Is He / She The One?
Why Love is Not Enough – and Seven Questions to ask yourself.
A common dilemma
A few months ago I met a woman (let’s call her Sharon) who was trying to decide whether or not to marry her current boyfriend (let’s call him Jim). She was telling me about their latest fight. They had planned to spend that day together, but Jim instead made plans to hang out with his friends. He left the house early in the morning without waking her. Threatening to retaliate in future, she called him and said “two can play at that game”. He became angry, and they were now exchanging passive-aggressive texts. She said to me with resignation, “Well, I think we all just have to decide what flaws we’re willing to live with.”
No relationship is perfect, so how should Sharon (and each of us) decide whether ‘good’ is ‘good enough’? Since perfection is impossible, which issues are deal-breakers and which should be tolerated?
The ‘Love Trap’ - why Love is not enough
I often hear people say: “I love him, but I’m not sure if he’s the one I want to commit to long term. Maybe there’s someone even better out there for me, but how realistic is that? How good is good enough?”
Love is not enough on its own. Couples who spend a lot of time together and meet some basic threshold of compatibility often fall in love. Oxytocin is the magical hormone that makes this happen. But love and happiness don’t always go hand in hand. Since the dawn of romanticism, countless unlucky people have fallen in love and committed themselves to lives of sadness, fear, anger or resentment because they chose their partner based only on falling in love. My heart breaks at this tragedy.
You need love, but you need more than that. You need a relationship that brings you joy, security, and laughter. A relationship that is, in the words of relationship coaches Gaby & Raj, Playful, Passionate and Peaceful.
Seven questions to ask yourself to decide if he’s the One
The questions are written as if you’re thinking about a man, but they are applicable irrespective of gender.
1. Can I be myself around him?
We all show an edited version of ourselves to other people; we have sides of ourselves that we understandably hide. But your partner in life is ready to accept the whole of you, even the weird, ugly or embarrassing bits. You each know you’re not perfect, and you’re each willing to accept the whole other, not the idealized one. Being yourself doesn’t mean being insensitive or sharing every thought you have. It does mean that if you’re just hanging out on a Sunday afternoon, you aren’t filtering or trying to think of what to say. You’re just being you. When you share your deepest emotions, fears and dreams, your partner accepts them. It’s stressful to feel you have to contain your true self, and it’s a joy to relax and truly be seen.
2. Does he help me be the best version of myself?
If you find yourself complaining about your partner or thinking of how to win the argument next time, it may be worth asking yourself if your partner is bringing out the best in you. Someone I spoke to said her partner has helped her be more selfless. She felt she had a history of being less than thoughtful about others. Through her desire to surprise and delight him as he does her, she has learned to be more selfless – and she feels great about the change that has been awakened in her.
3. Would I prefer to be in this relationship than in others I see around me?
We’ve all been there, either when single or in a relationship. You look at another couple and you feel envy because their relationship seems like such a loving, wonderful place to be. Of course the only people who know what it’s like there are those in it. But, if you are feeling envy about another relationship, you feel something is lacking from yours.
4. Is he genuinely willing to make meaningful sacrifices for me?
One woman I interviewed said “My partner wanted to see me step up and co-lead workshops with him. I didn’t feel ready even though he knew I could do it. He gave me the ultimatum that he would shut down the business if I wouldn’t co-lead with him. He was ready to give up a business he’d built in order to push me to grow.”
If he’s right for you, he truly cares about your happiness, success and development. Which means he’ll willingly sacrifice his own interests (whether career or leisure) for you. He knows that the joy you’ll both get from the results of his sacrifice will outweigh whatever selfish gains he would otherwise have made. Of course if it’s always the same person sacrificing over many years, that can create feelings of resentment. Successful couples sacrifice for each other but don’t keep score.
This reminds me of another important relationship maxim: if you give as much as you can, you will get more than you could ever desire.
5. Do I like him?
What? Obviously I like him or I wouldn’t be with him, right? Wrong. It’s not so uncommon to be with someone whom you love but don’t like. If you spend a lot of time with someone, a deep love may develop, reinforced by hormonal reactions. You feel very attached to your partner, drawn to him, sadness at the idea of losing him, deeply in love. He might also drive you crazy: for example, you can’t stand how negative he is and you frequently clash about small things. If you’re with someone you love but honestly don’t like, you don’t have to fall into the ‘love trap.’ Here’s an acid test: if he was of a gender you’re not attracted to, would you be best friends? Would you even be friends at all?
6. Do we share values?
It doesn’t matter if you like squash and he likes tennis, or if you simply cannot agree on how to pronounce the word ‘tomato’. But it does matter if you can’t agree on a parenting philosophy, the importance of family versus work, or whether your careers carry equal weight. If you haven’t talked about your values much, doing so can be clarifying. And if you’ve got a funny gut feeling that you’re not aligned, then the vicissitudes of life will probably make this harder rather than easier.
7. am i a 'hell, yes'?
I approached some couples who are extremely happy with their relationships and asked them about the decision to be together (whether through marriage or other long-term commitment). They said things like this:
“It was the easiest decision I ever had to make. It was obvious, and didn’t even feel like a decision.”
“I can’t imagine finding someone more suited to me. I feel so lucky.”
“This relationship is so much better than I could have imagined a relationship being. I wish more people could experience this.”
These couples did not agonize over the decision. The adage “If you don’t know, you know” seems to be about right: if it’s not a ‘Hell yes’, it should be a no. And if you're asking yourself the question at all, take a look at why.
Two thoughts in closing.
First, relationships generally improve when you work on them. If you can't answer yes to the 7 questions, and you feel a desire to stay in the relationship and work on it, I applaud your dedication. Many couples have been through rocky patches and built great relationships through hard work. Work on it, together, and see if you can turn some no's into yes's.
Second, Love Is Not Enough. If you’ve fallen in love with someone who isn’t good for you, who isn’t going to light you up for the rest of your life, then you owe yourself a better life than that – and you owe him that too. Breaking up is painful, but a lifetime with the wrong person is much worse. And any time with the right person will make you see colors brighter as your heart sings with a love more beautiful than you could ever have imagined. That, my friend, is what you deserve.