#1. They actively listen to you.
It’s safe to say that many people desire a fairytale relationship — that seemingly perfect, secure (and let’s not forget passionate) relationship resembling a Nora Ephron directed rom com. These love stories all seem to have one thing in common: They present an image of a good partner (or at least a desirable partner that is worth pining for). But what exactly makes a good partner, and what are the qualities to look for in a potential boo? Is it someone who will respond empathetically to your long-winded rants like in You’ve Got Mail? Or is it someone who will show up unannounced at your door with giant cue cards to profess their love for you although you’re married to their best friend like in Love Actually? (Yeah, maybe don’t do that last one.)
“Loving partners are able to express themselves within the safety of the relationship and are able to see their partnership as a balanced Venn diagram, with one whole person on each side and a connected relationship in the middle. These partners are intertwined, but don’t suffocate one another. Also, the relationship doesn’t become neglected or forgotten,” explains Yana Tallon-Hicks, a couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want.
In order to get you some answers, Elite Daily has tapped two relationship experts to outline the traits that make a great significant other. A few you might have guessed already (honesty, communication, respect), but others might surprise you (or not). Whether you’re coupled up or looking to meet someone, think of this as a guidebook for recognizing what you deserve. Without further ado, here are the things that make a good partner.
Traits of A Good Partner
1. They actively listen to you.
Active listening is important to all relationships, but especially one involving an intimate partner. When you’re having a serious conversation with them, do they maintain eye contact and respond empathetically to what you have to say, or do they seem emotionally distant and distracted?
Active listening is necessary all the time, but it’s especially important that your SO is able to actively lend an ear even when they don’t agree with you or feel defensive during an argument. Not only does this show emotional maturity, but it also demonstrates that they care about your feelings and the relationship enough to make sure you feel heard and understood despite disagreeing with you. Individuals, couples, and sex therapist Caitlin Cantor tells Elite Daily, “In a loving partnership there isn’t a need for both people to agree about everything, and in fact, when you don’t agree, it can be an opportunity for more connection.”
2. They respect your boundaries.
A good partner respects the boundaries you have put in place, and they don’t try to bend those boundaries for their own benefit. For example, an understanding SO will respect that their partner might require some alone time and won’t resent them for it. While it makes sense to crave quality time with your partner, sometimes you just need a bit of space. (Plus, having your own goals and social circles outside of the relationship is actually really healthy.)
3. They communicate openly.
As the saying goes: Communication is key. Does your SO tell you when you have hurt their feelings? Are they able to point out the areas in your relationship where they feel uncared for? A good partner communicates how they feel and what they need because otherwise feelings of resentment may arise, which creates an uncomfy situation for everyone. Tallon-Hicks says you especially want a partner who is able to openly discuss the most challenging couples therapy topics, or “The Big 3”: sex, money, and children.
4. They are empathetic.
A great partner is emotionally available and empathetic of your feelings. “They don’t get angry when you have emotions or try to tell you your emotions are wrong. They’re able to stick with you through all of your ups and downs, and they don’t get mad when you have needs. In fact, they’re very interested in meeting your needs,” says Cantor.
5. They are honest with you.
A good partner doesn’t hide things from you, no matter how ugly, because a loving partnership requires both partners to be open and honest with each other. Honesty is required for establishing trust in a partnership — if you can’t trust what your partner tells you, then the relationship will feel unsafe. Your SO’s actions should match their words, and if there’s trust there, then your relationship should be absent of serious doubts.
6. They allow space for the relationship to evolve.
Naturally, relationships shift and change over time, so a good SO will expect as well as embrace any changes that occur in your relationship. What’s meant by changes is the steady, healthy growth of a romantic partnership (hurtful actions and abuse should not be excused). A great partner makes room for self-discovery and experimentation, says Tallon-Hicks. So if there’s something you want to explore in the relationship (maybe a new sex move or relationship setup) then a supportive partner would be open to exploring that with you. And even if they’re not up for trying everything — everyone is entitled to their boundaries — they’re at least willing to hear your point of view and find a compromise that works.
Another thing: If you and your SO are experiencing bumps in the road, a good partner might seek outside assistance — from trusted friends and family members or even a couples therapist — to help nurture the relationship.
7. They’re your BFF.
A best friend is someone with whom you can celebrate all your wins as well as mourn the losses. They are there for you through thick and thin — through the highs and the lows. Despite everything, they’ve got your back and you’ve got theirs. They are your favorite person in the whole world, and that’s what your partner should be to you. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that spouses who are best friends experience more fulfilling, happier marriages. So if your SO isn’t your BFF (and you can have multiple BFFs, just FYI — your partner should just be one of them) then maybe they’re not the one.
How You Can Be A Better Partner
Through her work, Tallon-Hicks has discovered that the thing many couples struggle with most is active listening. “Actively listening to your partner, especially when you don’t agree with their perspective or you feel attacked or defensive, is really challenging work,” she explains.
To get better at this particular skill, Tallon-Hicks suggests practicing being “curious, not furious” when your partner tells you something that makes you feel upset, defensive, or triggered. Be able to ask yourself: “What has triggered me at this moment?” and “What is it that my partner is trying to tell me, ask for, or express?” “If you are able to zoom out and look at the process of a challenging dynamic or communication pattern rather than the content of what’s being said (‘You never pick up your wet towels!’), you’ll be able to get to the deeper root of the issue (‘I feel like you don’t respect my household labor, and I feel unimportant’), which will lead you to a more sustainable solution, faster,” explains Tallon-Hicks.
If you and your partner are open to it, perhaps you might consider seeking therapy — either as a couple or individually — to work through knots in your relationship. Therapy can help you discover where you might be engaging in distancing behaviors and help you work to undo stubborn patterns that repeat in your partnership. By unpacking your past traumas and learning what you need and desire from an intimate relationship, you can then teach your SO how to best love you.
In order to be a good partner to someone else, you first need to be a good partner to yourself. Don’t forget to fill your own cup so you can bring that positive energy into your most important relationships with others.
Grover, S. & Helliwell, J.F. (2019). How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20, 373–390. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9941-3
Yana Tallon-Hicks, couples and relationships therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Hot and Unbothered: How to Think About, Talk About, and Have the Sex You Really Want
Caitlin Cantor, LCSW, CST, CGT, individuals, couples and sex therapist