How to find out what you want in a relationship

How to find out what you want in a relationship

Relationships are perhaps our most valuable asset in life. And while we have many different types of relationships, choosing the person you want to commit yourself to romantically may be the most important decision you ever make.

While I’ve always said that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself, your relationship with your significant other is not far behind.

The person you commit to will have a daily impact on your motivation, your mood, and your path in life — for better, or for worse — so you really need to know who and what you want and need that person and your relationship with them to be.

What do I want in a relationship?

A lot of people seem to get caught up in the idea that having a relationship — any relationship — will automatically bring them happiness or fulfillment. Because of this, they simply pursue the first person who shows them interest in return.

Well, the reason “why not” is that this person could literally make or break you.

It’s important to be with someone who brings value to your life, just as you should bring value to theirs. But some of us become overly dependent on our relationships because we don’t think we can function in life without another person by our side.

Unfortunately, dependency and infatuation can easily be mistaken for love.

If you don’t trust someone and/or feel held back by them more than you feel encouraged by them, it’s time to be honest with yourself and do something about it.

Remember that just because someone desires you, that does not mean that they value you.

So, then, is there a way to figure out what you want in a relationship?

You can read all the relationship advice you can get your hands on, but here’s how to figure out what you really need and want in a relationship:

1. You clearly define your core values.

The most important thing you can possibly do, in all areas of your life, is to have a clear understanding of your core value system.

What is important to you? What are your non-negotiables? What would you do for work if you didn’t have to worry about being paid for it?

These are important questions to ask yourself when illustrating the image of what you’d like your life to look like.

Next, ask what are you willing to compromise on. Are you okay with living in the country if the commute to the city isn’t so bad? Do you want three kids, but you’d be happy with two?

Taking time to really think about and consider these things is an important part of knowing what kind of person will best suit you for the long haul.

2. You live your single life exactly the way you want to.

Speaking of defining how you want to live your life, how are you living your life?

When you are single, it is imperative to take charge of your time here on earth and fill it with meaningful, exciting experiences. Do not allow other people to hold you back from doing the things you want to do. Getting out into the world and absorbing it with passion will help you define what it is that you enjoy, and don’t enjoy, doing.

Then, and only then, will you be able to form an image of the type of person you’d like to be with (if anyone at all).

If you find that you want to be out on the town every single night, shaking hands and kissing babies at events and you find yourself bored to death on the couch, then this is imperative to recognize, because if the person you’re with is the opposite, it absolutely will not work in the long run.

3. You learn to truly understand and value your own worth.

There are few things more important in life than embracing your own self-worth and understanding the value that you bring to the world and the people around you.

It’s not about cheesy acts like hugging the mirror every morning. It’s about accepting the truth that it is better to stay single than it is to be with someone who makes you feel alone. Nothing is more aggravating than meeting an amazing, genuine man or woman, and hearing how unappreciated they feel by their significant other.

If you don’t understand what it is that you deserve in your life, then how will you ever weed out the people who can’t give it to you? It’s the same concept as purchasing an expensive car or piece of jewelry — there is only so much negotiating that can happen before the seller realizes the buyer simply cannot afford the item.

Why? Because the item has an intrinsic understood value, and should only be possessed by someone who has worked to “afford” it. The same goes for your heart.

4. You observe couples you admire.

A lot of people ask me where I get my insight on relationships. They call it insight, but I just write down my opinions and hope people read them.

I grew up observing how my parents acted with each other (and still act with each other) and learned what it really meant to support each other and be a team. I have also observed plenty of couples who I wouldn’t exactly want to emulate, and I think it’s important to see both types of dynamics in action.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

I recently left a relationship that I was not happy in. Although my ex was definitely an unconditional lover, it painfully bothered me that the man I loved was not taking care of his responsibilities.

Since I’ve entered my twenties, I’ve been looking for more than just a good time; I need a stable partner who will be able to meet our shared expenses and obligations in the future. So, I was faced with the crucial, inevitable decision of calling it quits.

I cried the first few nights, but every night after was a learning experience. I realized that no matter how much he loved me, I needed more from the relationship than he could give.

While I was still in it, he kept telling me that I made the entire relationship about me, saying, “You are only worried about your happiness. What about mine?”

Although he was right about his happiness being important, I realized something: my happiness is just as important, and I cannot—and should not have to—sacrifice mine for his.

Half of a couple can’t be happy while the other half is miserable. If neither is happy, then the relationship is already over.

A few weeks after the big break, I began asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship. Who am I? What do I need?

I wrote down a list of my nice-to-haves and my non-negotiables. This allowed me to see my past relationship for what it was: not what I really wanted. And thus, I experienced little pain and was able to move on gracefully.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt incredibly terrible for breaking his heart. I have always been the one to break things off, but I wasn’t so sure if I ever broke a guy’s heart until the day I broke his.

But I had to learn to forgive myself because I knew the relationship wouldn’t last. And it was better to break his heart now than to stay in it for far too long and inescapably break it later.

He eventually told me I was his only source of happiness, but just as you shouldn’t sacrifice your own happiness, you shouldn’t be responsible for another’s happiness either.

Happiness should come from within. If you have it before you enter the relationship, once ties are severed and the mourning phase is over, you will surely have it again.

The greatest lesson I learned is that you have to know what you want before the relationship starts.

When people say, “I don’t know what I want, but when I see it, I’ll know,” they are usually the ones who stick around in a relationship longer than necessary because they weren’t sure of what they wanted from the beginning. This causes unnecessary trial and error and a lot more pain.

It doesn’t take long to ask yourself what it is you desire and write it down. You may not know for certain right away, but you should at least have a rough idea. Getting to know yourself better can help with this.

Dating can also help refine your list, but making a serious commitment before really understanding your requirements in a relationship can be detrimental.

Typically when we go into a relationship without truly understanding our requirements, we end up trying to change our partner, which never ends well.

A loving relationship is meant to be the reward of knowing what you wanted and receiving it. Getting into a relationship in order to figure out what you want is backwards.

Ask yourself what it is you appreciate in a partner. What will cause you to write off a potential partner (perhaps not having the same goals and dreams)? This is important because if we don’t determine what we will and will not accept, we end up accepting anything.

But even more importantly, don’t forget about yourself. Get to know your own personal likes and dislikes. This is the one time where everything can be about what you want.

When we’re in a relationship, we’re always so busy trying to learn about another person’s wants, needs, goals, and aspirations that we oftentimes forget about our own.

During this time you don’t have to ask anyone for affirmation. All of your decisions are your own. No one can tell you who to be.

And while in a relationship, you still have to remember that you complete yourself. The man or woman you’re with does not define who you are, and you do not need him or her to be complete. Your self-esteem should not begin or end with how that person feels about you.

Be willing to give the person you love the shirt off your back, but your self-worth? Never give them that.

You have to honestly know that you will be happy with or without them. This little piece of knowledge makes it easier for you to leave a relationship that causes you anguish, and find one that better serves you.

That’s not to say that relationships are perfect and no one will ever hurt you; that’s certainly not the case. Every person will come with his or her own flaws, and every relationship will require a little work. You just have to know what you’re willing to work through and what you’re not.

Some words of advice my wise mother once gave me: you are the prize. How big of a prize is defined by how much you love and respect yourself. You determine how much you are worth. Nobody else.

Sometimes love can turn into a battle that we want to win but can’t. Many relationships aren’t meant to be. That doesn’t make it your fault, and it doesn’t make it the other person’s fault; it just makes it life.

Whatever the case, you should never sacrifice your dignity at the expense of a futile relationship.

As for me, I couldn’t wait for him to be who I needed him to be. And I couldn’t change him either. I had to do what was best for me and for him as well.

If it were meant to be, it would’ve been right from the beginning.

I just have to go out into the world and find someone who better suits me. In the meantime, I am discovering a lot about myself, things I would’ve probably never known otherwise.

You must never get so caught up in your other half’s happiness that you forget about your own, and what matters most to you.

By the time I get into my next relationship, I will have better clarity of what I want and what I need.

But for right now, I am the love of my life. I am hoping that eventually I can share my love and happiness with another being, and he can share his with me.

Romance does not only consist of loving another, but also finding it easy to love oneself in the process. And I have to remind myself to never lose sight of that self-love.

About Ariel Hairston

Ariel Hairston is a college student at Valdosta State University in Georgia and aspires to become a professional writer. She enjoys exercise, yoga, and putting smiles on people’s faces. Follow her @uhhangel on twitter and add her on Facebook.

One of the biggest signs you don’t know what you want in a relationship comes from the way you view your dynamic as a whole. Are you and your partner both moving toward a future — however murky — that you have identified? Or is this a relationship where you are simply passing the time together? There’s nothing wrong with being in a relationship that works just for now. However, long-term resentment is easily born when you haven’t taken steps to figure out what it is you like about this person, and why it is worth keeping them in your life.

You owe it to yourself and to your partner to be intentional about your decisions. It’s not worth staying in a relationship just for comfort’s sake or because you are afraid of being single. If you don’t know what you want in your relationship, then it might be because you don’t want a relationship at all right now or that your partner cannot give you what would actually make you happy.

If any of these signs resonate with you, then you probably don’t know what you want in your relationship and you need to figure it out:

1. You Focus On Your Dissatisfaction

When you don’t know what you want in your relationship, you focus on what you’re not getting. Your hope is that your partner will just intuitively know what would make you happy. When they fall through, though, you feel anger or disappointment because it wasn’t what you wanted. But did you ever articulate to the person you are seeing what it is, exactly, you do want?

You might see everything that is wrong in your relationship, but not be able to offer suggestions for how to improve it. Because you are so focused on what isn’t working, you fail to see the potential pots of gold that might actually lead you to what you want. This is because you probably don’t know what you want in the first place.

Taking some time away from the relationship to get your dreams in order isn’t a bad idea. Neither is writing out exactly what your dream relationship looks like. Once you know what you are looking for in a partner, then either you and your current boo or a new one can begin to manifest that vision.

2. You Don’t See How Things Could Work Out

When you don’t know what you want out of a relationship, you might settle for something that works in the short term but doesn’t have much potential for growth. A relationship with someone in an open marriage, for example, might not be completely fulfilling to you but provides you with enough care, attention, and sex to get by. To use a less extreme example, you might stay in a relationship with someone who is deeply noncommittal, not because you’re happy in it, but because you can’t envision what commitment would even look like.

If you think about it, you probably do know what you want out of your ideal relationship (and that might include just being in a relationship with yourself). The point is that you don’t know what you want out of this relationship because what it is offering you probably doesn’t align with your deepest dreams and desires. And while sex and some semblance of intimacy are undeniably amazing, you have to ask yourself how long you want to keep putting off seizing what you truly want. And you won’t be able to seize what you want until you take the time to really figure out what that is exactly.

3. You Have A Hard Time Planning What To Do Together

When you don’t know what you want out of a relationship, you probably don’t know how to spend time with your partner, either. The two of you might have fallen into a routine (movie, sex, sleep). Drinking might also play a central role — or too much of a role — in your relationship. It’s easy to cover up ambiguities with alcohol.

You probably feel bored in your routine, but you don’t know how to break out of it. If your relationship is primarily built around sex, then you might have a hard time envisioning hanging out with your partner outside of the bedroom. You feel added pressure, because it seems like other couples you know enjoy planning dates and engaging in a diverse range of activities together. When you don’t know what you want, then you don’t know what to do either.

4. You Take What You Can Get

Probably the most harmful thing about being in a relationship where you don’t know what you want is that it makes you passive. You don’t feel fulfilled in the relationship and are not able to articulate what would make it better. Because you don’t know, you find yourself going along with whatever your partner wants to do.

In addition to being dissatisfied, taking what you can get in a relationship is harmful because it creates imbalance in the power dynamic. Your partner probably doesn’t want to always be in the driver’s seat of the relationship. They likely feel uncomfortable continually setting the terms of what is happening. A lack of agency is bound to create resentment, and you might feel prone to placing that resentment upon your partner, when you also have played a role in establishing the unequal dynamic in the first place.

Staying in a relationship for the sake of staying in a relationship is never going to be a healthy solution. If you care about yourself and your partner, then now might be the time to transition into a period where you are seeking out what you want out of love, and then going for it.

Check out the “Best of Elite Daily” stream in the Bustle App for more stories just like this!

Just because the whole world seems to obsess about romance during one day in the middle of February, doesn’t mean you have to. For happy singles, it’s a good excuse to eat chocolate.

But if Valentine’s Day has you thinking about finding love, the holiday could be a good motivation to start.

Our experts offered these 12 tips to boost your chances:

1. The ‘You’ll find love when you’re not looking’ approach may be wrong.

That’s like saying, “You’ll find a job when you’re least looking for it,” said Pepper Schwartz, a relationship expert and sociology professor at the University of Washington. It’s possible, but rarely happens.

“For the most part, people who wait for a job are unemployed,” she added. “For me, it’s just an excuse for being scared to go and put the effort in. Yes, it happens, but no, it’s not a good strategy.”

Schwartz does agree with the underlying sentiment of that saying: Don’t be desperate. Put the effort in to find someone, but don’t act like any breathing body will do.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

As they reveal how they met, these couples will renew your faith in love

2. Go where people like the same things you like.

You can skip singles events if you don’t like them, but you have to go where you can meet people, Schwartz advised. Join social groups or meet-ups; be a worker bee in a cause you believe in; get involved in political parties. At the very least, you’re doing something you like and at the very best, you’ll meet somebody like-minded.

Bite the bullet and try online dating for a big pool of potential candidates, Schwartz added. If you’re already online, try a different dating site.

3. Look up from your phone.

Good men and good women are everywhere — if you’re looking, noted Bela Gandhi, a TODAY contributor and founder of the Smart Dating Academy in Chicago. She’s amazed people often complain they don’t meet anyone, but then go out and keep their heads down the entire time, staring at their devices.

Wherever you are, be present and look around the room to see who is looking at you. Make three seconds of eye contact with the cute stranger and smile — that’s an invitation for him to come over and talk to you, she advised.

4. Don’t seek romance, seek partnership.

Romance is for dates, and it’s fun to have on occasion in your marriage, but it’s partnership that will get you through the rough times, said Tina B. Tessina, a California psychotherapist also known as “Dr. Romance” and author of “How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together.”

“Don’t look for someone who sweeps you off your feet. That indicates a control freak, and you won’t like what happens later,” she advised. “Look for someone who likes give-and-take, who seeks your opinion and considers it, who cares about what you want, too.”

5. Happy people attract people.

Maybe the biggest issue in not being able to find love is that you’re not feeling good about yourself. Like yourself and like your life — really work on that, Schwartz advised. You have to be the person that you’d want to meet.

“If you’re not a happy, positive, self-confident person, you cut your chances of being in the right space for the right kind of person,” she said.

Go to a therapist to see why you’re depressed; get a trainer if you haven’t been exercising, and visit a nutritionist to begin eating right. If you’re shy, realize you could be less shy.

“The idea is that you have to train for everything, and you have to train for love as well,” Schwartz said. “You can work on yourself. You’re not a finished product unless you’re dead.”

How to find out what you want in a relationship

Being single has plenty of positives. For starters, it gives you the space and opportunity to work on yourself in the way that you need. Additionally, it helps you to see what you don’t want out of a partner and likewise, what you do.

But it can also be tough to know when you’re ready to move on and be in a new relationship. We’ve rounded up 13 signs that you’re likely emotionally ready to be in a relationship.

You've met someone great and didn't push them away.

Meeting someone new with good intentions can make you think that they are “too good to be true,” but going forward with dating them can be a good thing. Relationship expert and matchmaker Eileen Fisher told INSIDER that if you choose to still see where things go – even if it’s someone you never thought could be “the one,” you’re likely ready for a relationship.

“The most common yet shocking way is that you allow someone in your life as your partner that you never thought you would meet,” she said. “Like someone you talk to at work or someone you meet at the gym. Really, just someone in your mind you never thought could be the one and you open your eye to them.”

You've stopped questioning things.

If you’ve ever been hurt in a relationship, chances are you’ve started to question and compare those that you’re dating. Though that’s not a good thing to do in any instance, Fisher said that once you’ve let go of the need to do that, you’re moving more toward settling down.

“If you realize you’ve had enough with the comparing each person to another, you could be ready,” she said. “You’ve also stopped asking your friends’ opinion on each of those you decide to start dating.”

Your rigorous checklist no longer exists.

Regardless if you’re 18 or 28, almost everyone has had some sort of checklist when it comes to their ideal partner. The moment you realize that those checklists won’t give you the perfect person, however, you’ve opened yourself up to a relationship.

“Ahh, the “checklist,” Fisher began. “When you start to realize that no one, and I mean no one, is going to be exactly who you thought you were going to be with, that’s a sign. From their height and weight down to their job, you’ve stopped making assumptions on what they should be.”

You're happy with where you are in life.

True happiness can’t be defined by anyone that you currently have in or choose to let in your life. True happiness comes from yourself and according to Fisher when you’ve found that, you’re ready to be with someone else.

This may be the most obvious, yet people really need to look deep for this one,” she said. “You’re in a place where you feel good about who you are and where you’re going and are comfortable with saying “I am ready for my next chapter.” This is for all chapters in your life.”

You've learned how to compromise.

Compromising can be difficult if you’ve found yourself dating someone selfish, but Elena Murzello – dating and relationship expert and author of “The Love List: A guide to getting who you want” – said that it’s not impossible. Especially if it’s one of the things you’ve built your relationship on.

Being open to sharing your life with someone means that things are not always going to go your way,” she said. ” You have to learn how to meet someone halfway in order to move forward in the relationship. Maybe it’s taking turns doing an unpleasant task or maybe it’s your decision next time on where you go for dinner. Compromising means you value the other person’s thoughts and feelings enough to make the relationship work so you both win.”

Independence isn't foreign to you.

Whether you’ve been in a long-term relationship in the past or are interested in pursuing one, being with someone that is completely dependent on you can be unhealthy. If you’ve learned to be independent, however, and are interested in someone that is as well, a relationship is soon to follow.

“You are living your own life on your own terms,” Murzello said. “Joining someone in a relationship does not mean that they ‘complete you’, it means that you are willing to share your full life with them. You can learn from one another and inspire each other to be the best version, but you are complete on your own.”

You've sorted out your own issues.

Whether your insecurities came from relationships that have hurt you in the past or things that you haven’t dealt with from your younger days, once you’ve worked them out for yourself, Murzello said that you’re ready to be with someone wholeheartedly.

“You are at peace with other past relationships, dealt with any tension between family or friends, and you have worked on any addictions,” she told INSIDER. “This makes you ‘available’ for a relationship. The work you have done is with yourself and are not looking for the new relationship to act as a scapegoat to any issues you may have. Working on skeletons may be an ongoing effort, but the majority of the work (acknowledging there is a problem and taking corrective action to work on it) has already taken place.”

Starting a relationship is a big decision, so it’s a good idea first to know why you want it. Are you ready for the give-and-take of sharing, or are you simply feeling lonely? Are you emotionally ready now, or would you be better off waiting? There’s no need to rush; take the time to think it through.

This can help if:

  • you aren’t sure if you’re ready for a relationship
  • you aren’t clear on your reasons for wanting a relationship
  • you’re thinking about starting a relationship.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

Are you ready for a relationship?

Wanting to be with someone, to have someone to care for and share things with, is all part of developing as a person. But it’s okay to take your time and to wait until you genuinely feel you’re ready to be in a relationship.

Here are some ways to tell that you’re ready:

  • you’re comfortable with who you are
  • it’s something you want, not something you feel you should have
  • you’re willing to wait for the right person
  • you’re ready to give your time and attention to someone else
  • you aren’t being pressured into a relationship by others.

If you’re not sure that you’re ready for a relationship, take a breather and don’t rush into anything serious. And if you think you are ready, then wait for the right person to come along.

When a relationship isn’t what you need

There are plenty of reasons to get into a relationship. A lot of the time, they’re good reasons, such as when you want to build on a great connection you have with someone. However, sometimes you might seek a relationship in the hope it will fix other problems in your life, and that’s not going to be healthy for either you or your partner.

Some of the not-so-great reasons to enter a relationship include:

  • You’re lonely. Fact: you need to be able to feel happy on your own before you develop a relationship with someone else. If you’re not happy, you might overlook that your partner doesn’t have certain qualities that otherwise would be really important to you, or that they behave in ways you wouldn’t normally find acceptable.
  • You want something to make you feel better about yourself and your life. Fact: if you’re feeling upset about something, a new relationship won’t make these feelings go away.
  • You find the novelty of a new partnership exciting. Fact: the novelty will wear off. Getting into a relationship should be all about you and the other person, rather than just the idea of having a boyfriend or a girlfriend.

If any of these reasons sound like you, it might be worth having a rethink about whether you need a relationship right now. Try to remember the good things about yourself, the interests that you enjoy, and the good things in your life. It may also be helpful to talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, a family member or a youth worker.

Remember: the only person who can make the decision about whether you’re ready for a relationship is you, so take the time to get it right.

What can I do now?

  • Think about your reasons for wanting to be in a relationship. Write a list of the pros and cons.
  • Think about what qualities are important to you in a partner.
  • Read more about the benefits of being single.

Explore other topics

It’s not always easy to find the right place to start. Our ‘What’s on your mind?’ tool can help you explore what’s right for you.

Giving your relationship positive energy is a truly loving gesture.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

A relationship cannot survive on its own. It needs the care and nurturing of two adults, giving to each other in a way that creates a mutually beneficial connection. To foster a deep and loving relationship, there needs to be:

1. Kind, constant, and honest communication. Without talking, your relationship will not survive. The more you communicate, the closer you will be.

2. The willingness to work through difficulties and disagreements. Throwing in the towel, even if you don’t walk out the door, is not the path to happiness. You must face the discomfort that comes with differing opinions and ideas.

3. A sense of humor, some fun, and a bit of distraction from the rigors of daily life. Just as we need to breathe to survive, your love needs a breath of fresh air to flourish. Giving your relationship what it needs to thrive is a truly loving gesture. You can’t spend all your free time “working” on your relationship—don’t make it a hobby. Discuss what you like to do, where you’d like to go, and how you both like to have fun. Then go do it.

4. Sharing life lessons with the one you love. When you discover something about life, or you make a self-correcting move that is healthy for your relationship, let your partner know. You’ll be surprised by the positive response.

5. Emotional support, validation, and compliments. If you don’t feel that your partner likes and respects you, there will not be a strong connection. You have to lift each other up and let each other know the depth of your caring.

6. Love, intimacy, romance, and sex. These are the cornerstones of a loving relationship. Being great roommates just won’t cut it. There has to be the desire to be together as a couple. You may think the spark has gone, but there are too many ways to rekindle it. All you have to do is try.

7. Sharing goals and dreams that resonate with both of you. We are happier when we are working toward a goal than when we have achieved one. Make sure you always have something to look forward to and that you are pursuing it as a couple.

8. Compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness. These will show you the way through a difficult time. If you are together for a while, there will be losses, challenges, and some things that you just can’t fix. Weathering the storms together is a big part of what relationships are all about.

9. A mutual desire to step outside the box. The tried-and-true is good, but the never-attempted-before may be better. Couples who share new experiences together develop a stronger bond.

10. Being able to admit mistakes and to talk about them. We all screw up. Learning to understand and let go of mistakes that you or your partner make will turn your life around and give you more time for joy.

Just as you need to breathe to survive, your love needs a breath of fresh air to flourish. Giving your relationship what it needs to thrive is a truly loving gesture.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

If you already have a partner, congratulations, you’ve beaten the system.

For the rest of us, modern dating is a minefield. There are so many rules and games to play it’s easy to lose track. You might be “left on read” by someone you really liked, and your mind may spin out of control when you’re over-analysing what their last few messages really meant.

The woes don’t necessarily stop when you find someone. With Tinder right at your fingertips, it’s tempting to go back and see if there is someone out there who is just a bit more perfect. With so much available choice, how are you supposed to know if someone is right for you? When should you stop over-thinking and finally commit?

Business Insider asked nine relationship experts for the signs to look out for when you’re trying to figure out if someone is right for you.

Here’s what they said:

1. They pass the 'bar test'

“As simple as this may seem, I call it the ‘bar test’ to know if you’re with the right person. When you’re at a bar (or restaurant, wherever) with your new partner, are you looking around to see who else is out there or who might see you two together? Or, are you perfectly content with your partner, and you want everyone there to notice you with him/her? If the latter is true, then he/she passes the test. But if it’s the former, it might be time to decide whether being in a relationship with this person is your best option.”

— Erika Ettin, dating coach and founder of dating site A Little Nudge

2. They don't hold you back

“A person who can authentically be excited about your success and goals in life is someone who won’t feel the need to hold you back. Most unhealthy relationships include some form of sabotaging of one partner. Dating someone who is happy with their life means they can be happy for you and alongside of you.”

3. They don't want to change you

“When you listen to your heart, you’ll feel whether or not the person you’re dating is right for you. This is known as ‘intuition’ — your heart’s message to you. Almost everyone can think back and recall a time when they didn’t listen to it. When you feel good, feel that your partner is patient and true, treats you the same in public as he/she does at home, then you’re on the right path. Keep in mind that your intuition may send out warnings as well. It may come as a gut reaction. For example, if your partner wants to change you in any way. He/she is not accepting you for who you are. If that happens, run. That is a sign of a controlling person and he/she will never treat you properly.”

— Tracy Malone, founder of Narcissist Abuse Support.

4. They fit into your life

“A good sign that someone is right for you is if you can imagine that person fitting in to other parts of your life and not just living in a microcosm of the relationship. Ask yourself: Do they get along with the other people in my life? Do I get along with their friends and family? Do we have mutual interests and things that we enjoy doing together that can be a source of sustainability in a relationship? If the answer is yes, then you may be on the right track.”

— Holly Daniels, a doctor who specialises anxiety, co-dependency, and relationship addiction at Sober College

5. They listen to you

“One of the signs that your date is likely to make a good mate is that the he or she shows genuine interest in your life and listens attentively when you are speaking. They also remember things that you have told them about yourself.

“Conversely, if the person that you are dating nearly always monopolises the conversation, does not ask you about yourself or your day, and then tunes you out when you start speaking, these are clear signals that your date is not really very interested in you as a person except as an audience for them. If they are not interested now at the beginning of the relationship, they are likely to be even less interested later on.”

6. They're happy when you're happy

“It certainly helps if you’re dating someone that you want to make happy and who wants to make you happy in return. Couples who each truly place the needs and wants of their partners on par with or above their own seem handle a lifetime of compromising, juggling priorities, and collaborating better than couples who individually pursue their own best interests.”

— Laura VanderDrift, associate professor of psychology at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Close Relationships Lab at Syracuse University

7. They comfort you when you're sad

“One of the major signs that tells you if the person you’re dating is right for you is how they treat you when you’re sad, crying, having a bad day, or just emotional. Are they compassionate? Are they attentive? Do they stop what they’re doing to give you their attention? Are they distracted when you’re expressing your feelings and most of all, do they know when to just give you a hug? It may seem simple but this is a very important trait to know what kind of human being the person is. If they criticise you for being sad or tell you that how you feel is silly that you’re over-reacting, that may be something to pay attention to. They could show signs of narcissism. Although later, you may think you were over-reacting, it may be just as important to know you were being listened to in the onset.”

Catenya McHenry, journalist and author of “Married to a Narcissist”

8. They have boundaries

“Something that is important is whether this person has boundaries. Boundaries are important because it means someone isn’t a pushover, and they can communicate when they are unhappy. When we are unhappy and we don’t say anything, our resentment builds up and boils over. Some women prefer the man to take charge. Some women want the man to be more passive. So you’ve got to think about your values. In healthy relationships, growth is very important, generally in the same direction, so you need to be able to have arguments, and conflicts and points of disagreements without killing each other. Rather it’s an opportunity to say, hey, this is how your brain works, this is how I feel, and can we actually learn from each other in this point in time, and grow in the same general direction, with our own wisdom and our own failures.”

— Perpetua Neo, psychologist, expert in toxic relationships, and creator of the Detox Your Heart program

9. The balance is in their favour

“One of the first ports of call of an effective narcissist or an effective manipulator is to dissociate you from your own capacity to listen to yourself and your own intuition. Once he’s marginalised your intuition, you then margianalise your common sense and your friends and other things. So I think it starts at a very subtle level, to listen to that sense that maybe something is wrong here, and just keeping yourself aware of that voice.

“Maybe it sounds a bit cruel, but in the fog of love, we abandon that voice quite quickly, because the other person is quickly perfect. So it can seem cruel to ask yourself, if anything were wrong here, what would I select first about what might be wrong? But when you give yourself permission to ask that question, then the intuition and the hunches can come back. And you may decide that you’ve considered them, there are ten things you don’t like that much, but there are a thousand things you love. Then great, get on with loving them. But ask yourself that question, and give yourself permission to consider those other things. It can salvage your intuition, and that part of you for good reason, although that may not be comfortable.”

How to find out what you want in a relationship

When entering into or maintaining a long time relationship it may be difficult to see whether that person is actually what we want or need in our lives. Here, Ariel Hairston of Tiny Buddha shares her journey to finding someone who is a loving addition to her life, by discovering what she deserves and requires from the person she’s with:

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

I recently left a relationship that I was not happy in. Although my ex was definitely an unconditional lover, it painfully bothered me that the man I loved was not taking care of his responsibilities.

Since I’ve entered my twenties, I’ve been looking for more than just a good time; I need a stable partner who will be able to meet our shared expenses and obligations in the future. So, I was faced with the crucial, inevitable decision of calling it quits.

I cried the first few nights, but every night after was a learning experience. I realized that no matter how much he loved me, I needed more from the relationship than he could give.

While I was still in it, he kept telling me that I made the entire relationship about me, saying, “You are only worried about your happiness. What about mine?”

Although he was right about his happiness being important, I realized something: my happiness is just as important, and I cannot—and should not have to—sacrifice mine for his.

Half of a couple can’t be happy while the other half is miserable. If neither is happy, then the relationship is already over.

A few weeks after the big break, I began asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship. Who am I?What do I need?

I wrote down a list of my nice-to-haves and my non-negotiables. This allowed me to see my past relationship for what it was: not what I really wanted. And thus, I experienced little pain and was able to move on gracefully.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt incredibly terrible for breaking his heart. I have always been the one to break things off, but I wasn’t so sure if I ever broke a guy’s heart until the day I broke his.

But I had to learn to forgive myself because I knew the relationship wouldn’t last. And it was better to break his heart now than to stay in it for far too long and inescapably break it later.

He eventually told me I was his only source of happiness, but just as you shouldn’t sacrifice your own happiness, you shouldn’t be responsible for another’s happiness either.

Happiness should come from within. If you have it before you enter the relationship, once ties are severed and the mourning phase is over, you will surely have it again.

The greatest lesson I learned is that you have to know what you want before the relationship starts.

When people say, “I don’t know what I want, but when I see it, I’ll know,” they are usually the ones who stick around in a relationship longer than necessary because they weren’t sure of what they wanted from the beginning. This causes unnecessary trial and error and a lot more pain.

It doesn’t take long to ask yourself what it is you desire and write it down. You may not know for certain right away, but you should at least have a rough idea. Getting to know yourself better can help with this.

Dating can also help refine your list, but making a serious commitment before really understanding your requirements in a relationship can be detrimental.

Typically when we go into a relationship without truly understanding our requirements, we end up trying to change our partner, which never ends well.

A loving relationship is meant to be the reward of knowing what you wanted and receiving it. Getting into a relationship in order to figure out what you want is backwards.

Ask yourself what it is you appreciate in a partner. What will cause you to write off a potential partner (perhaps not having the same goals and dreams)? This is important because if we don’t determine what we will and will not accept, we end up accepting anything.

But even more importantly, don’t forget about yourself. Get to know your own personal likes and dislikes. This is the one time where everything can be about what you want.

When we’re in a relationship, we’re always so busy trying to learn about another person’s wants, needs, goals, and aspirations that we oftentimes forget about our own.

During this time you don’t have to ask anyone for affirmation. All of your decisions are your own. No one can tell you who to be.

And while in a relationship, you still have to remember that you complete yourself. The man or woman you’re with does not define who you are, and you do not need him or her to be complete. Your self-esteem should not begin or end with how that person feels about you.

Be willing to give the person you love the shirt off your back, but your self-worth? Never give them that.

You have to honestly know that you will be happy with or without them. This little piece of knowledge makes it easier for you to leave a relationship that causes you anguish, and find one that better serves you.

That’s not to say that relationships are perfect and no one will ever hurt you; that’s certainly not the case. Every person will come with his or her own flaws, and every relationship will require a little work. You just have to know what you’re willing to work through and what you’re not.

Some words of advice my wise mother once gave me: you are the prize. How big of a prize you’re worth winning is defined by how much you love and respect yourself. You determine how much you are worth. Nobody else.

Sometimes love can turn into a battle that we want to win but can’t. Many relationships aren’t meant to be. That doesn’t make it your fault, and it doesn’t make it the other person’s fault; it just makes it life.

Whatever the case, you should never sacrifice your dignity at the expense of a futile relationship.

As for me, I couldn’t wait for him to be who I needed him to be. And I couldn’t change him either. I had to do what was best for me and for him as well.

If it were meant to be, it would’ve been right from the beginning.

I just have to go out into the world and find someone who better suits me. In the meantime, I am discovering a lot about myself, things I would’ve probably never known otherwise.

You must never get so caught up in your other half’s happiness that you forget about your own, and what matters most to you.

By the time I get into my next relationship, I will have better clarity of what I want and what I need.

But for right now, I am the love of my life. I am hoping that eventually I can share my love and happiness with another being, and he can share his with me.

Romance does not only consist of loving another, but also finding it easy to love oneself in the process. And I have to remind myself to never lose sight of that self-love.

Ariel Hairston is a college student at Valdosta State University in Georgia and aspires to become a professional writer. She enjoys exercise, yoga, and putting smiles on people’s faces. Follow her @uhhangel on twitter and add her on Facebook.

How to find out what you want in a relationship

Most of us feel an immediate sense of dread at the thought of broaching the topic of "what are we?" with those we're hooking up with or casually dating. It's terrifying to put yourself out there, especially if you don't know how the other person feels.

We asked therapists and relationship experts how to approach it, if you’re considering having “the talk."

1. Know when it's the right time to define the relationship—and when it isn't.

You know it's the right time to have the talk when you cannot get the thought out of your head. "Not all relationship anxiety is bad anxiety—anxiety can nudge us towards something that needs to happen," says Rebecca Hendrix, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles. "If you obsess about where your relationship is going, most likely you are at the point where you need to know."

That being said, there is such a thing as bringing up your relationship status too soon. For example, if you've only gone on a few dates, it's probably too soon—even, says Hendrix, if you've slept together. "If you choose to sleep with someone sooner than your system can handle it, then it is on you to help manage your anxiety. Don’t ruin a blooming connection by pushing for too much too soon," she says.

2. Remind yourself that it's OK and healthy to ask for what you want.

"Remind yourself that it’s ok to ask for what you want in life, whether it be a promotion or the type of relationship you want. The worst thing that could happen is that the person says no. If they do say no, it's information that can help you take the next step that is best for you," explains Hendrix.

3. Don't be afraid of scaring them off.

"If this is the person you are supposed to be with there is nothing you can do or ask that is going to make them go away. If it is ‘your person’ nothing will keep them away," says Hendrix.

4. Have the conversation face-to-face.

"As tempting as it might be to have difficult conversations by phone or text, make sure you talk about this in person," says Chiara Atik, dating expert and author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide. "Texting is far too ambiguous for this type of conversation, and phone conversations just aren't the same as meeting face-to-face. If you do want to have a relationship, then maturely discussing things in person is the absolute best way to start things off."

5. Don’t start the chat with “We need to talk.”

"We need to talk" are four of the most anxiety-producing words in the English language. Avoid them at all costs. "Don't ever say to somebody 'we need to talk' because that will immediately throw them into a panic," says Los Angeles-based relationship and dating coach Lisa Shield.

6. Be honest if you're feeling nervous.

You're allowed to have butterflies about both the talk and also what it means. It's normal—and your potential partner is probably in the same boat. Some people are more afraid of committing to the wrong person than they are of commitment itself. You can be honest and say you're not sure they’re the one, but you think it's worth finding out.

7. Keep it light! The conversation doesn’t have to be serious just because the topic is.

"The talk shouldn't be heavy and pressure-filled," says Andrea Syrtash, dating expert and author of He's Just Not Your Type (and That's a Good Thing). "If you want to tell them you see more potential, you can let them know in a fun and upbeat way. You can say something like, I'm no longer surfing around to find dates. Happily took my profile down today.' That may open up the conversation. If they respond, Why would you do that? Don't do that!' that's probably a sign they’re not ready. If they smile and say they’ve done the same, the conversation will be much easier."

8. Be straightforward.

Resist the urge to have a long, drawn-out debate or explanation of your feelings—it’s easier for both of you if you're direct and clear. What might you say? Hendrix gives this example of a confident and clear way to broach the subject:

"Hey. I’m really enjoying spending time and getting to know you over the past couple months. To manage expectations, I am looking for someone who is open to taking the relationship to the next level because this is what I want. Is this something you are looking for as well? Is this something you see happening with us? What might that look like to you?"

9. Give the person time to think.

Your love interest may not have an answer for you right away, and that's okay! "It doesn't have to be resolved right then and there," says Shield. "You're just planting a seed. The way you have a follow-up is to go back and say, 'Have you given any thought to what we talked about the other day?'"

10. Don’t get discouraged if the talk doesn't go how you hoped.

If you have the "what are we" conversation with someone and it turns out that they don't want a committed relationship, don't be afraid to move on. Don't settle. Keep looking for the right person who is ready for the commitment that you desire.