generosity in my opinion. If you have a kind partner, they will want to give you the things you need, because that is Who They Are.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who is kind to you, you have found a treasure.

10.  Same values and life goals.

Girl. If you don’t have similar life goals you are in for a WORLD of heartache.

Your values and life goals are the core of Who You Are:

·                   What do you believe?

·                   What is important to you?

·                   What do you want out of life?

In the early stages of a relationship it’s easy to overlook clashing life goals: why worry about having children or not on the 3rd date? **shrugs and pays for it later **

Unfortunately, values that were easy to overlook in the dating phase put themselves front and center when it comes time to have children, a career, religion, or where to live (and these are only what I can think of off the top of my head!)

You can compromise on some things. But some? You just can’t.

You want children and he absolutely does not?  He’s set on a cross-country move but you can’t picture life without your family?

There’s no compromise both parties can live with.

I’m sorry.

So think carefully. Values aren’t wrong, just often incompatible. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.

Final Thoughts.

I hope these were helpful to you, my friend. It’s hard to wade through life and find the right person.

And of course, there are many other admirable qualities to look for in a partner, and different things will matter to different people.

But these ten qualities? They’re my non-negotiables. I firmly believe that you cannot be happy without them. If you want a lifetime partnership of happiness and love, there’s no wiggle room here.

Those partners are out there, so free yourself from everything else so you’re ready when they find you.

I will close with this: people don’t change. My therapist told me something very powerful, and I’ve never forgotten it: past behaviors are predictors of future behaviors.

Who you get, is who you get. So choose wisely.

You got this!

Readers: What say you? What are your non-negotiables?

Join the Conversation

  1. Dear fellow mama’s-
    Start working on imbuing these traits when they’re young and role modeling them as well.
    It’s sometime too late to wake up when they’re already out their dating and married.

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