What common mistakes do people make when choosing a life partner?

advice column choosing a partner

Dear Dr. Joy,

“The heart wants what the heart wants,” or do we go for a cold judgment approach.

What should be some good guidelines and misconceptions to be careful about

Dr. Joy’s Advice:


They settle for someone who isn’t exactly what they want in a partner and:

  • Think they can live with the absence of the missing qualities, or
  • Think they can change the person (The only person who can change anyone is the person who is changing and that doesn’t happen unless/until they want to change.)

Many people make these mistakes without conscious thought. They want the fantasy they build around the person they are dating and don’t think thoughtfully about whether traits that they’ve overlooked will always be acceptable. For example, Terri loved Ron’s adventurous and spontaneous nature. He made her life more fun and she envisioned a future that was better than she’d ever dreamed of with Ron at her side. But she had also always dreamed of being a mother and when the first baby arrived her outlook about Ron’s adventurousness changed.

It was no longer a good thing that he often did things that were somewhat dangerous and always seemed to be learning a new sport that put his life at risk (sky-diving, deep sea diving, motocross, etc.) Then her best friend’s husband was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to work when her friend was expecting their first child and Terri began worrying even more about ending up raising their child on her own if Ron had an accident during one of his adventures. She attempted to convince Ron to stop risking his life but that only drove a wedge between them. Ron felt that he hadn’t changed and he shouldn’t have to change. Even if Terri had thought far enough into the future to consider how she would feel once they were parents, she probably would have assumed Ron would change the way she planned to change. Most people make such assumptions and don’t have the conversation.

They don’t wan to rock the boat now that they think they’ve found the perfect partner.

The time to rock the boat is before you get married.

Do you really want to marry someone who frequently becomes intoxicated or high?

Consider how that could impact your ability to accumulate assets. If your spouse is busted with illegal drugs in your home or car the assets can be seized. If your spouse gets a DUI, the legal bills and increased auto insurance costs will be a significant financial burden and if an accident that harms someone occurs it could wipe you out.

Consider who will take care of the children if your spouse is frequently intoxicated or high.

Someone needs to be sober to save the children in case the house catches on fire. That sounds a bit worrisome, but how would you feel if a fire occurred and your child died because both parents were intoxicated? While it may be a lot of fun to get a good buzz by sharing a bottle or two of wine when you’re dating, it is not nearly as much fun when one of you needs to remain sober to take care of the children or when you can’t drink because you’re pregnant.

Many people marry for looks. When one of my daughters was about 11 she was very into how guys looked and went gaga over ones she thought were hot. I told her that looks weren’t everything and that when she considered a relationship with a guy she should ask herself if she’d still like him if she lost her sight or his appearance was changed in an accident. Surprisingly, she listened to me and I’m glad. But many men and women focus their partner’s physical appearance. While you want to find your partner attractive, looks should not be one of the top 5 criteria.

One way to avoid making a mistake is to decide what you want in a partner before you are in a relationship. Don’t set the bar too low. I spoke to a woman one time who said, “My next boyfriend is going to have a job and a car.” She didn’t say “a safe car” or a “reliable car.” Just a car. She also didn’t say “a steady job” or a “good job.” Apparently, any car and job would make a man good enough for her.

Don’t set your sights too low.

Go for an equal and if you have low self-esteem, aim high and work on your self-esteem.

Talk about your long range plans and desires. My husband has never lived in the country and I long to return to country living when we retire. He is okay with country living as long as we are close to a college because he wants to teach during retirement. I decided I was okay with that limitation to the location of our retirement home. There are many rural areas with great Universities in the area. But what if he hadn’t been willing to leave the city and we hadn’t talked about it?

We didn’t talk about my husband’s desire to go back to school to earn his Doctorate but fortunately, I believe in lifelong learning and am supportive. But many spouses would resist this undisclosed goal because of the cost involved.

Deep conversations and a willingness to let the relationship go if you discover things you don’t want to spend the rest of your life living with. The willingness to let go is what is most often lacking. It is easier when you realize that you can love someone and let them go and not feel heartache if you continue loving them in a fond way. It is when we attempt to stop loving someone we love that our heart aches. Our hearts know how to fall in love. They don’t know how to stop loving. But loving does not mean we have to stay together.

Letting go also requires trust that this isn’t our last chance or our best chance. I went through a lot of shenanigans (blind dates, internet dating, going to mixers, etc.) looking for love after my divorce. Where did I meet my husband? He was in my backyard golfing with a friend of mine’s husband. He lived 1/2 mile away. We’d both been invited to their Christmas party but he didn’t go one year and I didn’t go the next.

Opportunities for love are all around us. We will not find the right one when we are clinging to the wrong one.

I wish everyone as much love as they can handle in their life.

All the best to you.