What Are You Looking for in a Relationship? Unravelling Your Evolving ‘Relationship Checklist’

In our quest for companionship and love, many of us unconsciously compile a ‘relationship checklist’ – a mental inventory of attributes and qualities we seek in a partner. But what are you looking for in a relationship? This checklist, often unspoken, serves as a personalised blueprint for our ideal mate, a guiding star in the complex collection of human relationships. However, what often goes unnoticed is the fluid nature of this checklist, subtly morphing and evolving with each beat of life’s drum.

Initially, this checklist is born out of a mixture of innocent aspirations and societal imprints. From the fairy-tale romances in children’s books to the idealised love stories portrayed in movies, our early views on relationships are heavily influenced by the culture and environment we grow up in. This growing stage of our checklist is filled with a blend of fantasy and social expectations, often overlooking the nuanced realities of human connections.

As we journey through life, each relationship, be it fleeting or long-term, leaves an indelible mark on our perception of love and partnership. Joyful experiences may reinforce certain desires on our checklist, while heartaches and disappointments often lead to its modification. With every bruise of the heart, the checklist becomes less about what society deems ideal and more about personal defence mechanisms against future hurts. Qualities once deemed non-essential may suddenly take precedence, reflecting our evolving understanding of what we need versus what we want.

This evolution, however, is not just a tale of accumulating preferences or scars. It is a journey of self-discovery and introspection. Each relationship acts as a mirror, reflecting parts of our own psyche that we might have ignored or been unaware of. The checklist, in its ever-changing form, not only guides us towards potential partners but also becomes a map leading back to our own inner selves. As we grow older and, hopefully, wiser, the realisation dawns that the most crucial relationship is the one we have with ourselves. In this light, the relationship checklist transcends its role as a mere matchmaking tool and emerges as a compass for personal growth and self-fulfilment.

The Foundation: Early Influences on Our Checklist

The seeds of our ‘relationship checklist’ are often planted in our youth, coloured by the experiences of our upbringing and culture. This foundation, while seemingly harmless, plays a pivotal role in shaping our initial understanding of relationships, love, and partnership.

Conditioning and Early Expectations

From the earliest days of childhood, our environment starts scripting our notions of what relationships should look like. These scripts are not just woven by personal experiences within our family and immediate community, but also by the larger narrative fed to us by media and literature. Fairy tales, for instance, often end with the typical ‘happily ever after,’ ingraining an expectation of perfect, uncomplicated love in our young minds. The familial patterns we observe – the dynamics between parents, the relationships of siblings, and even the interactions within extended family – all contribute to this early blueprint. We begin to construct our checklist with a mix of observed ideals and perceived norms, many times idealising certain traits and dynamics that seem to represent a successful relationship.

Cultural and Social Norms

The influence of culture and society cannot be understated in the crafting of our early relationship checklists. Different cultures highlight different values – some may place a higher value on emotional expressiveness and companionship, while others might prioritise financial stability and familial approval. What is considered an ideal partner in one decade or social circle may drastically change in another. These societal imprints are powerful; they not only shape our preferences but also frame our judgments about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in a partner, often creating a checklist that aligns more with societal approval than personal satisfaction.

In this foundational stage, our checklist is less about who we are and more about the world we are a part of. It is a union of inherited ideals and socially prescribed benchmarks, setting the stage for our future explorations in the realm of relationships. As we grow and start to experience life independently, these early influences either get reinforced or challenged, leading to the evolution of our relationship checklist.

Heartaches and Defence Mechanisms

As we navigate through the complexities of relationships, heartaches inevitably come into play, each one leaving its unique imprint and subtly reshaping our ‘relationship checklist’.

How Hurt Reshapes Our Checklist

Painful experiences in relationships often lead us to reassess what we seek in a partner. A betrayal might heighten our need for trustworthiness, or emotional unavailability from a past partner could make us value open communication more. These shifts are natural reactions to past hurts – our psyche’s way of trying to avoid future pain. It’s as if each heartache adds a new clause to our checklist, born not out of whimsy but from a deep-seated desire to protect ourselves. Over time, these additions, although well-intentioned, might create a checklist that’s more about avoiding the bad than seeking the good.

Defensive Additions to the Checklist

Defensive mechanisms are a crucial aspect of how our checklist evolves post-heartache. They manifest as specific traits or qualities we start to demand in potential partners, often as a direct counter to negative experiences we’ve had. For instance, if someone felt neglected in a previous relationship, they might put a high premium on constant attention and reassurance. While such additions to our checklist can serve as safeguards, they also run the risk of becoming unrealistic or overly specific. In the pursuit of protecting our hearts, we might inadvertently erect walls too high for any partner to scale, possibly hindering the formation of genuine, meaningful connections.

In essence, while it’s important to learn from past hurts, there’s a fine line between being cautious and being constrained by our defence mechanisms. Recognising this balance is crucial as we continually refine what we seek in a relationship.

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The Mirror Effect: Relationships Reflecting Our Inner State

Our journey through relationships often serves as a mirror, reflecting deeper aspects of our psyche that we might not be consciously aware of. This ‘mirror effect’ underscores the significant, yet often overlooked, interplay between our internal state and our romantic experiences.

Understanding Relationships as Reflections

Relationships, in many ways, are far more than just the coming together of two individuals; they are a reflection of our own selves. The qualities we admire in others often mirror qualities we value or desire within ourselves. Similarly, the challenges we face in relationships can highlight personal issues or unresolved conflicts. For instance, if someone consistently finds themselves in relationships with partners who are emotionally unavailable, it might reflect their own struggles with vulnerability or intimacy. Recognising this mirroring effect encourages a deeper understanding of not just what we seek in others, but also what we need to address within ourselves.

The Role of Emotional Baggage

Emotional baggage plays a crucial role in how we perceive and interact in our relationships. This baggage, made up of past hurts, fears, and unresolved issues, can heavily influence our relationship choices and behaviours. A person carrying the weight of past betrayals may find it hard to trust, seeing threats where there are none. Someone who has experienced abandonment might cling too tightly, fearful of being left once again. This baggage, when not acknowledged and dealt with, can distort our relationship checklist, leading us to seek partners based on our fears rather than our genuine desires for companionship and love. It’s crucial to understand that while our past informs our present, it need not dictate it. Recognising and working through our emotional baggage is vital for healthy relationships, ensuring that our choices are driven by positive aspirations rather than defensive reactions to past pains.

The Trap of the Growing Checklist

As we advance through different stages of our lives and relationships, our ‘relationship checklist’ tends to grow. However, this growth, if unchecked, can lead to a problematic cycle that hinders our chances of finding contentment in love.

The Cycle of Seeking and Disappointment

This cycle begins when we continuously add new criteria to our checklist, often in response to past disappointments or unmet expectations. Each failed relationship or hurtful experience contributes another ‘must-have’ trait or quality, leading to an ever-expanding list. The issue arises when this list becomes so exhaustive that it’s nearly impossible for any real person to measure up. We set ourselves on a quest for an ideal partner who ticks every box, only to face disappointment when reality falls short of our lofty expectations. This cycle can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the fear of being hurt again leads to more barriers, which in turn makes genuine connection and satisfaction increasingly elusive.

The Illusion of a Perfect Match

The notion of a perfect match, as comforting as it is, often turns out to be an illusion. It’s grounded in the belief that there’s someone who will meet all our criteria, someone who is the embodiment of everything we’ve ever wanted in a partner. However, this pursuit overlooks the inherent imperfections and complexities of human beings. People are not checklists; they are a mix of qualities, some that we admire and others that challenge us. By fixating on finding someone who meets every criterion, we risk missing out on truly meaningful connections with individuals who, while not perfect, might be wonderfully suited to us in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Embracing this reality involves acknowledging that the perfect match is not about ticking every box, but rather about finding someone with whom we can grow, learn, and navigate the complexities of life together.

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Self-Healing: A Prerequisite for Healthy Relationships

Embarking on a journey of self-healing is fundamental for cultivating healthy and fulfilling relationships. This process involves a shift from seeking external solutions to focusing on internal growth and understanding.

Importance of Self-Reflection and Healing

The importance of self-reflection and healing cannot be overstated when it comes to relationships. It involves taking a step back to introspectively examine our own patterns, beliefs, and emotional wounds. This process is about understanding how our past experiences, especially the painful ones, shape our behaviours and expectations in relationships. By engaging in self-reflection, we start to identify and heal from past traumas, fears, and insecurities that can sabotage our current and future relationships. Healing is not a quick fix; it’s a continuous process of growth and self-discovery. It allows us to break free from negative cycles and approach relationships from a place of wholeness and self-assurance, rather than neediness or unprocessed emotional baggage.

Moving from External to Internal Healing

Often, there’s a tendency to seek healing in external sources, especially in other people or relationships. However, true healing must come from within. Moving from external to internal healing means taking responsibility for our own emotional well-being and not expecting others to fix or complete us. It’s about developing a strong sense of self-worth and inner peace, independent of our relationship status. This shift doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves; rather, it involves creating a healthy relationship with ourselves, which in turn enhances our interactions with others. When we are internally aligned and healed, we are more likely to attract and build relationships that are healthy, balanced, and enriching. This inner work lays the foundation for relationships that are not just about seeking love and validation, but about sharing and growing together in mutually fulfilling ways.

Redefining the Checklist

As we progress in our journey of self-discovery and healing, there comes a pivotal moment where we begin to redefine what we value in relationships. This redefinition involves a significant shift from surface-level attributes to deeper, more substantive qualities.

Shifting Focus to Internal Qualities

The evolution of our relationship checklist involves turning our attention away from external characteristics and towards internal qualities. It’s about valuing attributes like kindness, integrity, empathy, and emotional intelligence over superficial traits. This shift recognises that while physical attraction and common interests are important, the foundation of a lasting relationship is built on a deeper emotional and psychological connection. As we become more in tune with ourselves, we start to appreciate these qualities not only in others but also strive to cultivate them within ourselves. This approach fosters relationships based on mutual respect, understanding, and genuine connection.

Authenticity and Vulnerability in Relationships

An integral part of this redefined checklist is the emphasis on authenticity and vulnerability. Authenticity in a relationship means showing up as our true selves, without the façade or masks that we often wear to protect ourselves. It requires honesty and openness about who we are, including our strengths and weaknesses. Vulnerability goes hand in hand with authenticity. It involves the courage to express our feelings, fears, and desires openly and to listen to our partners doing the same. While being vulnerable can be daunting, it paves the way for deeper intimacy and trust. These qualities transform relationships from mere companionship to profound partnerships where both individuals can grow and flourish together. By prioritising authenticity and vulnerability, we not only redefine our checklist but also change the way we engage in relationships, leading to more fulfilling and meaningful connections.

Inner Fulfilment: The Key to Relationship Success

Understanding that true contentment and happiness originate from within ourself is pivotal for nurturing successful relationships. This inner fulfilment acts as the foundation upon which healthy and meaningful connections are built.

Happiness from Within

The pursuit of happiness is often mistakenly directed outward, with the belief that a partner or a relationship can be the source of one’s contentment. However, lasting happiness is a state that must be cultivated from within. It’s about finding peace, satisfaction, and joy in our own lives, independent of our relationship status. This does not diminish the joy that relationships can bring but rather places them in the right perspective. When we are content and fulfilled internally, we approach relationships not from a place of neediness or desperation but from a place of wholeness. This shift is crucial as it means that our relationships are no longer burdened with the impossible task of ‘completing’ us, but are instead opportunities for sharing and enhancing our already rich lives.

Relationships as Compliments, Not Solutions

Viewing relationships as complements rather than solutions to our happiness leads to healthier dynamics. A partner should add to our life, not be the sole source of our well-being. This perspective fosters independence and individual growth within the relationship. It encourages both partners to maintain their unique identities, interests, and personal journeys, which in turn enriches the relationship. When two individuals, both secure and fulfilled in their own right, come together, they create a partnership based on mutual respect, love, and support. This approach allows for a more balanced and fulfilling relationship, where both individuals contribute to and benefit from the partnership in equal measure.

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Practical Steps for Personal Growth and Healing

Embarking on a journey of personal growth and healing is a vital step towards forming healthier relationships. This process involves intentional practices and techniques that foster self-reflection and growth.

Techniques for Self-Reflection and Growth

Self-reflection is a powerful tool for personal development. One effective technique is journaling, which provides a safe space to express thoughts and feelings, helping to uncover deeper insights into our behaviour and emotions. Additionally, mindfulness practices such as meditation can greatly assist in developing self-awareness and emotional regulation. Engaging in these practices regularly helps to cultivate a deeper understanding of ourself, including recognising patterns that may be detrimental to personal well-being and relationships.

Furthermore, reading books on spiritual development, attending workshops, or even considering therapy or coaching can provide guidance and support in this journey.

Building a Healthy Relationship with Oneself

Establishing a healthy relationship with ourself is fundamental for overall well-being and the quality of our relationships with others. This involves treating ourself with kindness, compassion, and respect. It’s about acknowledging our worth and valuing ourself, irrespective of external validation. Practicing self-care is a tangible way of doing this – whether it’s through physical activities, nurturing hobbies, or simply ensuring adequate rest and nutrition.

It’s also about setting healthy boundaries and learning to say no when necessary. Recognising and respecting our limits is a form of self-respect. Additionally, cultivating a positive inner dialogue is crucial. The way we talk to ourselves influences our self-esteem and confidence. By consciously shifting from self-criticism to self-encouragement, we foster a nurturing inner environment.


In summary, the journey of refining our ‘relationship checklist’ is intrinsically linked to our personal growth and self-discovery. As we evolve, so do our perceptions of what we seek in a partner. This refined checklist, no longer a rigid set of criteria but a dynamic reflection of our self-awareness and experiences, paves the way for healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

The transformation of the checklist from a superficial enumeration of desired traits to a thoughtful consideration of deeper, internal qualities is a testament to our own personal development. It signifies a shift from seeking external validation to understanding and valuing the importance of emotional maturity, authenticity, and vulnerability in ourselves and our potential partners. This evolution underscores the significance of looking beyond the surface to appreciate the complexities and nuances of human connection.

Central to this journey is the concept of self-healing and internal fulfilment. As we’ve discussed, the foundation of any healthy relationship is a well-nurtured and content individual. When we embark on a path of self-healing, we not only improve our chances of finding meaningful connections but also enhance our overall quality of life. Relationships then become not a means to fill a void or heal a wound but a beautiful addition to an already fulfilling life.

In essence, the quest for healthy relationships is, at its core, a personal one. It involves a continual process of introspection, healing, and growth. By embracing this journey, we not only refine our checklist but also enrich our lives and the lives of those we connect with. Thus, the pursuit of personal fulfilment and self-awareness is not just beneficial but essential in cultivating loving, lasting, and enriching relationships.

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Jason Shiers
Hello. My name is Jason Shiers

Certified Transformative Coach with 25 years of experience helping people live a better life.

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