dating

"The very simple relationship advice I wish I knew years ago."

A few years ago, I dated a young pilot. Oh man, he was like sunshine in my life from the second I met him.

He paid me the right amount of attention, he handled himself well when we disagreed, we were on the same page in terms of affection/sexy stuff, and had a similar vision for a future together.

That is, until he decided to move interstate – and wanted me to come with him.

Having a small son who needed to be near his dad, it wasn’t something I was prepared to do. But that’s the kind of sacrifice you make as a mum – no matter how much it sucks.

Do I think of that glorious dude as ‘the one who got away’? Absolutely. Years later, I also regret it a little, because I now know that when you find someone who ticks your boxes, you try to work around logistics – because it is so rare.

But the thing is, you have to realise they are ticking your boxes in the first place, which means, you’ve gotta know what your boxes are.

I always thought that included stuff like does he make you laugh? Will he watch The Bachelor with you – do you have common interests?

But I’ve discovered it’s much simpler – and easier – than that. You only need four boxes to be ticked to work out if this person is the one for you.

I worked that out the hard way – but don’t just take my word for it; website RealSimple.com spoke to Dr Elizabeth Schoenfeld, director of research and evaluation at LifeWorks, and Marina Williams, author of Couples Counseling: A Step by Step Guide for Therapists, and they said the same thing.

Here are the four basic boxes:

1. They pay attention to you.

I don’t mean over-kill, weirdo/obsessive behaviour. I mean, the kind of attention your friends pay; they know that you like your coffee extra hot. They know you love Jonah Hill, that there’s a bitch at work called Susan who has it in for you, and that you hate nude lipstick because it washes you out.

They know this stuff because they listen to you, and notice your needs.

Schoenfeld says: “Having a partner who notices what you need or want in a given moment and responds accordingly bodes well for the long-term potential of your relationship.”

But it’s not good enough that they know this stuff – they have to act on it, too. For example, my husband knew that I hate really cold drinks, so he would pour me a soft drink into a a glass that came straight from the dishwasher. That was in the early days.

By the time we separated, he hadn’t poured me a drink, or made me a coffee, in more than a year.

2. They’re affectionate with you.

Yes, mismatching libidos can cause real issues in a relationship, but if you’re not touching each other at all, that’s a death knell, and a sign that trouble is a-comin’.

Because hugging, kissing, or cuddling, is an act of affection – a basic human need – and if they’re not touching you enough, or at all… well, as Whoopi Goldberg said in Ghost:

via GIPHY

Schoenfeld says:

“Generally speaking, couples who are more physically affectionate with one another tend to be more satisfied with their partners and their relationships – which makes sense, as individuals tend to feel more cared for and understood when their partners show physical affection.”

This is what happened to me and my husband after the baby was born… we had separate bedrooms like many people with a newborn do, but there was absolutely no affection in between (to be fair, he had to be home for that to happen, and he never was).

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By the time we separated, our son was two and a half… so… you do the maths on that one.

3. They fight fair.

Not being able to fight fair was the biggest downfall in my marriage, because you can’t take back angry words. They stay in the other person’s mind, and chip away at their soul.

I remember in the last terrible months, I would often put my hands over my ears because I knew that if I heard one more mean word, there was no coming back.

Disagreement is a natural part of relationships, Schoenfeld says, but it’s how it’s handled that’s crucial.

“If they listen to what you’re saying, respect where you’re coming from, and respond to your disclosures by sharing their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences (without making the conversation all about them), then intimacy is more likely to flourish.”

Communication can either help you grow, or it can destroy you, depending on whether it’s constructive, or unhelpful – and it’s something that you need to think about from the moment of your first disagreement.

4. You share the same hopes and dreams.

Ah, hopes and dreams sounds so non-pragmatic – but everyone has them, and it makes a relationship harder if you don’t agree on a vision for the future together. To share a future, you need the same values and goals.

Values and goals are different to interests, says Williams.

“Differences can be great for balancing out a couple and making things more interesting socially. Where I think it’s important to be similar is in your values and goals for the future.”

Schoenfeld agrees: “Prioritise similarities that have long-term implications, such as a shared desire (or lack of desire) for marriage or children.”

For example, not only did my beautiful pilot want to move interstate when I didn’t – he also lived on a very, very strict financial budget.

It was so sensible, he is probably retired at age 35 by now, but it just wasn’t how I wanted to live – or could live – raising a child. If we’d stayed together, money would have become an issue.

So, in some ways, he was the one that got away – whilst also being a ‘dodged a bullet’ scenario. And that’s why I don’t regret the end of that relationship more than I should.

Ultimately, he didn’t tick box number four.

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