Why We Choose The Wrong Partner (And How To Avoid Making The Same Mistakes)


I’ve always questioned the workings of choosing a partner. I wondered why a lot of relationships fail because we chose the wrong person at the wrong time. When we look back at these failed relationships, it becomes clear it was doomed to fail from the start, and yet we entered it as hopeful as ever anyway. Some of my friends find it very hard to find a right partner, no matter how attractive, kind, and intelligent they are. These questions never ceased to take up space in my mind. What do consultants do when they face an “issue” they can’t seem to crack? They structure the hell out of it and come up with a framework. It is still in its early stages, but I think I’ve come up with a solid enough framework that I am comfortable enough to share.

I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t even found the right person for myself yet, so how can even I allude to helping others find a partner? What I’m trying to address here is not about how to find “the love of your life” or “the one,” but simply an alternative approach in finding someone who can realistically have a better shot at becoming “it” over time. It’s an approach that is slightly more advanced than “I feel butterflies in my stomach, maybe (s)he’s worth a shot!” This framework aims to: (1) identify what drove our wrong judgment(s) in the past; (2) prioritize areas to analyze to come to a conclusion in the future; and (3) push ourselves to learn more about what we want/need from a relationship. Now, let’s get down to business.

The framework consists of three elements – feel free to imagine its shape/form yourself — and I believe all of these three elements must be “aligned” between the two potential partners in order for the relationship to work decently and have the chance to go the distance. These three elements, while equally important, work in a sequential manner. Only when Element 1 is aligned will Element 2 matter. Only when 1 and 2 are aligned will Element 3 matter. As such, the contents of element 1 will eventually drive contents of element 2 and 3.

1. Values, character, and physical attraction

Physical attraction should be rather straightforward and there’s no need to elaborate further. You like it the way you like it, and there’s no questions asked. Now values are slightly trickier. It’s fundamental and is almost impossible to change, and yet it’s often not visible at first glance. What I mean by values is a set of beliefs that a person holds that drives the way they live their lives. It’s what people check their lives against on their deathbeds. Values need not be aligned it its raw form, but the resulting characters that these values shape definitely do. What’s interesting, though I suppose shouldn’t be too shocking, is that people seem to struggle most in prioritizing the characters that are most important to them to find in their partner – wanting an “all-in-one” package with contradictory ingredients all mashed into one. There simply needs to be at least 3-5 set of characters that are non-negotiable and we need to stick to this prioritized list. When we know which characters are most important, we start to look for them consciously in others (and not let “noise” or lack thereof cripple your judgment) and we reduce the risk of eliminating someone from the potential list because of less fundamental reasons.

2. Wavelength, communication style, and lifestyle

This element is the most difficult to explain and usually takes the longest to figure out. Wavelength is about questions such as: Does (s)he make you laugh? Does (s)he know how to deal with you when you’re angry, sad, or hurt? Does (s)he have similar interests or is interested in yours if even if (s)he doesn’t share them? Do you enjoy talking to each other? These are the type of questions that help to understand wavelength.

Communication style can be both in practical terms or in – dare I say it – how you express “love” (essentially how people respond to or internalize love. Google “5 Languages of Love” and you’ll understand what I’m talking about). While lifestyle is around more questions such as: How do you spend your money? How important is spending time with family and friends? Individually, these questions seem minuscule in comparison to those in first element, but in combination, they paint the picture of how you prefer to live your daily life, how you go about living your values. If this isn’t enough to convince you yet, think about the one person you seem to never be able to understand and relate to and think about what it is that drives this conclusion without knowing what their values are. It has to be one of these three subelements. I don’t believe that this element is a difficult element to understand; as these are metrics that your brain naturally uses to assess the potential of someone being a good fit for you. However, it is important that we know that we should only start to think about them after we’ve concluded that we’re aligned on Element 1. Secondly, that the “language of love” is a communication “theory” that not a lot of people master, but can be a big source of misunderstanding. Hence, try to understand yours and your partner’s as soon as possible.

3. Timing

Robin Scherbatsky of How I Met Your Mother once said, “If you have chemistry you only need one other thing – timing, but timing’s a bitch.”

There are a slew of examples on why timing’s a bitch, and I’m sure each of you can name at least one of them. I see two types of timing mismatch: tactical and structural. Tactical timing mismatch occurs more frequently, and most likely the examples that you have in mind when reading this is one of them. Structural timing mismatch, however, is much more fundamental and avoiding it is highly difficult as it requires a shift in your life state.

An example of this is that when one person expects that the relationship will go on to marriage after a few years of dating while the other simply doesn’t have marriage in mind yet. They could be perfect for each other in all other aspects, but if what one person isn’t willing to give what the other expects to receive in terms of commitment and type of relationship they’re building – it won’t work. If this element has in the past failed your relationship, don’t be closed off to re-evaluating this “opportunity” in the future.

I hope this framework can help you as much as it’s helped me to better “diagnose” my past experiences and by doing so help to (1) more consciously think about the building blocks of success before starting a new relationship; and (2) have more patience to understand the driver of conflicts when going through rough patches in the relationship. As I mentioned, it’s still too early to fully claim trademark on this framework, so any comments/inputs/questions are highly appreciated!