How to Find Your Ideal Life Partner:
The 8 Essential Qualities to Look For in a Potential Soul Mate
BY KIRA ASATRYAN
finding an ideal life partner or soul mate is about learning to identify eight core qualities in a person that would make for a great long term relationship. photo: danka & peter
My favorite social experiment in learning to pick an ideal partner can’t be found in any social science literature. Instead, it can be found on your TV, Monday nights at 8:00 pm. It’s called The Bachelor.
For those who don’t know, The Bachelor provides one man — the eponymous bachelor — a group of twenty-five to thirty gorgeous women from whom he must choose a wife—for all intents and purposes his life partner. Not a girlfriend, a wife. The goal of the show is to turn the bachelor into a married man.
The Bachelor is absolutely brilliant…just not at making marriages. According to Wikipedia, as of March 2015 only five lasting ideal partnerships have come out of the twenty-nine seasons of The Bachelor and its gender-reverse counterpart, The Bachelorette, combined. But the show is genius at a particular aspect of relationships: making people think they’re falling in love.
How does the show do this? It’s easy to chalk it up to everyone being ridiculously good-looking, plus the impossibly romantic, expense-free dates. Rappelling down the highest cliff in Bali and then attending a private concert by the biggest local pop star, anyone? Swimming in a cove of endangered dolphins and then dining in a thousand-year-old castle? A little adrenaline, a little romance, and everyone’s in love!
But we all know it’s not that simple. Love is a mystery…but it’s not a conjuring act.
Perhaps everyone on the show believes they’re falling in love because they really want to be in love. The people who apply to be on the show are certainly a self-selected bunch. If you’re not looking for the experience of love and an ideal partner, there’s little reason to go on the show in the first place. Is it simply wish fulfillment?
Maybe. But one night as my husband (who good-naturedly tolerates it) and I sat watching the show, he made an intriguing comment. “Why doesn’t that girl just leave? She doesn’t like the bachelor at all. They have nothing in common.”
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Her answer is always simple: “I think I could be falling in love!” “I think he could be my life partner…we have such a strong connection…I want to see where this goes!” And this, right here, is what the show gets right. This is why The Bachelor is brilliant. Out of the vast pantheon of feelings, the show understands the specific feeling of attraction. It knows that attraction is vital in finding budding partnerships and has learned to evoke it in complete strangers. Attraction is, in fact, the starting point of all close relationships.
As I understand it, attraction is the energy of potential with another person. It is the feeling of being interested in someone, the feeling that this might be something great. The Bachelor may be frivolous, but attraction is not. Attraction is the first draw toward a new, ideal partner…the first step closer.
Understanding The Draw Toward Others
It’s a misconception that people who struggle with loneliness don’t feel drawn toward others. Most lonely people are not recluses or innate “lone wolves.” Most do meet people they like — people they admire or find interesting. The breakdown in connection often happens in the transition from being interested to getting close.
It’s this interest — this attraction — that’s the starting point for all close relationships that ultimately lead to finding ideal life partners. The word attraction unfortunately feels like it belongs solely to the realm of romance; we usually hear it in the context of physical attraction. But you have to understand that attraction simply means the experience of feeling drawn to someone — feeling interested in getting to know him or her better.
Attraction is essentially your intuition assessing the situation before your conscious mind gets the chance to, trying to understand how to find an ideal life partner. Attraction is your subconscious picking up on subtle cues that it likes before your conscious mind understands exactly what it is it’s liking. I find evidence for this in the fact that attraction is often described as a spiritual or psychic experience, as a meeting of the minds or a melding of hearts. Love at first sight. Instant connection.
Understand this: attraction is simply a finger pointing toward potential closeness.
A former client of mine who worked at a very large company — we’ll call him Julian — struggled to manage a strained relationship with his boss. He found his boss much too harsh. It wasn’t necessarily the critical feedback that bothered him — Julian simply didn’t like the tone in which his boss spoke to him. It was flippant, dismissive. Unfortunately, Julian felt his working environment wouldn’t allow for him to simply ask someone to be nicer.
As I worked with Julian to improve his relationship with his boss, I felt we were making little headway. Until, that is, I asked him this: “So, your boss doesn’t speak to you in a way you like. Who does speak to you in a way you like?”
He paused. A smile spread across his face.
“This is random,” Julian began, “but this one time I was in a restaurant with my wife and the waiter kept calling us ‘my friends.’ ‘More water, my friends?’ ‘Do you want ketchup, my friends?’ It sounds cheesy, but it wasn’t. He meant it. Everyone was his friend.”
Julian’s story helps us understand that there’s no reason why attraction can’t exist — as a powerful force, no less — in all realms, including friendship, family, and professional. Attraction is much more universal than we think. But how do you transition from meeting someone and feeling attracted to recognizing if they are an ideal partner?
Let’s look at Julian’s situation. He could have done a few things to initiate understanding the attraction with the waiter he liked. He could have:
+ Come back to the restaurant another day and chatted with the waiter again
+ Made up a pretense for planning to get together, perhaps under the guise of doing business together
+ Made a straightforward statement that he liked how the waiter carried himself and would like to get to know him better
Do these advances sound odd…or even scary? They likely do. Which brings us to the final option. Julian could have done nothing — which is indeed what he did, and most of us would have done the same. It’s quite common to feel uncomfortable approaching someone with the intention of getting closer. But the thing to remember is that these really are the opportunities that lead to closeness, and understanding how to find your ideal partner. Opportunities can be large — like a lifelong bond with a sibling — or they can be very small — like a chance encounter with a friendly waiter.
Once you start looking at your environment through the lens of closeness, you’ll notice that these opportunities are all around you. Attraction springs up spontaneously. You might meet a new person or suddenly start seeing an old person in a new light. Attraction happens when it happens. Your job is to be brave and to seize the opportunity.
How to Know If It’s Love at First Sight (Or Not)
The unique quality that makes attraction a great starting point for finding ideal partners — its feeling of potential — is also its biggest stumbling block. Attraction has great energetic power; it can feel like the pull of gravity. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say they were drawn to another person like a magnet. Attraction is exciting, no doubt, but its energy can also yank people right into a full-blown relationship before they actually understand what they’re getting into..
When it comes to picking ideal partners, start with understanding attraction. But don’t stop with attraction.
A strong attraction makes it very easy to jump to conclusions, to fill in the blanks of who the other person is with your own assumptions. She started her own company, so she must have her head screwed on straight! He’s a single dad, so he must be really loving and affectionate! Well…you don’t really know if someone is an ideal partner until you begin to understand the attraction.
It takes some time and effort — detailed in my book in the chapters on knowing — to get to know someone on a deep enough level to call it closeness. For now you need to hold fast to the reality that even if you really like this person, you don’t really know her yet. In other words, love at first sight may be real, but “knowing at first sight” is not. Knowing at first sight is at best wishful thinking that someone might be your ideal life partner. At worst, it’s a recipe for serious disappointment. Don’t let yourself get close to a fantasy.
You may be thinking, “I never do this. I know the difference between fantasy and reality.” But evidence shows that we start constructing our idea of who another person is on first contact. Just one picture on Tinder, one tweet we find hilarious or off-putting, and we think we know who the person is—ideal or otherwise.
As The Bachelor proves, no activity is more ruled by fantasies than dating. Researcher Artemio Ramirez, who conducted a study of online daters to determine if the amount of time spent talking online affected real-life outcomes, found that the image we create in our heads about another person is a truly powerful force: The results of the present study suggest online daters create mental constructs of their potential partners by reading their online dating profile, using that information to fill-in-the-blanks of who the ideal partner might really be in the offline world. Daters who wait too long to meet in person, and therefore cross this tipping point, might find it difficult to accept any discrepancies from their idealized mental construct of their partner. Crossing the tipping point should be particularly harmful for daters who developed very inaccurate partner expectations due to the partner’s use of dishonesty, misrepresentation, or even exaggeration on their profile.
So how do you cross this threshold into understanding attraction while avoiding the stumbling block of assuming? How do you successfully navigate the waters of liking-but-not-really-knowing-for-sure?
This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face in your journey out of loneliness. Because the first few encounters in a new relationship can be a very uncertain time, I encourage you to hit a few specific notes before committing to pursuing someone as your ideal partner. If you miss any of these notes, there’s a chance you may be moving too fast from attraction to full-blown relationship. (And remember, this applies to all types of relationships, not just romantic ones.)
The notes I encourage you to hit when first trying on a new friend, family member, colleague, or romantic partner are:
1. Identify and understand attractions.
2. Meet in person. If it’s a romantic relationship, feel free to ask him or her on a date. If it’s a business relationship, grab coffee together.
3. Ask a few deeper questions. Later in my book you will learn how to ask deep questions. But for now, simply make an effort to probe a little deeper. If your boss talks about enjoying sailing, ask, “What do you like about it?” If your acquaintance is interviewing for a new job, ask, “What do you want out of the job?”
4. Assess for certain skills. You’re not looking for any “right” or “wrong” answers to your deeper questions; you’re looking for skills that indicate whether or not this person will be good at knowing and caring.
Let’s discuss these skills that are the sign of an ideal partner in detail. The first four indicate proficiency in knowing; the second four indicate proficiency in caring. Let’s tackle the four knowing skills first.
The 8 Core Qualities of Ideal Life Partners
Core Quality 1: The Ability to Self-Disclose
The ability to self-disclose essentially means being willing to reveal parts of one’s inner world to someone else. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is the fundamental ability required in an ideal partner. At its core, self-disclosing means openness and honesty, as well as a desire to share a range of information about oneself — both factual and subjective.
A factual disclosure could be as simple as revealing you’re from Michigan. A subjective disclosure would include telling the other person how you feel about being from Michigan. What was your favorite part of growing up there? Do you like going back?
These subjective disclosures can be easy to overlook, since we’re trained from school and work situations to focus on remembering the facts. While the facts are important, the feelings behind the facts are more important in creating closeness and forming an ideal partnership. Most people will tell anyone where they’re from. But they will only tell a potential confidante how they feel about where they’re from.
As well-known social psychologist Harry Reis described in his theory of intimacy: “Although factual and emotional self-disclosures reveal personal information about oneself, emotional self-disclosures are considered to be more closely related to the experience of intimacy because they allow for the most core aspects of the self to be known, understood, and validated.”
Things to Notice
+ Does he avoid answering personal questions?
+ Does he create factual inconsistencies or tell full-blown lies?
+ Does he use deflection or humor to avoid certain subjects?
Core Quality 2: The Ability to Reciprocate
The ability to reciprocate, as I define it, means being able both to give someone their moment and to take your own moment. Stated another way, it is the ability to let someone else be the focus (at certain moments) and also to let yourself be the focus (at other moments). The ability to reciprocate in this way matters because if one person in the ideal relationship is always the center of attention, neglect and inequality become inevitable.
Those who struggle with reciprocating tend to gather at opposite ends of the spectrum: they are either very self-centered or very self-effacing. Neither of these extremes works well for creating closeness. An ideal partner would see interactions as something of a tennis match — lobbing the focus over to you and then actively swinging at it when it comes back her way.
Things to Notice
+ Does she hog the conversation or talk as if you’re not there?
+ Does she send a barrage of questions your way but answer few in return?
+ Does the conversation feel forced?
Core Quality 3: The Ability to Accept New Information
Specifically, this means the other person should be able to accept new information about you. Early on, it’s natural for a person to develop a picture of who they think you are, but problems arise if that early picture becomes fixed. For closeness to flourish, the person you are getting to know must be able to reevaluate and reformulate his ideas about you regularly. In other words, if you reveal more about yourself over time yet find he doesn’t believe you because these disclosures don’t match his early idea of you, that’s a problem. That’s a red flag that he’s falling for a fantasy of you, and doesn’t understand how to find his ideal partner.
Anybody with whom you choose to create closeness should be able to let go of the mental construct of you he created before he knew you well.
Things to Notice
+ Does he retain new information about you?
+ Does he try to talk you out of what you’re saying about yourself?
+ Is he making sweeping assumptions about you?
Core Quality 4: The Ability to Be Present
The ability to be present means being in the moment, focused on what’s happening here and now. It can be as simple as disconnecting from personal technology and giving full attention to your partner. But being present means much more than just being able to put down a phone. It means being willing to change with each moment.
In other words, someone who is fixated on what has been in the past or what will be in the future is just that — fixated. She’s weighed down with baggage. She’s stuck in some other place and time…somewhere you can’t go. If you can’t both be here and now, an ideal partnership is unlikely to grow. Fundamentally, you will achieve knowing and caring through lots of little moments of being present with each other.
Things to Notice
+ Does she make eye contact — one of the primary indicators of present engagement?
+ Does she tend to redirect the conversation to past or future events?
+ Does she use language that casts the conversations in the past or future — using words such as then and there instead of now and here?
Now let’s tackle another important feature of understanding attraction- the four caring skills.
Core Quality 5: The Ability to Feel and Express Emotions
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s impossible to get close to someone who either cannot feel feelings or cannot express them—warning signs that someone will most definitely not be an ideal partner. Whether the other person is actually feeling can be very hard to determine from casual conversation, so I recommend focusing on whether she can express emotion.
Look for feeling language of any kind. “I love when this happens…” “I hate when I can’t…” Pay particular attention to any caring language around other people in her life. One sincere expression of love for another person in her life is an excellent sign that she might be a candidate for an ideal partner.
Things to Notice
+ Does he use feeling language?
+ Does he use facial expressions and gestures to convey emotion?
+ Does he have a flat affect or seem robotic?
Core Quality 6: The Ability to Respond Appropriately
The ability to respond appropriately is similar to the ability to reciprocate. It’s about being able to notice when your ideal partner needs your attention and then giving her that attention. To respond appropriately is to give someone her moment on an emotional level.
As the social psychology literature describes, “Intimacy is initiated when one person communicates personally relevant and revealing information, thoughts, and feelings to another person. For intimacy processes to continue, the listener must emit emotions, expressions, and behaviors that are both responsive to the specific content of the disclosure and convey acceptance, validation, and caring for the individual disclosing. For the interaction to be experienced as intimate by the discloser, he or she must subjectively feel understood, validated, and cared for.”
This skill matters because picking someone who can respond to you appropriately is ultimately what will make you feel cared about in the relationship and lead you to form a lasting, ideal partnership with this person.
Things to Notice
+ Does she respond emotionally in a way that feels good, such as holding your hand when you’re expressing fear or concern?
+ Does she respond emotionally in a way that feels bad, such as laughing while you tell the story of your dying grandparent?
Core Quality 7: The Ability to Take Responsibility
The ability to take responsibility means owning your actions and decisions. It doesn’t mean inviting blame for everything that’s going on around you, but it does include recognizing the part you played in creating a bad situation.
Personal responsibility is an absolutely essential skill for both you and your ideal partner. Things will go wrong, no matter how hard you try, and it’s critical to pick someone who will feel some ownership over what went wrong. If not, you’ll end up with all the blame…and blame is a major closeness killer.
Things to Notice
+ Does he blame other people or outside circumstances for his disappointments?
+ Does he bad-mouth current or past bosses, spouses, partners, and so on?
+ Is he unable to apologize sincerely?
Core Quality 8: The Ability to Accept Caring
Have you ever heard the saying “In every relationship, one person is the flower and the other is the gardener”? There’s probably nothing I find less true. Caring — in the closeness sense of the word — is not the same as care-taking. Getting close to someone does not mean signing up to be his or her nurse or rescuer; nor does it mean signing up only to receive care. You will both need to be the flower, and both be the gardener.
The caring abilities listed above should prove a potential ideal partner’s ability to give you the care you need. This one is about making sure he or she can receive care. If your potential partner shuns your caring — for example, “not wanting to talk about it” when you offer to listen — this is a difficult barrier to overcome when creating closeness.
Things to Notice
+ Does she allow you to support her emotionally?
+ Does she seem stoic or reluctant to reveal anything too private?
+ Is she unwilling to admit her vulnerabilities?
When you see the hallmarks of someone capable of knowing and caring — get excited! This is a great opportunity. This person will likely make a wonderful ideal partner. The rest of this book will show you how to establish a wonderful relationship.
But if, as often happens, you find that though your potentially ideal partner has many of these abilities locked down, a few are still lacking — don’t give up. These abilities can be learned over time, especially if you lead by example. Be patient, and recognize that she may need some practice before becoming proficient at creating closeness.
Things to Watch Out For: Red Flags in Potential Partners
Keep in mind that while you’re testing the closeness waters you absolutely do not need to create closeness with every person you meet in order to reduce your loneliness or find your ideal partner. Remember — becoming just a little closer to one or two people will ease the pangs of feeling alone. In other words, there’s no need to force it. If you have reservations about someone, give it some time, or resolve to simply let that opportunity go. Trust that there will be other opportunities, because there will be.
Here I want to note that there are some people whom you really should not try to get closer to. Some of these partners are inappropriate simply because of the situation. For example, it could be seen as inappropriate to make an effort to get close to a friend’s spouse. These are judgment calls — some actions could be seen as overstepping boundaries by some and as perfectly fine by others. Just be aware of how picking this partner or that might make those around you feel.
Other less than ideal partners will be poor at creating closeness with you, not because of the situation, but because of their basic personality traits. Two of these personality profiles are well known to be dangerous, regardless of the context: the sociopath and the psychopath.
Because the terms sociopath and psychopath are very loaded and often misunderstood, it may be easier to identify these two types of dangerous people based on the descriptions outlined by research psychologists John and Julie Gottman. They categorize the two most dangerous personality types as “pit bulls” and “cobras.”
Pit bulls tend to show:
+ Explosive anger
+ Suspicion, distrust, and jealousy
+ A lecturing or condescending attitude
+ Violent tendencies that build over time and are directed at those closest to them
Cobras tend to show:
+ A charming exterior
+ Manipulative behavior
+ An enjoyment of watching fear build in others
+ Violent tendencies that usually come as a surprise and can be directed at anyone
For obvious reasons, people displaying these clusters of personality traits should be avoided at all costs. Who else should be avoided? Because ideal partners will be given so much access to your inner world — in a sense, so much power — if there’s any personality trait or characteristic you absolutely cannot tolerate, you should make it a deal breaker. While the pit bull and cobra personality types are universal deal breakers, it’s a great idea to come up with your own.
Here are some of the deal breakers I have been told about over the years that can help you avoid a less than ideal partnership:
+ A sober woman decided not to partner with a friend who drinks. Drinking became a deal breaker for her, and she is now close only with those who are also sober.
+ A man who was raised by a very depressed mom decided not to pursue a woman he was attracted to because she also struggled with depression.
+ A single dad decided not to get close to a fellow single dad at work because he constantly criticized and denounced his children’s mother. In his eyes, this behavior was a deal breaker.
How do you know if something is a deal breaker for you? It usually helps to check in with yourself about your past. Have you experienced something with a previous potentially ideal partner that you absolutely will not allow for again? That’s definitely a deal breaker.
Also, use your intuition. Do you find yourself feeling uneasy around a certain person? Do you feel a creeping anxiety when you’re on your way to see him or her? These seemingly baseless reactions probably mean something and can be a warning sign for or against a potential ideal partner. Does his humor sting a little too much? Is her competitiveness turning you off? These are the things to notice. These are the seeds of deal breakers.
Picking ideal partners is a personal journey. Not everyone will be attracted to the same people. Allow yourself to be drawn to whomever makes you feel the most seen and understood. These are your closest companions in the making.
An Exercise to Challenge Yourself
Jot down a list of all the people you’ve met this year. Pick one person you’d like to know better. Make the first move, and ask him or her to hang out!
+ Are there any people in your life who are inappropriate ideal partners, either because of the situation or because of their character traits?
+ What are some of your deal breakers when it comes to picking partners? What are some qualities you absolutely must (or must not) have in someone you want to be close to?
This article on how to find your ideal life partner is excerpted from the book Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships. Copyright © 2016 by Kira Asatryan. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato CA. newworldlibrary.com
About The Author
Kira Asatryan, author of Stop Being Lonely, is a couples coach and a team coach who trains Silicon Valley startups to work cohesively. She is also a popular blogger on Psychology Today and other sites. Prior to becoming a full-time relationship coach and writer, she ran marketing campaigns across major platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search. She lives in San Francisco, CA and her websites are stopbeinglonely.com and kiraasatryan.com.