Why We Suck At Picking Partners

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.00.01 AM

We suck at picking partners. We’re more likely to end in divorce court than to live happily ever after. It’s not that we’re looking for perfection – I’m not intending to insult our collective intelligence. We understand that we won’t be happy every moment of every day for the rest of our lives. We get that some of our partner’s habits will likely become bothersome over time.

We marry for all the wrong reasons. Our society doesn’t teach us how to succeed in relationships. Most of us have the same level of self-awareness at 13 that we’ll have at age 50. We have some profoundly outdated ideas about things we should and shouldn’t ask our partners before getting married. We pick our partners based entirely on emotions and almost always in the absence of empirical data. We rely on how we feel to determine when it’s right, but what we don’t realize is that what feels right is almost always a sense of familiarity which is rooted in our family history – something that most of us can at least consciously agree we wouldn’t want a repeat performance of.

This post is less about why we suck at picking partners and more about what to do to before you commit. Don’t want to become a statistic? Follow my guidelines below. Warning: Today’s tips are not romantic, nor are they for the fainthearted.

  1. Do your own work. What does this mean? It means get into real therapy with a very gifted therapist and if you can’t find the suggested therapist, dive into personal development as though your life, or in this instance, your marriage, depends on it, because it absolutely does. And stay there until you, A) know all your worst attributes, B) know all your ISSUES and TRIGGERS around shame, jealousy, anger, abandonment, insecurity, authority, money, control, infidelity, and boredom, C) you’ve worked through this mountain of personal baggage. This won’t take months. It will take years. If you’re very diligent, maybe you can do the bulk of it in two, but that’s super optimistic and it presumes a level of self-motivation that the vast majority of us lack.

Does this mean that when you’re done you’ll be issue-free? No. It means that on a scale of 0-10, 10 being bat shit crazy and 0 being completely neutral, generally speaking none of your ISSUES or TRIGGERS can jack you up beyond a 3 or a 4, and on the rare occasion that you do reach above a 4, you have tried-and-true coping mechanisms to self-sooth, ie, you do not rely on your partner to fix the way you feel – you know how to do it yourself.

This is perhaps the hardest work we’ll ever do in life and hands down the most important. Having this skill set divides emotionally intelligent adults from emotional amoebas. And because most of us are too lazy to do this work, our divorce rate hovers at just over 50% for first marriages, 60% for second marriages and 73% for third marriages, according to the US Government, CDC, linked to here.

  1. Wait. Don’t commit too soon. Most of us do it while we’re still in the honeymoon phase of our relationships – when our brains are still so soaked with mind-altering chemicals which we secrete when we fall in love that, under these circumstances, we shouldn’t select a paint color for a room let alone a partner for life. I advise couples to wait a minimum of a year before committing and only if within that year each partner has been the caregiver for the other during a stomach virus.
  1. Visit your partner’s shrink. They don’t have one, you say? Never had one? Run for the hills. This is a hard pill for a lot of you to swallow, but I daresay we are no better able to figure ourselves out than we are able to drill our own cavities. Your partner is no emotional genius. No one is. We need someone in our life to hold a mirror up to us and tell us the things that no one else will. That’s the job of a shrink.

Upon visiting said shrink, ask him/her what your partner’s triggers are – unresolved issues are – and ask the shrink what type of personality their patient would be most compatible with. That this sounds crazy is in and of itself fucking crazy. Marrying is among the most significant commitments you’ll make in your life, and yet we blanch at the thought of asking to speak with the only person remotely qualified to provide us with this necessary data? Would you rather be polite and divorced by year 7?

  1. Exchange credit reports. Exchange tax returns for the past 5-years. Disclose all of your finances. You should know every debt, asset and dollar that your partner has and vice versa. Discuss how financial responsibilities will be divided. Discuss financial goals. Be specific.
  1. Discuss and determine how household responsibilities will get completed. Who will cook? Who will clean? Who will run errands? Are you willing to live with your partner’s housekeeping habits as they stand today? Newsflash: those habits are as likely to change as your partner’s political views.
  1. Plan to breed? Make sure you’re on the same page with this issue. Discuss your respective parenting philosophies. How will you handle misbehavior? What are your expectations about grades and performance? Who will shoulder the majority of care giving responsibilities? How will you learn how to parent (we’re actually not born parents – it’s a skill set that we’re taught…or not taught)?

Choosing a partner is a subjective and emotionally driven decision. I understand that this is unlikely to change anytime soon. However, I submit that upon making that selection, emotionally intelligent adults examine partners through a lens of long-term compatibility standards. Our society needs to develop some way in which the masses can measure and rely upon results that confirm the sustainability of their relationships. Colleagues, this is a call to action – a need for specialization: a goldmine yet to be tapped.