In dating, everyone you meet comes from a different background. What makes each person unique is their own culture, personality, and upbringing. Your own experiences will shape exactly what you would like in a lifetime partner – and what you want to avoid!

Sometimes you might be drawn to someone who is similar in all respects; at other times opposites attract. Both can work well, and both can have their challenges. Being open about what you’re looking for in a partner early on can help to direct whether a relationship is worth pursuing or whether it’s a dead end.

A string of disastrous dates gave me quite a checklist of values I wanted to see in a partner. The older I got, the longer and more unrealistic the list became! Some values were non-negotiable for me, but others were a bonus. No-one you meet will tick every box, but you and your prospective partner must work out what are vital values and what you can compromise and work on. These ‘tick-boxes’ will be different for everybody and that’s can make a relationship interesting. Getting past the small talk and delving in deeper can really enhance emotional connections too. How you raise sensitive issues is important; you or your partner may have past hurts, so it’s good to take care when bringing up deep topics.

I had four different ways of bringing up my ‘non-negotiables’ when I was keen to find out more about someone and what could develop between us:

 Time and place

I had a couple of dates with a guy who brought up early on that he’d expect me to move to Ireland giving up everything I knew and loved. This put a stop to this relationship early on, although for some people relocating is not a problem. From this I knew that I had to be sensitive with how I brought up the topic of wanting to live near family with any prospective partners. I had to find the right time and place to bring up this conversation because for me, being near family was hugely important. We both needed to be in the right frame of mind to talk through something as big as living locations.

 Putting things to the test

When you or your partner are in certain situations it’s a good opportunity to see reactions and coping mechanisms, especially about your non-negotiables. For me, family values are important – having come from a very close-knit family (including my extended family), it was vital to me that my prospective partner would slot in easily and be a part of this family as a whole, embracing them, and I with his. I wanted my parents to feel that they’d gained a son, and his parents that they’d gained a daughter rather than that they’d lost a daughter or son. Seeing future partners in these scenarios can really show whether that is feasible or not.

 Actions speak louder than words

Putting God first was my biggest ‘tick-box’. I’d dated some ‘part time Christians’ which didn’t go any further because I wanted someone to lead. I could see in everyday situations whether that was the case or not – was church a priority, did they include God in big decisions, and were they open to pray, and read the Bible with me? Sometimes the way someone acts shows you their values without words – take time to observe.

 Let God take control

God allows things to come up naturally in conversation without having to force it. An example of this for me was having to talk very early on in my relationship with my husband about premarital sex. This can be difficult as we all have different pasts and opinions on this. For me personally, I was saving myself for marriage and if my partner wouldn’t respect this, then he wasn’t the one for me. He wanted to visit me on tour – my heart raced as I knew I’d have to confront the ‘living’ arrangements and ask him to find a hotel. However, being open and honest from such an early stage meant we knew where we stood, he respected my morals and actually he too was nervous to bring up the topic, ultimately bringing us closer.

The ‘essential qualities’ are best brought up earlier on in order to know where the relationship is going, but other qualities can be a pleasant surprise. There were other values that I wanted to see in a partner, but sometimes time is needed to give the ‘bonus qualities’ opportunity to develop. When finding out about someone, praying and partnering with God through the process is vital, keeping Him at the centre. God is, as always, in control – trust Him and let Him drive your relationship.

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