Who Do You Want to Be With? Why Having a Vision Matters

woman looking through hands shaped like a heartMost of us just flow along through life without a clear vision of what we want in our future. At least that’s what I did for many years. I drifted in and out of relationships just because someone showed up at a time when I was available. I was not making a conscious choice as to who would be a suitable life partner and ended up divorced by age 34. I spent the next 12 years living alone, continuing to drift in and out of relationships that weren’t well-suited to me. The only thing I had clarity on during that time was finishing graduate school.

Having a vision—a mental picture—of your desire for the person you want to be and what you want to accomplish is vital. If you want a relationship, and most of us do, you also need to have a vision of the qualities and characteristics of the person you want to share your life with. This is essential for choosing well. Having a vision and a goal helps you get from where you are to where you want to be in your life.

You need to know what is important to you and what you desire in a mate. If you go with whoever is available at the time, you are likely to end up wondering later why your relationships didn’t work.

Having a list may seem superficial, but it is extremely important. Once you have a list of the essential qualities and characteristics of the person you want, you can start interviewing. Based on the answers you get, you can sort out who meets your criteria and move on from those who don’t.

If they don’t meet your criteria 100%, you might be inclined to overlook the things they don’t have as not that important, since they have the other attributes. Or you may decide these are things you can fix by getting the other person to change. (I would suggest this is not likely.) Or you might consider it a deal-breaker. If you have a list of 10 qualities and you meet someone who has nine of the 10, it is the one that he or she doesn’t have that is likely to become a perpetual problem in your relationship.

For example, as a single person one of my requirements was that the person was available—meaning never married, divorced, or not attached. If they were still married, still living in the same house, hadn’t yet filed for divorce but said they were going to, those were deal-breakers. Remember, you are not going to change someone else.

When you find a person who meets your criteria and would be a good life partner and a good match for you, and the two of you begin to form a relationship, this is the time to develop a “shared vision” for your relationship. As a certified imago relationship therapist, this is one of the first exercises I ask couples to do.

Do the two of you want the same thing? Do you share the same values? I am hoping that this was part of your original interviewing and that you know you’re both on the same path. It is harder to negotiate these differences after you are emotionally involved.

How is it the two of you want your relationship to grow and develop? How do you envision your future together? Will there be children? What will your career and professional life look like? Where would you want to live and have a home? Would it be near family? Do you want to travel? There are so many more things to discuss and agree on. Make sure you cover as many as you can identify.

Having a vision such as this to refer to when times get tough (and they will, and do, in all relationships) is very valuable. I have known of couples who wrote down their vision prior to marriage and used their vision statements during their wedding vows.

We need to be conscious, and to have clarity and commitment, to develop a mature relationship that can last for decades and be a joyful celebration of the partnership. If you need help or guidance on your journey, consider seeking a therapist.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marian Stansbury, PhD, Imago Relationship Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vonnie

    July 8th, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    While I do think that it is important to know what you are looking for in that person with whom you want to spend all of your adult romantic life it is important to not exclude someone who might be good for you just because they don’t seem to be on paper what you have always thought that you wanted. We grow and we mature and what you want at 20 may not be what you actually need when you get older. Just a little food for thought.

  • Judy

    July 14th, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    I believe all the above comments are insightful but the very essence of a successful relationship has not been mentioned. In order for a relationship to blossom and endure the couple need to “share the same values”. Without this in common the relationship is doomed to fail – always, as the couple will go in different directions and lifestyle choices.

  • Marian Stansbury, Ph.D.

    July 8th, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    I totally agree – In our 20’s we have not yet had enough life experience to know what we want in a long term relationship. Writing down on paper does help us clarify what the qualities are that are important to us. I have frequently thought that it would be good to wait until we are 30, when are brain has developed more fully before making this big decision.

  • Maisy

    July 8th, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    This is something that can carry over into all parts of your life. Set out your goals realistically, write them down, and then develop a plan to meeting and achieving them. This could apply to jobs, school, and yes even marriage. You have to know what you want before you can get what you want.

  • Timothy

    July 9th, 2014 at 4:13 AM

    Is it just women who are thinking about lists of the wants and don’t wants, because I can tell you that from the male perspective I think that most of us feel like we will know the right woman when we meet her. I don’t think that most of us have this list we are walking aorund with and checking things off as we find them. I think that we are all just looking for that one special woman or man who will complete us and we kind of feel like we will know it when we find them. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Of course I know what I want, but I don’t want to rule others out just because they don’t seem like they would be the one for me. I at least wnat to give them a chance because you never know who you might find if you give yourself that opportunity.

  • Marian Stansbury, Ph.D.

    July 9th, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    I agree with Malsy. “You have to know what you want before you can get what you want.”

    Tim I understand the feeling that you will know the right women when you meet her; however that usually is what we call ‘chemistry’ and that is tricky. In Imago Relationship Therapy, Imago means to image. We are likely through the feeling of ‘chemistry’ to attract someone who feels familiar, e.g. like our mother or father. Much of the time this isn’t conscious. Relationships fare better when we make conscious choices.

  • Maura

    July 10th, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I thought that I always knew what I wanted until I met the man of my dreams. Let’s just say that he didn’t exactly fit what I had always thought that I would end up with. I thought I would go for the clean cut, banker look, you know? If you saw my husband, um, you would know that I was off base by a mile! he is a punk roker kind of guy, earrings and tattoos, and what can I say? We are perfect for each other. I hate to even think that I could have excluded him just because of those outward appearances. I am so glad that I took the time to meet him and took a chance on someone who would normally be so far out of my comfort zone.

  • Marian Stansbury, Ph.D.

    July 11th, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    Hi Maura – I am happy to hear you found a man that you love and it wasn’t based on outward appearances. The qualities and characteristics of temperament and personality are way more important than the way someone dresses.

  • Brandon

    July 12th, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    Everytime that I think that I have it all narorwed down and figured out I come up with something that seems like a must have. Do you think that I could be subconsciously sabotaging myself? Because I am starting to think that finding a woman who has all of these great things just may not really exist.

  • Marian Stansbury, Ph.D.

    July 12th, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Hi Brandon – I would be interested in seeing your list. I recommended people make a list and then work on becoming what’s on that list. You need to decide what are the ‘deal breakers’. For example: I want / require someone who is honest, then if I discover they are not, that would be a deal breaker. There are other things that are nice but not necessary. No one is perfect. I just don’t want their imperfections to be things that really annoy me, as that may mean they are necessary and not having that quality would be a ‘deal breaker’ or turn into a perpetual problem in our relationship.

  • Ruthi S

    July 14th, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    iv known 3 therapists in 20 years,i no first hand you perfessionals are not perfect,it irritates me as well that you expect perfection from your fellow human beings while allowing yourselves the freedom to be human,,

  • Marian Stansbury, Ph.D.

    July 14th, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Ruthi – I feel sad that you may have been hurt or disappointed by your therapists. Is there anything in what I said that suggested we should be or expect perfection. We are all human. Authenticity and being emotionally honest is a quality I admire. I certainly don’t expect perfection and just encourage others, as well as myself, to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

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