Whether in recovery or otherwise, it is important to enter relationships from a position of integrity. I tell clients this means some honest self searching and clarification of one's values, before you date. It doesnt matter how handsome,gorgeous, sexy, or appealing a potential partner might be, or how strong an initial attraction you feel. If you are unaware of your deeper values and preferences, if you cant express and maintain needed boundaries, or if you cant keep a position of equality from where each can remain themselves and form an interdependence based on strengths, the relationship runs the risk of codependence and unhealthy enmeshment from the start.
I've found a simple but effective way to get at this. Take three sheets of paper. On the top of the first put the heading of "Non-Negotiable", on the second page the heading of "Negotiable", and on the third page, "Nice, but not Necessary."
The first list, non-negotiable, is just that. Ask yourself, "What are the deal-breakers for me?" Must my partner be honest, be of a certain faith, be responsible, be faithful, etc.? Take some time with this list. Think back over all your own relationships and those you've witnessed. Try to define abstract terms like honesty, commitment, responsibility through a pattern of typical behavior the way a camera would record it. For instance, someone who wants trustworthiness might look for a partner who shows through his behavior that he keeps his word, or her responses in actual situations show she keeps his best interests in mind along with her own. Whatever qualities you endorse, run this list by someone who knows you very well and let them add any you've overlooked. These are your non-negotiables. If they don't show up BEHAVIORALLY by the fifth date, move on. No matter how turned on to the other you are, you are not going to create them simply by wishing they were there or by thinking enough persuation will make them appear in the future.
The second list, the negotiable list, splits out into two categories, so make two subheadings on your paper. There are desired qualities of an emotional nature and those of an instrumental nature. What do I mean? An example of an emotional quality is the ability to self-disclose. Can the partner share his or her own personal history, feelings, challenges versus keeping secrets or is highly selective in what is disclosed? How important or negotiable is that to you? An example of an instrumental quality is something the person is skilled at that he or she brings to the relationship, like competence with bookkeeping, dance, or cooking. Or it could be a useful character attribute, like industriousness or creativity. People looking to partner naturally look over each other's resume of skills and competencies that will compliment one's own and enhance the relationship. Again, take your time. If you are seeing most of the qualities on your list, does that compensate for one or two weak areas? Which ones could be negotiable if the partner is open to developing it in themselves, if at all possible?
The third list is icing on the cake. It isn't necessary I find a partner with computer skills or one who likes to travel, but it sure sweetens the deal if I would like these qualities and they just happen to come with the package. You substitute your own nice, but not necessary qualities and build your third list.
Most of us when buying a car walk around it, kick the tires, look under the hood, look over the interior real good, and take it for a test drive. We may even delay the choice, giving ourselves plenty of time to gather the facts and think it over. In short, we consult our own preferences and assess whether it is a good match with our criteria. A crude analogy, to be sure, but shouldn't we really take at least as much care with our relationships?
Making partnerships work is a challenge. For more about how I approach this with couples, see my website http://www.markchidley.com. You can also find me on Facebook: Mark A. Chidley, Couples Counseling