People fall out of love with their partners every day. Nobody goes into a relationship knowing the day will come. You know it could come, but you don’t feel that it could; at least not right now. And it’s confusing when it happens.
You’re still the same person, and you still have the same qualities. You’re still ambitious, you’re still kind, you’re still funny. You still have all the qualities that your partner was attracted to when they met you. So what’s changed?
How you make them feel.
The qualities they used to find so attractive are no longer serving their purpose. They’re not making them feel ‘safe’.
Now I’m not implying that we all live in a state of existential dread or that we need ‘saving’. I’m not talking about the safety you look for as a child when you sprint into your parents’ bed after a Scooby-Doo episode. I’m sure your partner doesn’t need their hand held through life.
The safety I’m talking about is the sense of security that comes from seeing an uncertain future through an optimistic lens. Feeling emotionally safe means feeling internally relaxed and open. And according to award-winning author and family therapist John Amodeo Ph.D.:
“When two people are committed to the process of creating a nurturing, supportive relationship and are willing to develop the skills necessary to create a safe climate to do so (perhaps with the help of couples counseling), relationships are more likely to thrive and endure.”
The topic came up during a recent conversation with my friends. One friend asked,“If you had to pick one single quality that’s most important to you in a partner, what would it be?”
It was hard to narrow it down.
We each have different tastes and so the qualities we value most differ. Some of us wanted someone athletic and intelligent; others placed greater weight on creativity and talent.
Ultimately, all of the qualities we mentioned were objectively good qualities; none of us didn’t want someone talented and creative for example, but we were willing to compromise and trade these qualities in for others if we really had to choose.
There were however four qualities that kept coming up; non-negotiable traits that all of us valued and couldn’t narrow down. These were:
The debate went on for a while, as each of us tried to explain why one quality was more important than another, only to change our minds again two minutes later.
It was either the effect of the wine or the realization that we weren’t getting anywhere that made me sit back and stop adding fuel to the fire. As I watched and listened to my friends debate over why ‘ambition’ was better than ‘humor’ and whether ‘kindness’ is synonymous to ‘empathy’, I realized something.
All of these qualities ultimately provide a partner with one thing — safety.
In whatever way you achieve that, a long-term partner will ultimately want you to make them feel like no matter what the future holds, everything will be okay.
- Someone with a good sense of humor is attractive because whatever hardships you face, they’ll find a way to make you smile — everything will be okay.
- An ambitious partner is attractive because they make you feel like things can only keep improving — everything will be okay.
- An empathetic partner is attractive because whatever you’re feeling, they understand; you’re never going to be alone — everything will be okay.
- Someone kind is helpful, generous, loving; someone who will go out of their way to help you and make you feel better — everything will be okay.
The single most important thing we all look for in a partner is ultimately: safety.
And there’s a scientific theory to back this up.
Self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid; essentially our ultimate human goal is to live our best life and become the best version of ourselves. But, to reach the top, we have to satisfy all of the earlier stages.
At the very bottom, we have our basic physiological needs, such as food, water, oxygen; the things we physically need to stay alive. Once we move past the basic requirements that don’t much differentiate us from plants, we move on to the more human needs; safety, protection, and security.
We’re still on the second tier. Before we even consider love, friendships, self-esteem, or reaching our full potential, we need safety. This is why a partner that makes you feel safe is so attractive — they’re what you need.
Now if you were to ask your partner why they find you attractive, they’re unlikely to respond, with ‘you make me feel safe’ — you’re not a seatbelt; it’s probably not the first thing that springs to mind. They’re probably thinking about your sexier qualities, like your sense of humor or your charisma.
But if you were to sit down and dissect these qualities; you’re like to find that it’s how these qualities of yours make them feel that’s attractive. And if you follow the thread, you’ll ultimately arrive at: safe.
This is why it’s so difficult to pinpoint just one quality.
There is no one quality that, if consistently applied, will make your partner feel ‘safe’. What they need from you will depend on the circumstance. On a certain day, they might need you to make them laugh to feel reassured that everything will be okay. On a different day, they might be more attracted to see you excited by an ambitious new goal you’ve set yourself that will make your futures better.
But knowing what you want your qualities to achieve can take your relationship to another level.
In a recent article, Irresistible people always have an ‘and’,
Michael Thompson explains how the same quality that attracted your partner initially can be the exact thing that ruins your relationship. He explains that to be irresistible, you need to have an ‘and’. If you let your most attractive quality dominate, it becomes self-consuming; it’s no longer attractive because it’s not what your partner needs from you every day.
In excess, your qualities can stop being attractive because they’re not providing a means to the end; they’re not helping you make your partner feel safe and optimistic about the future
If you’re nothing but funny, you may appear to lack empathy in certain situations and create an emotional disconnect between you and your partner. If you’re deliriously ambitious, your partner could perceive you as unkind; as someone who is ruthless about standing on others to get to where you want to be. These qualities no longer bring them the reassurance they use to.
Your most attractive qualities should ultimately serve one purpose — to make your partner feel safe.
Once they stop serving that purpose, they lose their appeal.