Why It’s Smart to Focus On Your Partner’s Negative Traits

05 Jan

When searching for a romantic partner, it's natural to look at their positive traits, however, research suggests that looking at our partners’ faults is smart and productive.

We all get a lot of advice about what traits to look for in a partner. Are they sincere? Kind? Charitable? Will they support you, make you laugh? But far less often is the conversation reframed to consider what negative traits we’d be willing to put up with—for the right person. 

It can be a tough ask, but it’s all about projecting into the future: Can I see myself accommodating this for the next year? The next five years? It’s worth remembering that even the best things in life—holidays, parenting, spending time with friends and family, falling in love—come with their own inherent costs and challenges. In that vein, then, perhaps we should focus a little less on what we want out of life, and more on what we believe to be worthwhile to struggle for. That paradigm shift can feel revolutionary—and yet when it comes to maintaining a long-term romantic relationship, it’s sage advice for sure.

It’s only natural to hone in on potential partners’ good qualities, but considering the drawbacks of their character is also a smart and productive way of weighing up your romantic options. Every one of us has amazing people in our life who have annoying traits—and oftentimes they themselves would be the first to admit it! And of course, the more time you spend in someone’s company, the more intensely you experience the full spectrum of their lifestyle and personality. Maybe they’re fun, but also unreliable. Perhaps they shut down emotionally when they’re sad or angry. It might even just be that they leave their laundry on the floor next to the basket—and have done pretty much every day for as long as you can remember.

Some annoyances are small, but some wear you down over time. It depends on your own disposition—and remember, your partner will feel exactly the same about you. Maybe you’re somewhat prone to flour-bombing the kitchen for your Sunday baking sessions, and it’s a constant source of frustration for your partner. But perhaps they think the mess is all part of the fun—it’s no big deal. And when it comes to more serious matters, such as your own emotional shutdowns, maybe your partner can deal with them only in small doses before they feel distress. But perhaps they’re equipped to work through their own feelings while you take time out to reassess your own, and won’t get so easily worried at the radio silence. It’s all about compromise; it’s about both of you, in your own time, evaluating whether the relationship is good enough to accept these sorts of sacrifice.

There are many benefits to overlooking your partner’s imperfections for the greater good of your mutual happiness over the course of your lives—but remember, there are some things you shouldn’t ignore. If your partner is critical, puts you down, humiliates you, monitors your whereabouts, or controls your relationships and activities, you might be in an abusive relationship. These aren’t pains to endure, but rather signs that you need to get help—and get out.

Psychologist John Gottman, who specialises in marital stability and divorce avoidance, estimates in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that 70% of all marital conflicts are unsolvable, because fundamentally they stem from differences in lifestyle, opinion, or personality, and are therefore unlikely to change, at least not for the foreseeable. He argues, then, that spending too much time attempting to ‘fix’ these things about our partner is an unwise investment of time.

So what’s the alternative? Well first, of course, we try to find a partner whose negative traits just won’t bother us to excess over the long term. Everyone has annoying habits, and sometimes we must simply learn to live with them—that’s part and parcel of being in a committed relationship. But when those foibles turn into unbearable facets of your partner’s personality—when they leave you on edge, anxious, exhausted—things need to change. Perhaps the relationship is still wonderful overall, and you know it’s worth fighting for—in which case, then, some positive dialogue needs to be initiated, so together you can work through your differences, leaving you both with the energy to simply let go of the smaller annoyances which, in the grand scheme of things, just don’t matter all that much. And if you feel you need some more objective advice, we can help.

The Vida Consultancy is a boutique, multi-award-winning international dating agency. We’re world-renowned for bringing together highly compatible singles, and our estimable matchmakers are relationship experts in their own right. So whether your partner’s annoyances are getting you down, you’re starting to question if the relationship is even worth it, or you’re single and looking to meet someone truly amazing, get in touch today.

by Rachel Vida MacLynn

Founder & CEO

Rachel Vida MacLynn is reputed as being a world-leading matchmaking and dating expert. Registered as a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, Rachel advocates a professional matchmaking approach based on psychological principles and professional consultation.More by this author

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