In Los Angeles, half this town is searching for representation, and a good majority of that half tends to be asking the wrong question: “How do I get an agent?” A brilliant screenwriter once put it to me this way: “Well, how do you get a husband or wife? Be the kind of person that someone would want to marry – be the kind of person that someone would want to represent.”
We don’t tend to think this way. We tend to be busy list-building when it comes to what we want in a potential partner, critiquing others before critiquing ourselves. We buy into articles that list out all the things someone has to do and be before we’ll date them, without taking much into consideration whether we do and are those things ourselves.
I have a friend who once rattled off that she wants a boyfriend who’s in good shape, does all the dishes and happily cooks and cleans. I gently pointed out to this friend that she doesn’t go to a gym herself and that the mundane tasks of life usually have to be shared in some sense; in other words, what qualities did she possess that would make her attract such a partner? What was she going to bring to the table too? “Just let this be my fantasy,” she’d said.
It’s all well and good to want certain things from a significant other – but first, take a hard look at yourself and ask yourself if you are the kind of person that the person you’re searching for would want to be with. Spend your time working to become that person rather than searching for it. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for along the way.
Here’s a list of the 10 most crucial things we should first work to cultivate in ourselves if we want a happy, healthy relationship with another:
1. A growth mindset
Based on research by Dr. Carol Dweck, those who possess a growth mindset believe that anything can be learned and developed through hard work and dedication, that intelligence or creativity or the ability to have a healthy relationship are not fixed qualities. In this way, the growth mindset encapsulates resilience in the face of adversity and leaves room to not only make mistakes, but embrace and even get excited about them. The growth mindset’s harmful opposite, the fixed mindset, dictates that you’re born with certain abilities and that’s that. It advocates that talent alone creates success, that effort is not a part of the equation. It’s the fixed mindset at work every time we tell someone, “You’re so smart!” and the growth mindset at work when we offer up the healthier alternative of “I love how hard you’re working on this task.”
While it’s near impossible to operate from a growth mindset 100% of the time – our society is very much governed by the notion of hierarchy and status and rank, of good grades and résumés listing our accomplishments and fancy titles – it is possible to train yourself to operate from one or the other the majority of the time. Which would you most want from a partner? Someone who believes that their talents alone should carry them through life, who feels they’re a victim to circumstances and wonders why they haven’t been handed their big break? Or someone who treats life with a wandering curiosity, who isn’t afraid to get outside of their comfort zone and make mistakes, even if they’ll fall, even if they’ll look stupid, because in picking themselves back up, there’s a lesson to be gleaned? If you say the latter, you’d better be doing the work to be that person yourself first.
2. Kindness and generosity
Research suggests that lasting relationships come down to two qualities: kindness and generosity. It’s safe to say we all want both from a partner, just as it’s safe to say that we don’t want a partner who uses kindness manipulatively or exercises generosity with others because they don’t feel good about themselves. Do you give from a healthy place, one that is stable and secure rather than one built around low self-worth or lack of confidence? Are you kind to yourself and to others, offering up goodness in the purest of ways, without ulterior motives around status or appearance?
3. Conflict resolution
If there’s one thing that most people dislike, it’s conflict and confrontation. Some deal with it more effectively than others, but for all, healthy conflict resolution is a practice and a learned skill. How do you tend to deal with the conflicts in your life? Are you in denial about their existence?; do you tend to take on a more avoidant approach, living with your conflicts in secret and pretending as if they don’t exist? Do you frequently take on a blaming approach, shifting culpability onto others rather than taking responsibility for your part in things? Are you passive aggressive about what bothers you, dancing around the subject with snide comments and feigned sweetness? We all hope for a partner who’s going to be willing to work through the speed bumps of a relationship openly and honestly, but how often do we hold the mirror up to ourselves and take note of just how well we tend to handle life’s speed bumps? What are we doing to prepare ourselves to be that mature partner who’s willing to work through conflict?
4. Willingness to compromise
With all relationships comes the need for sacrifice and compromise. The tradeoff to companionship is that you won’t always get your way, that you won’t be able to turn a relationship on and off at your desire. We tend to hope for a partner who will be willing to make sacrifices for us, who will recognize when we really care about something and reduce their own self-absorption enough to allow us to have or go after that thing we most want. But are we also willing to give the same? Are you someone who’s prepared to have to sacrifice things you care about at times, to let your partner have or go after that thing they most want?
We tend to want a partner who’s ambitious and has a lot of drive, but when there’s an imbalance of ambition between partners, relationships can hinge and break on this single factor. While there hasn’t been a study on ambition and infidelity in relationships, there have been two studies for which the combined results indicate that there’s something really important to an equitable breakdown of ambition and drive between partners in a relationship. In one, higher levels of ambition were found to positively correlate with higher income levels. In the other, the results indicated that infidelity occurs more frequently in relationships where there is greater income disparity between partners and that when partners have similar earning potential, the chances of cheating decrease significantly.
Since ambition tends to be a desirable quality, it seems to be important that we be ambitious ourselves to have strong, lasting relationships – which is to say that if you want a partner who’s got a lot of ambition, you’d better first take a look at just how ambitious you tend to be. Do you set goals for yourself – for the week, month, year? Do you act on them? Are you forward-thinking? How much of your down time do you spend doing things to better yourself as opposed to binge-watching TV or scrolling through Instagram? Are you really passionate about something? What are you doing to go after that?
There are few things as important in a relationship as maintaining your own lives outside of each other. That’s not to say that these lives can’t be shared with each other, that you can’t talk about them together at the end of a day – but if the only thing you care about in your world is your partner, you’re setting yourself up for a rocky relationship. As humans, we get a lot of our confidence and feelings of worth from our work. I don’t just mean from our jobs, but from the tasks we spend our time doing, whether that’s a hobby, a sport or something entirely different.
Having a space that is ours where we can ask questions and solve problems is important to our growth and happiness, and the most important thing about that space is that it should be entirely personal to you. Maybe you and your partner will share some common interests, and that’s wonderful, but to neglect your own is dangerous on many levels.
Don’t you want a partner who’s excited about things you don’t quite understand, who has something that’s all their own that they work to nourish and build in their life? Isn’t there something attractive to seeing just how capable and motivated someone we care about truly is? If you’re someone who’d rather sit on the couch and wait for your partner to get home from all they’ve been doing, or if you hope that a relationship might rescue you, that meeting your match might help you fix what’s broken inside of you, you may need to reconsider your sense of independence in a relationship.
7. Willingness to be vulnerable
While independence on the part of individual partners in a relationship is important, there’s something equally important to vulnerability, as it’s the catalyst to healthy interdependency. The real and the honest lies only in the space where we allow ourselves to share our truths, however painful or shameful they might be. Many of us tend to be quite guarded about the memories, experiences or choices we’re not proud of, but that same group of us hopes for the kind of openness and intimacy that comes with hearing the secrets of someone we care about. If we hope for someone to be able to be vulnerable with us, we first have to be willing to be vulnerable ourselves, which often times requires building up an internal core belief that real strength lies in our vulnerability.
Without boundaries – firmness about what you will and won’t tolerate, that comes from a place of compassion – relationships can slip into the quicksand that is codependency. One partner will end up the one who subserviently says “yes” to things they’d rather not do, while the other partner will end up the one who makes constant requests, or even worse, doesn’t even make requests but rather just does nothing, knowing that their partner will always deal with things. Without boundaries, resentment can crawl its way into a relationship, and with resentment will come a lot more conflict. It’s all well and good to hope for a partner who has boundaries, who knows their worth and isn’t afraid to assert themselves when need be. But just how well do you draw up your own boundaries and stick to them? Just how much do you act out of a place of knowing and believing in your own worth?
Life is always changing, so of course we want to end up with someone who can change with it and with us. But just how good are you with change? On a smaller scale, are you flexible when it comes to plans pivoting on a whim, or in a larger sense, do you struggle with major life changes, like new jobs, new cities or new homes? If you’re someone who has a hard time adjusting to change, how much of your struggle with adaptability is born out of your own stubbornness or resistance, a defiant resolve to strictly adhere to the worldview you know to be true? What would it feel like to let that go and embrace something uncomfortable and new? I think we all hope for a partner who’s unafraid of the unknown and open to new beliefs. But if that’s the case, what are we doing to make sure we’ll be that partner ourselves?
10. Willingness to be wrong
For a lot of us, it’s really damn hard to admit when we’re wrong about something, whether it’s as small as a fact we heard somewhere and have adamantly deemed truth or as big as having hurt another person and being willing to admit that and apologize. Maybe we have such a hard time with being wrong because our sense of worth and sense of identity are heavily wrapped up in what we think we know, and to have our construct of reality challenged is to essentially challenge or threaten our sense of self. Or maybe we have such a hard time with being wrong because of basic insecurity. Maybe we have too much pride. But don’t we all hope for a partner who can admit when they’re wrong? Who respects us enough to apologize when it’s due? If we want that in another, we first have to work to be that ourselves by becoming willing to hold ourselves accountable when we’re wrong.