How to get insight into your partner - the most important questions to ask early in a relationship

Many people encounter difficulties later in a relationship because they haven’t asked or paid attention to information they needed to know about their partner in the early stages.  Often this is because we’re caught up in the excitement of a new relationship, or equally it could be that we just don’t want to know, as we fear disillusionment or facing the realisation of incompatibility with the person concerned.  However, as all psychologists will advise, past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour meaning that healthy, value-laden behaviours are repeated but dysfunctional and negative behaviours are too so it is in our interest to know something of our partner’s past behaviour.  Asking questions early on is not about judging another human being – we all have our skeletons in the closet and moments we are not proud of and this is how we learn and grow.  However, it is essential that we look out for ourselves and our future and choose a partner who is on our level in terms of their values and the qualities they prize.

There are key areas which give insight into someone’s character and value system.  This is not about probing or being intrusive or manipulative, but it is important in finding out information at an early stage rather than months or years down the line when it can be a shock, or you are experiencing behaviour from your partner that there would have been warning signs for if you had asked key questions earlier.  Obtaining this insight is not actually about asking fixed questions, but rather covering a range of areas during your discussions which are revelatory in terms of the insight they provide into personality and beliefs.  Unsurprisingly, most of these are relational.  These are the areas to explore:

Relationship with family

The relationships a partner holds within a family can reveal much. A key area to explore with men is the relationship they have with their mother – be wary of attitudes of contempt or disinterest as there is actually a great deal of research which supports the idea that, ‘as he treats his mother so he will come to treat you.’  Look out for respect, genuine warmth and compassion.  The same can be true of how women talk about their fathers and the experience they had of this relationship.  How does your partner view their siblings, their children?  Do they value these bonds and invest time in them?  Be curious about a reluctance to discuss family.  Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to come from a happy family background, but in terms of emotional health, the person needs to have worked through difficulties this has generated in order to be emotionally available for you. 

Friendships

Friendships give key insights into a person’s set of values.  Does your partner have long-standing friendships?  This indicates that they value longevity in relationships.  Or do they have a more disposable attitude towards friendships or see friends for what they can provide?  If this is the case you can predict what will happen to your relationship at the first sign of trouble!  Does your partner value quality over quantity or do they need lots of stimulation to massage their ego?  Pay attention to how they talk about their friends.

Vision of the future

A key area to tap into is how your partner views the future unfolding.  This is the key to aligning relationship goals.  If for one person having a family is central to their future but their partner is undecided, this is likely to cause heartache down the line.  Where does your partner see themselves living long-term?  What sort of lifestyle are they hoping for?  No matter how much chemistry is present at the beginning of a relationship, if one person loves spontaneity and the glitz of the city and the other loves routine and the quiet life, this is going to surface in the relationship over time.

Relationship history

This is obviously a key area, but it needs to be explored without being intrusive.   Has your partner had long-term relationships before (assuming they are older)?  Is there a pattern in how relationships have ended?  How do they talk about their ex?  Be especially wary of bitter recounts of previous relationships or blamers who take no responsibility for the end of the relationship.  It goes without saying that if someone is derogatory about their ex-partners, this should ring warning bells – most people have been hurt in a relationship before but are able to discuss this using a healthy dialogue.

How they feel about their career role

Career is often overlooked but reveals much about a person’s traits and characteristics.  How does your partner feel about their career?  Do they have an attitude of respect and care towards their staff?  If they have a boss, be wary of someone who is disparaging about them.  Has your partner taken responsibility for their career, moving on when the time is right or displaying loyalty if the position is valued?  How do they talk about their colleagues?  Do they ensure that work is balanced with time for other important areas of their life?  This is also an area where you can assess how ambitious someone is and how that might be a positive or negative contribution to the relationship.  Career often aligns with attitude towards lifestyle as well, so if someone has a passion for, and continually seeks to develop themselves in their work this generally correlates with a passion for living and curiosity about life too.

When exploring these topics it is important not to quiz, show judgement or interrogate – all of these things will put someone on the defensive and may lead to secrecy or modification of what’s being discussed.   Allow people to tell their story, and try not to become judgemental if you don’t like what you’re hearing – everyone wants to be accepted for who they are.  However, you also need to know who they are so be alert for what is not right for you so that you don't lose time in the wrong relationship. 

How long is too long to wait for a reply?

We have all been in the situation where we have been exchanging messages back and forth with someone, only to find they have either stopped replying or their responses come through some time after we have sent the message. The question that has arisen since technology became such a huge part of our romantic lives is what is this person's intent? Do they take a while to respond because they are busy? Do they take a while to respond because they want to execute certain rules or is it simply that they are only mildly interested, if at all?

There is no clear cut answer nor an objective view but research and years of individual's insights make the most likely case for someone taking their time to reply is because they are just not that into you. The only way to demonstrate an interest in someone is to communicate with them and build a connection with them. Nobody wants to date a game player nor someone who is unavailable. There may be moments that we enjoy the chase, but the fundamental elements that we are all looking for in a relationship is equality, honesty, respect, friendship and to a certain degree control.

Discussing some of these factors may help us address why we may try to elongate our communication with someone, despite them not doing the same.  When we speak about equality in romantic relationships it means that a relationship has a better chance of working if both individuals put in similar amounts of effort, quality of time and feel as if they are getting a fair exchange of these features. This follows the Social Exchange theory.  According to the social exchange theory; a person who feels that the cost of his or her romantic relationship outweighs its benefits will most likely leave the relationship [1]. Thibaut and Kelley (1959) outlined this premise through a number of stages in the development of relationships. This includes the first stage of a sampling, through to bargaining what you want, to commitment and finally institutionalisation. It is in the second and third stages where attraction to the other person will increase if the costs of being in a relationship are reduced.

Honesty is also a contributing factor. We need to be honest not only with those we are communicating with but also with ourselves. Sometimes we may know that someone is uninterested but as they reply every now and then we use this as evidence to support the fantasy relationship we have created. This is where most of the confusion occurs as often others supply us with signals of their interest or disinterest and it is down to us to identify them. Essentially we need to be honest with ourselves and in most cases this will prevent us wasting time on unfulfilling relationships. In regards to control, it is a basic human trait related to survival and in relation to successful relationships it is a necessity as both partners need to feel secure and as if both of their needs are being met.

Furthermore, any successful romantic relationship has at least an element of friendship and there lies the question; would you want your friend to feel ignored, undervalued or unappreciated? The answer should be no and therefore if someone is taking a while to respond without any specific reason e.g. travel, work commitments, then you can assume that person does not value your time or see a potential future with you. The initial chase may ignite an interest but the consequent exchanges will speak volumes in regards to someone's attitude towards you. So to answer the question how long is too long to wait for a reply, it depends on whether you feel the elements aforementioned are being met and you are honest with yourself. Ask yourself, are your needs being met, are there other external factors effecting their ability to communicate or are they just uninterested? 

 

References

[1]https://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/social-exchange-theory/

Thibaut, J. W. & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The Social Psychology of Groups. New York, USA: Wiley.

Bright lights, big city, eligible bachelor

The allure of the city, the promise of wishes fulfilled, expectations met, dreams realised, adventures lived. Lights twinkling and shimmering, the cacophony of noise and the perpetual buzz of movement and energy. Numerous lives in simultaneous transit and convergence, one mass melting pot of simmering potential, just waiting to bubble over. Underneath the shimmering façade of the cityscape, in the dense and oppressive urban jungle roves the young single male, a twenty-first century Tarzan of sorts, noble in spirit, compelling in character and ruthless in ambition. But what of his Jane? What heights are to be reached and what pitfalls to be avoided in search of a partner? Despite its bedazzling palette of possibilities, manoeuvring the modern metropolis is no mean feat.

The city can be unforgiving, punishing at times. The constant call of our many commitments, numerous products, sites and services vying for our attention. There is considerable pressure to keep our appointments, pay our bills, keep up with the city and progress as people. The city is extensive too, sprawling masses of networks and connections that seldom flow smoothly. Sometimes just getting from A to B can seem like a journey of epic proportions. The dating game has evolved such that it times if feels like we’re swiping the entire population in search of a match. For this reason it is crucial to prioritise and utilise our most precious asset – time. Make the time for finding someone special, and don’t compromise on it. Make use of moments and minutes, whenever you have them so that you are able to allocate more time to those matters that lie closer to your heart.

After all, the super city offers a bewildering array of events and exhibitions, cultural and creative pursuits, activities and excursions, and culinary and social settings to satisfy the tastes of even the most whimsical or esoteric pleasure seeker. Add to this the plethora of publications and social media streams keeping us constantly informed and updated and it would seem more difficult not to find something that appeals. City centres are places of amazing diversity and magnetically draw in people from highly disparate backgrounds, giving practically unlimited variety in terms of a potential partner. We are also completely at liberty to choose what to do, where to go and who to see and align our day-to-day lives in accordance with our wants and wishes, beliefs and values. Suffice to say that this almost unlimited choice is there to be taken advantage of and the freedom we enjoy should be honoured and celebrated.

So as we traverse the cosmopolitan mise en scène in our quest for the love of our lives, we would do well to bear in mind the primacy of location. Review sites and location-based apps can help us find the perfect setting for a first meet, while social media keeps us informed as to upcoming events that could be the point of our sweetest and most cherished memories. Spend time online, either reviewing the blogs and vlogs of those who know and have been there before or fostering new relationships and connections on instant messaging or video chat apps. Root out those places that are genuinely interesting and that you hear people talking about, find out for yourself what they are like and make a point of visiting new places and expanding your knowledge of different areas of the city and what they have to offer. Make a second home of those places that are in line with your interests and hobbies and discover the like-minded individuals who do the same. If pushed for time, arrange meetings near transport hubs which offer a mélange of differing social options a stone’s throw away and a quick journey home to boot. Whatever you do, remember that the city is continually reshaping, transforming and evolving and will always be capable of fulfilling our deepest desires and most treasured dreams.

“You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”   Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Awakening the authentic self

We have probably all had the experience of feeling disconnected from our selves in some way.   This is usually triggered by something – a life event which challenged your self-concept, advertisements that condition you to live and think in a particular way, not to mention the self-promotion and impression management that is the world of social media.  Once we feel this disconnection we lose focus and energy and feel a sense of being lost or ‘off track’.  

This subsequently can lead to feelings of envy or put us at risk of comparing ourselves and our lives negatively to that of others – the cognitive distortion knows as ‘compare and despair’.  Sometimes, reflecting on what we envy in others can give us insight into our desires and what is missing from our own lives.  However, continual comparison simply blocks us from getting back in touch with our authentic self.

Being your authentic self is important not just for your own well-being and happiness, but also because when you are not in accord with your true self, your relationships will be affected.  The best and healthiest relationships depend on the individuals themselves being in balance and at peace with themselves.  As Specialist Matchmakers, one of the most common requirements we hear from our members in a potential partner is that they are ‘comfortable in their own skin’.  So how do we create that harmonious state?

Develop self-knowledge

The first step is to know yourself and build self-knowledge.  It is easy in this busy world to have your attention focused externally, without ever asking yourself the important questions in life.  This is why coaching can be so enlightening as it challenges people and forces them to engage with different perspectives and sides of themselves to develop this self-knowledge.  In the words of Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true” but preceding this is the requirement to know yourself in the first place.

Develop self-acceptance

From self-knowledge comes self-acceptance.  It is common to feel the need to prove yourself to others or to match an illusion created in your head through years of absorbing societal and cultural ideals.  The less you feel you have to prove the more in touch you will be with what matters to you without being pulled in different directions.  In essence, don’t censor yourself, accept yourself.

Develop self-compassion

The internationally recognised lead on self-compassion, Dr Kristin Neff draws a distinction between self-kindness and self-judgement.  Self-compassion encompasses being kind to ourselves when we are upset or failing rather than becoming self-critical, punitive or ignoring our pain.  Self-compassionate takes as a starting point the truth that life is inevitably full of difficulties and people need to allow themselves to be vulnerable.  The warm and compassionate treatment of the self in these situations allows the individual to re-connect with their authentic self. 

The forgotten art of courtship – putting the purpose back into dating

In these heady times of innumerable dating apps and high divorce rates, it is easy to come away with the impression that finding that special someone is largely a question of luck, probability or chance. Given the dizzying array of options open to us in our search for a partner, it is notable that the ultimate aim of meeting people is often overlooked, and that the qualities we would expect in our spouse and parent of our children take a back-seat to other more immediate considerations. With our growing expertise in deciding who we don’t like, by finger-swiping or speed-dating, we run the risk of getting caught up in perpetual spiral of dating and think less and less in terms of a long term partner, which is where the art of courtship comes into play.

Turning the clock back and giving a cursory spin of the globe, it is evident that there is endless variety in how two people establish if they wish to spend their lives together and the decision itself is influenced by a considerable amount of factors and circumstances. It would seem though that the length of time people generally spend together before committing, as well as the amount of ingenuity, imagination and effort involved has decreased steadily over the centuries and significantly so in the last one. In many ways we are more liberated and empowered to assert our choices and able to meet people from a far greater number of backgrounds and social settings than ever before.

Which brings us to an important distinction between courtship and dating. The former conjures associations of tradition, ritual, and formality as opposed to the latter’s modern, social and liberal vibe. Courtship has always had as its aim the proper selection of one’s partner for life and sufficient time and occasion was given to ensuring a potential spouse’s suitability. There was also the lingering presence of authority and the sense of someone overseeing and approving the union as societal and cultural factors meant that a family’s reputation was of prime importance and that there was more at stake than the fulfilment of romantic aspirations. Dating, conversely, has the approach of meeting multiple people over time and determining who would be best for a relationship, with the focus on  finding the right person than deciding if someone is right for you or not.

Inevitably there has always been a genetic element to courtship which is typified by the abundance of examples derived from the animal kingdom, where demonstrations of physical prowess, displays of colour and beauty as well as highly ritualised performances are the norm. From colourful displays by tropical birds to equestrian fistfights to elaborate dance routines, the amount of effort, creativity and exhibition involved is staggering and is a good indication of what may be lacking in the modern approach – not just in terms of seeing if a partner is suitable, but in proactively showing a potential partner that we are attracted to them, that they are important to us and that we are someone they would want to be with.

It is important then, to think not just about who we are looking for but what we are looking for too and build our approach to and evaluation of our encounters with suitors or dates around our relationship goals as well as our romantic aspirations. By being proactive about making our wishes reality and putting our best foot forward, showing off a little and demonstrating our beauty and qualities we can ensure we are more attractive to potential partners and show that they are important to us and worth the effort. Having the advice and support of established matchmakers as well as enlisting the help and opinions of friends and family can help shape a well-rounded and more informed perception of a possible life partner and our journey towards relationship fulfilment. 

Get ready for your perfect relationship!

There is so much written about what we need to do, be or feel in order to attract the right relationship and be the perfect partner.  What we often fail to realise is that if the match is right, all those strategies and games won’t be necessary.  Relationships mirror our inner world, which is why when a significant shift occurs in ourselves we often find ourselves with different people in our lives.  Therefore, being ready for a romantic relationship is all about developing the relationship and knowledge we have with ourselves in the first instance.  Are you ready for a new relationship?

Are you in an emotionally healthy place?

If you seek a relationship when you are unhappy or stressed you will attract the wrong person for you.  Like attracts like so if you want a relationship with a sound and healthy partner you need to cultivate this in yourself.  Similarly, if you have scars from previous relationships (such as trust issues for example), be sure you have learned and moved on from these so you don’t carry these issues into your next relationship.  Nobody wants to pay for someone else’s mistakes.

Do you treat yourself like a lover?

There is a strong correlation between how we treat ourselves and how others treat us.  If you want to be loved, spoiled and cherished then this is the way to treat yourself.  The people in your life will follow suit.  Also remember when it comes to others, nobody can treat you in any way that you don’t allow yourself to be treated.

Do you know your boundaries?

Past relationships teach us so much about ourselves, our needs and what’s acceptable for us in relationships.  Most people’s top requirements in new partners are based directly on what was significantly wrong in previous relationships.  Therefore, take the time to consider what you have learned and what you will and will not accept in relationships, and always have the self-respect to hold yourself to these boundaries. 

Do you put yourself in new situations?

People develop due to experiences.  The more experiences you have, whether though dating or socialising, the more feedback you will get on yourself and the more you will grow.  People have a tendency to hibernate between relationships, which deprives them of the opportunity to learn about themselves and develop through interaction with others.  Therefore, take every opportunity of trying new things and meeting new people.

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line”  Lucille Ball

Only when we get the relationship with ourselves right do we attract the perfect partner.