When I started dating my husband, I asked friends if they thought he and I were right for each other. They didn’t discourage me from marrying him, but not long after I did, I thought I’d made a colossal mistake because he didn’t want to spend time with me or even make love to me.
After years of marriage counseling I realized it was hopeless: He was never going to change.
I’ll tell you the end of that story, but first, here’s how you can know if you’ve found “The One.”
1. Is your partner offering gifts, compliments, and help?
This is a good sign because it means your partner thinks they can please you.
Here’s what I wish I knew when my husband was wooing me: Sometimes receiving all that special treatment feels uncomfortable. You might worry he’s spending too much, staying up too late, or driving too far for you.
Sometimes you’ll feel tempted to say, “No, that’s OK.”
But rejecting a gift can also feel like rejecting the giver. For a lifetime of romance, consider making your mantra, “Receive, receive, receive.”
You can do that by smiling and saying, “Thank you,” when your partner says you’re beautiful right out of bed, offers to carry everything, or buys you the overpriced earrings you were eyeing.
2. Does your partner make you ridiculously happy?
Psych! That was a trick question. Perhaps you are ridiculously happy, but your partner is not doing that—you are.
I know it seems like it’s your S.O. because you felt so good when they came along—just like it seemed like my husband was making me happy at first, too.
But when I started to feel unhappy a few years into my marriage, I thought it was because he wasn’t making me happy anymore.
Turns out I’d become a martyr who was preoccupied with working, cleaning, and paying bills. I somehow forgot that I love to have a good time.
It wasn’t until I started making my happiness a priority by having frivolous fun—like meeting a friend for coffee, singing at the top of my lungs, napping, and playing volleyball—that my relationship improved.
In other words, to have a happy relationship, I had to make myself happy first.
3. Does your partner listen to you?
If your partner listening well, it’s a good sign that you’re talking wisely.
Years ago I had an unfortunate habit of complaining and expecting my husband to respond. I would say, “John, this kitchen is a disaster,” thinking that he would jump off the couch and start cleaning, but he never did.
Now I express my desires in a way that inspires him. I just say what I would love, as in, “I would love a clean kitchen.”
Once he knew how to make me happy, he offered to clean the kitchen. That was years ago, and he’s been doing the dishes ever since.
Your partner wants to make you happy too—and they want to know how. When you’re tempted to complain, try expressing your desires in a way that inspires instead.
4. Do you respect your partner?
I was shocked to learn what respect means to my husband. I thought I was being respectful because I didn’t leave a mess, or I let him know where I was, but that had nothing to do with respect as he interprets it.
He wanted me to honor his thinking and his accomplishments—not second-guess him or try to improve on them.
When we were dating, I naturally respected him, but over time, I slacked and it cost us. Instead of laughing and holding hands, we had wall-to-wall hostility.
Becoming respectful again was humbling and restored our connection instantly.
5. Does your partner have lots of qualities that are important to you?
Here’s where you want to make a list of the things you love: That they’re sweet to your family, super-smart, successful, funny, musical, humble, good-looking, athletic, hard-working, and loves you.
What you focus on increases, so you want to focus on the good stuff—even on a day when their faults seem glaring. Why focus on the negatives?
You know your partner is not perfect—just perfect for you.
6. Does your partner make you feel safe?
Your vulnerability is a critical ingredient in creating the fascination that leads to lasting commitment.
One of the best things I ever did was (reluctantly) fall completely apart one day, complete with streaming tears and snot exploding from my nose. I thought my husband would be repulsed.
Instead, he came closer and couldn’t rest until he’d convinced me that everything would be OK.
Now, I strive to be vulnerable so I can have that feeling of being loved just as I am—messy parts and all.
7. Are you ready to be “the one” yourself?
I was surprised to learn that so much of what I’d heard about marriage wasn’t true—like that both of you have to work on the relationship for things to improve, and relationships are hard work.
But there’s no such thing as working on a relationship. There’s only working on yourself, and then your partner will respond to you better.
My relationship felt like hard work before I learned the intimacy skills I have now. Now it’s my soft place to land and hear that I’m special and beautiful.
At my lowest point, I asked women who’d been married at least 15 years for marriage advice. What they said didn’t make sense to me, but in my desperation I was willing to try anything.
That’s when I got my miracle: The man who wooed me returned. I’d had the key all along. In September, we’ll celebrate 28 years of marriage.
Even better, I have the marriage I dreamed I would have when I said, “I do.”
Marriage has been the best self-improvement project I’ve ever undertaken. Today I feel like the respectful, calm woman I want to be—not the shrill, eye-rolling one I’d become.