What the hell do I want from a relationship?
Whenever I ask someone a question: “What do you want from a relationship?” I often get this “blank face” reaction followed by a vague answer “I just want to be happy, I guess”. The second type of an answer is when I get A LOT of requirements but when I ask further “Are you able to offer the same back?”, I get this puzzled “what-do-you-mean” type of look and the conversation is usually over.
The truth is, many of us don’t really know what we want, and those who do, often have an “expectation-based” attitude that focuses solely on “what I want to get” instead of on “what I am able to give”. That’s kind of normal I guess; after all, relationships are like careers or life’s purpose – many times we don’t know what we are looking for and it takes us years of attempts and trails to finally realize it.
Unless of course, we take a shortcut.
Regardless if you are single, in a troubled relationship, or in a happy one that only needs a little bit of an improvement, this exercise can be a blessing to your love life. It will help you to discover what do you really want from a relationship, and to highlight all those little dark areas, that you need to work on.
It can be done over an evening but you can also do it over days or weeks. So if you find yourself stuck at any point in time or you feel like you need to reflect on your love life more, please do so. You are not in a hurry (unless you’re getting married the next day or something, then well…try to speed up) so take your time. The key is to approach this with an open mind, thoughtfulness and full honesty – mainly towards yourself.
All you need is a piece of paper/notebook and a pen (you can also use your computer). Divide it into 6 columns and the last column into 3 sub-columns.
Put on some nice background music (optional) or upcoming “You’ve Got 5 Options” podcast Episode 12 in which we discuss how to proceed with this exercise (highly recommended). You might get thirsty in a process, so a glass of nice wine or cup of warm tea may be an awesome idea as well.
You are ready to go!
Column 1: Things I have to offer
In the first column write down all the things YOU have to offer to your partner – all those things you love about yourself.
It’s important to be really honest here – don’t hold back with all the goodies you have in you, yet try not to overdo it neither.
It may be a little bit problematic for some of you – especially those who are quite critical towards themselves – so if you feel stuck, try to do it over a couple of days or ask your partner (if you have one) or your friends to help you.
Please do not skip this step – it is extremely important. Many of us tend to focus on “what I want from someone” instead of “what can I offer to another person” and that is a number one mistake which opens the gate to all kind of relationship-related disappointments.
Examples: Things you can put on the list are: “I’m a great cook”, “I am loyal”, “I am spontaneous”, “I give thoughtful presents” etc. Possibilities are endless!
You may discover that you have way more to offer to your partner than you initially thought. On the other hand, you may also realize that there are some things that you need to work on. But don’t panic yet! It will all come nicely together by the end of the exercise.
Column 2: How do I want to FEEL with my partner
In column 2, we focus on FEELINGS and although we won’t really use this part of an exercise for comparisons, this step is still essential to go further.
First of all, many people, while writing down the way they want to feel with their partner, usually discover that these “feelings” are (or were) missing in their relationship(s). For instance, some of my friends wrote down “I want to feel safe” or “I want to feel stable”, yet they were (or are) with people who don’t provide them with the feeling of stability. If that is your case, you would need to answer yourself, why did you engage in rocky, dramatic relationship even though insecurity is the very last thing you would like to feel.
Secondly, this part of an exercise is a very good starting point for realizing what do we truly want from a relationship, on which we elaborate in Column 3.
Examples of feelings you could put on your list could be: I want to feel safe, I want to feel appreciated, I want to feel sexy and desired, I want to feel respected, I want to feel understood, I want to feel loved, I want to feel inspired etc.
Column 3: Anything you want your perfect relationship to be like
It’s Christmas baby because now you can let yourself go and ask Santa for anything your heart desires! There are no limits! Write down as many things as you feel like and don’t worry if you end up with a list that has a length of an essay – we will prioritize your “wishes” later.
Please take a look at Column 2 and all the things you want to FEEL while being in a relationship and now try to “dress them” in specific situations, activities or lifestyle.
Your list can be as detailed as you want, as long as it is honest and thoughtful. If while doing this exercise you are in a relationship, try to detach those things from your current situation and your partner. After all, we are focusing on a PERFECT relationship, right?
Examples: You wrote that you want to feel safe in your relationship and now it’s time to describe how that safety would be represented. For some, feeling safe is to know where their partner is at any given point of time (small hint: that is NOT healthy and most probably an indication that you have some trust issues you need to work on), for others – to know that you can both achieve financial goals or that you can always count on your partner’s support whenever you need him/her. The feeling of safety can be achieved in plenty of ways and that depends on YOU and on what makes YOU feel safe.
Other examples could be: We travel the world together (or quite the opposite, We are stay-home type of couple), We have a big family (or We have no children), We make each other laugh, (S)he loves my mom and my mom loves her/him, We have a great sex, We cook together, We are financially stable, We share common hobbies, We are best friends, We are soulmates, We live in a big city (or We live in a countryside) etc.
Column 4: Dealbreakers
As mentioned before, we might have gone pretty wild with our wishes before, so now it’s time to make a little prioritization. I personally use some categories for that, which are: dealbreaker, very important, negotiable, nice to have – but you can do it in any other way you want. The most important thing is that you will be able to identify your dealbreakers: those things that you need to have in your relationship in order to be happy – not only for a while but also on a long-term.
In other words, what are your “non-negotiables”?
The funny thing is that many of us were or are in relationships where those dealbreakers are present, and yet we somehow continue staying in that setup. Sometimes for months or even years! It can potentially create a lot of frustration, because longer you are with someone who is not compatible with you, more and more bitter and demanding you become towards him/her over the time, instead of realizing that it wasn’t a match, to begin with. Making a list like that and figuring out what is at the very core of YOUR being and what do YOU need in order to feel happy with another person, can be truly eye-opening. It also helps to love, respect and care for yourself more, by avoiding entering relationships where the dealbreakers are obvious from the very beginning.
Another interesting outcome of the “Dealbreaker” part of this exercise is that we can also realize that the things we were complaining about in our relationship – former or present – are actually not that important for us after all.
We, humans, tend to focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have. So, if you have a supportive, loving partner who takes care for you when you’re down with the flu, but sometimes forgets about your anniversary or is not good with bringing flowers, ask yourself, what’s really important for you. You may discover you don’t need that god damn flower after all but having someone making you a tea while you feel ill is the type of romance you want.
Column 5: My Partner
In Column 5 you start to compare your “perfect relationship” points from Column 3 with your current partner (If you are single, I recommend you to chose a former partner to continue or skip this step altogether). This part of an exercise is the so-called “reality check” and it can be quite revealing. Suddenly you may realize what a great person you have by your side, or quite the opposite – that your current lover is not what you would “normally chose” – if you made that choice based on the list that you have just created.
For singles – if you went for an option to compare the Column 3 with your ex-partner – it is a fantastic opportunity to identify the gaps and issues in the former relationship and potentially discover the reasons why it didn’t work in a first place. Singles who chose not to make comparisons, can leave this column blank, and use it when they meet someone special and consider starting a relationship with that person.
So how do we go about it?
For example, in column 3 you have written “We have a big family together” and you identified it as a non-negotiable for you; However your partner is not eager to have children and maybe he never will. That right there is a huge dealbreaker and a big red flag – both for you and for him.
Another example could be “We are living in my home country”, but your partner would like to move from one city/location to another every couple of years because she/he likes challenges and new experiences. This is a major lifestyle clash that you need to take into consideration.
“Lifestyle preferences” is only one angle. You might have written “I want us to be best friends” yet your partner doesn’t talk with you about any deep matters or you are totally off in regards to open communication; “I want us to have fun”- but he/she prefers to hang out with friends rather than you and/or your definitions of “fun” varies greatly; or “I want us to have a great sex” but the last time you were naked together was in a changing room of the swimming pool couple of months ago.
The way to go about all those gaps is to see if any “non-negotiables” are violated. After all, there may be some things that clearly don’t match between the two of you, but they are either not that important at the end of the day, or are compensated with other fantastic things that you share. So now it’s a matter of identifying all those inconsistencies and deciding how to work on them.
Column 6: Areas to Work on (and taking a personal responsibility for the Gaps)
So you have your list.
You have all the things you have to offer, the way you want to feel with your partner, the things you want to have in a relationship, your dealbreakers and – if you are in a relationship – how all of these are matching with your lover.
What to do next?
If you think that now you simply have to forward the list to your partner and announce: “This is what doesn’t match between my needs and our relationship and if you don’t change it, I’m leaving”, then you are in for a big disappointment. Same for singles – this should not be the “requirements list” that you keep in a drawer so you can pull it out for comparisons when you meet the next guy/girl; this should be a dynamic tool that you can use, mostly in order to work on yourself.
If you require something or someone to change in order to accompany your needs and visions, then you are doomed to fail; there is only one person who is able to get you where you want and fulfill your dreams. And that person is YOU.
So now it’s time to do THAT THING that many of us are not very eager to do – to look in the mirror and see where are YOUR OWN shortcomings and how did YOU contribute to the gaps in your relationship. In other words, it’s time to take a responsibility.
Only after identifying your own areas for an improvement and acknowledging your own mistakes, you can successfully build your perfect relationship. Otherwise, some of the issues will always resurface – regardless of the partner, you are currently with.
How to do it?
Please divide your Column 6 into 3 sub-columns and name them: Mine, Ours, His/Hers.
First, you focus on “Mine” and write down all the areas/challenges that YOU need to work on in order to close the gaps between your perfect relationship and your current relationship (or your perfect relationship and you – if you are single).
The second and third sub-columns can be left blank for the time being. Ideally, this is something that you should fill in together with your partner, however, it’s perfectly fine to make notes or suggestions about what would have to be worked on by him/her and both of you as a team.
The final part of an exercise can result in a couple of outcomes
1. YOU ARE NOT the person you want to be with
I love this quote: “Be the person you want to be with” and this is something I always try to live up to.
It’s very easy to have all kind of requirements towards your partner, but it is somehow way more difficult to acknowledge that we may not be fulfilling those requirements by ourselves.
So, for instance: In your list, you have written down in Column 3 that you want an open communication in your relationship, yet in Column 1 (What you have to offer) things like “I’m open”, “I’m a great communicator”, “I’m a good listener” are somehow missing.
Are you talking honestly with your partner or just assume s/he should “figure out what you mean” by reading your mind or something? Do you listen actively and with no judgment? Are you open to a mature and difficult conversation or are you rather that type of a person who sweeps things under the carpet and hopes they will “fix themselves”? Even if your partner is not really good at communication neither, it is clearly your responsibility as well, and an area that you need to work on.
How about trust? That is one of the most commonly discovered gaps between the perfect and current relationship. We want our partner to trust us and we want to be trusted but maybe we are guilty of undermining this trust in a first place?
For instance, if you’ve written down in Column 3 “I want us to trust each other” and in Column 5 “S/he doesn’t trust me and tries to control me all the time”, try to ask yourself first why that is. Maybe your partner has some trust issues with roots in his/her past relationships (his/her area to work on) or maybe it’s you who is doing something that causes this behavior?
Have you been dishonest? Have you ever cheated? Are you a little bit too flirty? Or maybe you like to “punish” your partner by hanging out with other people to cause some jealousy? If you were in his/her shoes, would you trust YOU?
Another quite interesting example is about the physical appearance. Many of us write things like “I want my partner to be attractive” or “I want us to be fit and healthy” yet somehow we are not “really there” by ourselves. Beauty is a matter of taste, but if you want a guy with a six-pack or a girl with a nice booty, ask yourself first if you take care of yourself physically.
Are you eating healthy? When was the last time you have been working out? It doesn’t mean that from now on we all have to get super focus on our looks but it’s reasonable to work in this area if that’s your requirement towards someone else.
To sum up, the rule is pretty simple and applies both to those of you who are in relationships as well as the single folks: If you want to be trusted, you need to be trustworthy. If you want an exciting relationship, you need to be willing to go on adventures and show some spontaneity. If you want an attractive partner, you should take care of your own appearance. If you want someone financially stable, focus on improving your own finances first. The bottom line is, we attract who we are. More intensively you’ll work on improving yourself, better partnerships you will invite into your life.
2. You encouraged/agreed upon some of the issues you have
So let’s say, there may not be that many inconsistencies between the things you have to offer (Column 1) and the things you want in your perfect relationship (Column 3) yet when it comes to your partner (Column 5) there is still a lot of gaps. Before we go into figuring out if this is a person for you in a first place, let’s try to reflect on your own behavior again and identify if you might have unconsciously contributed to the gap creation.
One of the biggest “sins” in our relationships is that we hide who we really are and what we truly want. We agree on much less than we need and get bitter and disappointed, over and over again.
First of all, many of us don’t actually know what we want in a relationship (until we make this exercise, of course). Our love lives run on autopilot: We fall in love with someone, jump into a relationship and for the first weeks/months see everything through the “pink glasses”. After some time, however, challenges arise and we find ourselves arguing, complaining or trying to change the other person through either subtle (manipulation, passive-aggressive behavior) or harsh (emotional blackmail) methods. Some of us stay in this kind of relationships, feeling frustrated and miserable, others – break up and move on to someone else, repeating exactly the same pattern.
If you recognize yourself in this scenario, you need to take a responsibility for all your past and current love choices and the fact that you’ve might have made them based on the wrong premises. Complaining about our partners is kind of useless, as we are – after all – the ones who chose them. Rather than focusing on the negatives, it is better to give yourself a bit of a time for a constructive reflection to try to figure out what went wrong and how can you make better choices next time. The list that you have just created, will come very handy while doing that.
Another type of responsibility that you may have to take is when you know who you are and what you want but you either pretend to be someone else or you are unable to express your true needs. Some of us fall into a trap of playing a role in a relationship because we are afraid: of either being left by a partner or of hurting his/her feelings. We agree on things just to make someone happy or we are simply unable to imagine ourselves being single again so we keep the relationship alive at any costs.
Fear of losing someone or hurting the other person is not the only reasons for encouraging behaviors that in a process become issues. Sometimes we “help” our partner to enforce some habits without even realizing it.
For instance, if in your relationship you are always “the active one” who organizes the vacation and family events, takes care of the administrative tasks or cover all the expenses, it’s time to ask yourself if you haven’t accidentally created this setup. Aren’t you too controlling? Could it be that you just prefer to do things “your way” and take over responsibilities from your partner? Do you encourage your lover to be more active or do you rather criticize him/her each time he/she does something because it’s not as you’ve imagined/wanted?
If you are one of those people who often say: “I’m always the active one/the mature one/the thoughtful one in the relationship”, please pay attention to this pattern. If you “always” find yourself in this role, it’s worth to figure out why. You either subconsciously choose this type of a partner, or your own unintentional behavior causes them to behave passively. Whatever the reason is, it is your responsibility to get to the bottom of it and change it.
3. Revelation: “S/he is The One” or “It’s time to go our separate ways”
Identifying your issues and improving yourself daily it’s always the best way to go. But even if you have found your weak points / dark areas while doing this exercise and you are committed to working on them, the question “Am I with the right partner” still remains.
This exercise can be truly groundbreaking, but for different reasons.
Some of you, will make the list, identify the dealbreakers and discover that in their current relationship none of them are violated. You may be exactly on the same page with your partner and the things you were previously complaining about are in reality insignificant.You may suddenly feel a deep gratitude that you have this person in your life and realize how lucky you are. If that’s the case, congratulations!
Disclaimer: If your list and all the comparisons look perfect, yet you still have a weird gut feeling that something is “not right”, try to go come back to the exercise again in a couple of days. Maybe you’ve missed something? Or you weren’t completely honest with yourself? It can also be, that even if according to the list, you are in an ideal relationship, you are simply not in love with your partner anymore (this would mean that you’ve forgotten to put in Column 2 “I want to feel “in love” with my partner”)
The second scenario is when you have a revelation of a different kind; you realize that you should end your relationship. It doesn’t mean that the person you are with is “bad” or there’s something wrong with you – it may simply mean that either you are on very different pages in your lives, the feelings have passed or there is no compatibility between your values, lifestyles or personalities.
It is always difficult to end a relationship – especially if it’s a long one and you feel like you have invested a lot of time and energy in it – but if you clearly see that it ain’t gonna work for you, it’s time to call it quits.
Time to Take An Action
Regardless of a type of revelation you had while doing this exercise, if you are in a relationship, you should share it with your partner.
If you want to end the relationship, you need to calmly yet confidently explain what are your reasons (you can check out You’ve Got 5 Options' Challenge of the Week: “5 ways to break up with your girlfriend” for an inspiration)
Present your dealbreakers and explain why are they important to you. Give your partner a bit of a space and time to digest it; don’t engage in a “blame-game” or – God forbid! – a blackmail (if you agree to get married now, then I’ll stay with you). Respect the fact that your partner is another human being, an individual with his own values, dreams, and wishes and she/he doesn’t have to fulfill your vision of life if it’s not compatible with his/hers.
If you want to work on your relationship, both teamwork and individual effort are required.
In order to succeed, you need to be very open and honest and you should also have a certain level of maturity and open-mindedness. If only one person is willing to address the issues, while the other doesn’t have enough emotional or mental resources to do so, you are in for a disappointment. You need to have the same goal and level of commitment to solve your challenges. You should also be prepared that it may take some time – remember, it’s a process and not just one “all-nighter” – it will require consistency and perseverance, but if you truly care for each other and want to improve your relationship not only it is worth it, but also life-changing.
And if you are one of those “lucky bastards” who are in a perfect relationship, then congratulations!
Feel free to share your “tips and tricks” in the comments section below – many of us could use it ;)