Probably the most important decision you will ever make in your lifetime is who to choose as a loving mate. How much you will feel loved and are able to love, how well your children will be raised, how much meaning you find in life and how happy you are well into your later years is pretty much dependent on who you pick to marry and how emotionally close you can be with your life mate. If these aren’t good enough reasons for picking carefully I don’t know what would be. Aside from the serious reasons for making a good choice there are also joy of life factors that make a good marriage into something really special. When you’re married to the right person almost all of the time there will be a bounce in your step, lots of silly laughter and affection no matter how gloomy the storms of life are and you will hardly ever feel alone through the worst of times. Even better when you have a truly emotionally intimate relationship with a spouse you will be challenged throughout life to be better version of yourself and to be told many things about yourself you initially resisted hearing. A good marriage can be the joyful roller coaster ride of a lifetime.
It’s necessary to know that finding a special mate is not just about having good luck, although part of it is. Sometimes partners pick us and we think we are the ones making the choice. Most of us bring about good luck by making wise conscious choices in our life. We can bring about our own good luck. However there are special reasons why we men are notoriously bad in finding a mate. Mostly we’re unaware of what we’re doing. So let’s become more aware.
Why do we men make unwise choices in finding a partner
Too many of us men may want a permanent partner but are emotionally unprepared for a mature relationship and what it takes to maintain a lasting connection with a spouse. We tend to rely on our financial status and good looks alone to think we’re ready for a committed relationship. Women often joke among themselves about how we don’t know what we’re doing and how they will have us believe that we know what we are doing in making the choices they want us to make. It’s all about how we men aren’t smart enough to know what we are doing, which is often the case. Men over rate their abilities to pick wisely in partnering, partly because males in general are socialized to have an exaggerated idea of themselves and what they are capable of. The reality is that we men can learn to make wise choices in relationships but we need extra mentoring to carry that out. Ideally we would get that mentoring from our own dads who are strongly committed to their own partners. Too often dads are just as amiss as their sons and misguidedly leave their sons to sow their own wild oats.
Don’t look for someone to complete you. Be a whole person who has their own identity before you blend your life with another. Learn how to complete yourself first.Clearly how males are raised to be men is what causes us men to make bad choices in relationships. Often we are doing the best we can on how to mate. We are not aware of our own unconscious training to pick a partner and we just roll the dice in how we decide. Men choose a partner for a variety of reasons: to have fulfilling sex, to raise a family, to be emotionally close in a committed relationship or for ulterior and often unconscious reasons (wanting a trophy wife, getting ahead in business, hoping to be taken care of by a partner, needing a nanny for the kids, or picking a spouse to please a parent and have social standing). Most of the time we men don’t know why we are wanting to marry and misguidedly think that being in love is just enough of a reason. Surely we men need to learn that feeling love for another person is not the same as actually being behaviorally committed to another person’s happiness and our own well-being. It’s the difference between romance and the real stuff.
In summary, men make bad relationship decisions because of poor relationship training that unconsciously misleads them, because they lack the emotional maturity to be in a long-term committed relationship and because of how reckless impulsiveness is trained into men’s lives. Men are incredibly more successful in their work lives, physical prowess, risk-taking and financial success then they are in their emotional intelligence and love life.
Alas all is not lost. There is a saving grace to such short-comings. Men are fully capable of being smart and forgiving when it comes to their own troubles and know how to fix what is broken. Margaret Meade, a famous anthropologist said this best. After her international cross-cultural studies of what makes relationships work she was asked provocatively why she had been married three times. She said the first marriage was for sex, the second marriage was for child-rearing and the third was for emotional intimacy. While I don’t recommend this approach to relationships certainly many of us learn how to be in a loving long-term relationship through a trial and error approach to love. Many of us learn to love wisely if we can see our mistakes and learn from them.
Practical tips on choosing a life mate
Consider the following guidelines in seeking a life partner:
- Work on yourself before looking for long-term love. Don’t look for someone to complete you. Be a whole person who has their own identity before you blend your life with another. Learn how to complete yourself first. Make some good emotionally close friends with other men and some kind women before you seek love in your own life. Learn how to first care of yourself: do your own laundry, housekeeping and cooking. Maintain your physical health with regular exercise and current health check-ups. Develop personal hobbies and interests. Clearly keep and maintain gainful employment and have some goals in life. Develop a warm sense of humor and show abundant compassion for others. Doing regular volunteer work can assist you in this area. Overall be the type of person that women (men) would like to fall in love with. Be aware that the single best attractor of women is your having good character. Just having money, good looks and a great car only go so far. Be the bigger person that others would want to love. Working on yourself as you seek love will not only attract possible life partners but it will make you more confident in yourself and less desperate in relationships
- Open yourself up to uncharted waters. You will have to go outside your comfort zone if you wish to find a special person in your life. So take some big but relatively safe risks—expose yourself to challenging social situations outside your usual haunts, allow yourself to feel self-conscious (It won’t kill you!) and learn to enjoy your courage. Attend a church supper, do some community volunteer work, and join a singles group. Tell your friends you want to meet a life partner and ask them to introduce you to someone they feel may be a good match for you. Obviously you can always try on-line dating (as long as you’re willing to be wise and turn away people who are not good matches for you). Perhaps none of these ideas will help you find a life mate. But at least you will have a lot of fun in looking and socializing and you may inadvertently hit the jackpot! Remember what John Lennon said about love and life. He said “Life happens when we are making other plans.”
- Be careful of repetition compulsions and initial infatuation. Sigmund Freud once said that we are unconsciously and repeatedly drawn to choose partners who are not good for us in a misguided effort to correct childhood conflicts. The familiarity of choosing old dysfunctional patterns can be exhilarating for us as we hope to have a different outcome this time than we did in our earlier relationships. In relationships we are like moths drawn to a flame. We just can’t help picking the wrong partner! Most of our initial infatuation is about finally finding the right person only to find out later that we are mistaken. It’s best to be skeptical of our initial infatuation and wait and see over the long term (one year) if the person we are courting really is making a positive difference in our life as we do so in their life. Patient, sober-minded and realistic courtship over at least a period of time (one year) where we show our true selves to another person and vice-versa is the best love strategy. It makes no sense to get excited until we know the circus really is coming to town! This is where you use your head more than your heart.
- Make sure you can have positive conflict with a partner where difficulties can be addressed and settled fairly quickly. How you handle disagreements is the best predictor of relationship satisfaction and longevity. Learn how to fight fair where both of you have valid points of view. You can read about this in Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…and How You Can Make Yours Last by John Gottman, Ph.D. (Fireside Books, 1994). If you avoid conflict, are controlling, play the blame game, often lose your temper, hold grudges, avoid taking responsibility for your part in disagreements and over blame yourself for relational strife you may not be ready for a long-term relationship. It would be wisest to first work on yourself to learn assertiveness from a helper before launching into a long-term love relationship. It is possible to learn constructive conflict.
- Always pay attention to the “Uh-Oh” Button. That’s when your prospective partner says or does something that alarms you. Don’t talk yourself out of your reaction, don’t lose your cool over it, and do calmly explore what your partner is doing by what he or she is saying or doing. Pay attention to your inklings with a partner as a hidden part of your lover may be revealed in this way. Trust your gut! You may have misunderstood or misinterpreted what was said but at least calmly explore what your partner is trying to tell you. At least then you know what you are getting into. Forewarned is forearmed. Sometimes people tell you their deepest secrets without noticing they are. If you are with a loving person he or she will not chastise you for your caution. None of us is perfect but some imperfections may be too much for us to handle. Perhaps you may decide to tolerate a serious relationship difficulty out of a greater love for you partner. In general it’s best to know what you are getting into from the outset.
- Make sure that the person you intend to mate with for life does actually love you as a person. Realize that any of us can be loved superficially, based on how much money we have, how sexy we look, what our social standing is, how much we can assist a partner in his or her career, what kind of family we come from, how cute our kids are, etc. These are all not good reasons to marry someone since the benefits are short-lived and not very deep. You don’t want to be a love object to another person, a way to be used but not deeply loved. Clearly none of these reasons should decide why you love someone either. Most of us need to be loved for who we are, not for what we offer another person. Men are particularly dense when it comes to knowing if they are truly loved. Ask yourself if your lover would take care of you if you were sick, support you briefly if you were without a job, didn’t have much money, could accept you as you age and would choose you if another handsome man came by. You want to know that you are irreplaceable with your life partner and that you being loved for who you are not what you do. Obviously you want to offer the same to your partner as well. If you’re unsure of why you are chosen by your partner it’s best to take the time to find out. Don’t just take a mate because she is a sweet young thing. Go for the real stuff. And be the real thing for a life mate.
What if you’ve already picked a less desirable partner?
Perhaps you’re already into a long term relationship with a partner and after reading this article you say to yourself, ”Uh-Oh. Maybe I made a mistake in who I chose as a life mate.” This realization is especially bad if you have children together. Don’t despair right off the bat. Most marriages have times where we question ourselves and ask if we’ve made the wrong choice. Most of the time our lovers once again show us a good side to themselves and we forget our doubts and realize we too can be a piece of work to live with. Most of the time we have trouble with our mates and the trouble goes away. If the trouble recurs and gets worse then there may be real problems in your marriage. Even then don’t despair and don’t blame yourself. Most martial problems are not either person’s fault and they can be repaired and treated with a reputable and competent marital counselor. All marriage counseling does not have to lead to divorce and mayhem. In my experience most of the couples who see me can actually enjoy the experience, do learn about the hidden factors that are diminishing their love for one another and eventually have a warmer and surprisingly stronger loving and more skilled connection to each other. They often say, “Gee I wish we had done this years ago.”
To find such services I can recommend the Hamm Clinic in St. Paul (Phone: 651-224-0614) which has highly trained and well-supervised couple services based on a sliding fee. It is a real gift to all of us when a couple starts out at the doors of hell and then arrives at the gates of heaven in a connection the never realized they could have. Nothing is more sacred than the love between a man and his life partner.
John H. Driggs, L.I.C.S.W., is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men (Penguin Books, 1990).
Last Updated on May 11, 2023