The One Trait To Look For In A Partner

sunset together

What’s the one thing you should be looking for in a partner? Mark Manson has a pretty good idea, and it’s not what you think… 

Editor’s note: Also read the first two posts in this series by Mark Manson: Why is Every Girl I Date Crazy? and How to Date Emotionally Stable, Amazing Women
There were a few comments yesterday from people about my post on how to date amazing women saying it was too extreme and that everyone has faults.

Well, of course, everyone has faults. It’s impossible to find someone without some emotional baggage or insecurities.

The real question is, what does that person do with it? In the first two articles of this series, I pointed out how to notice emotionally manipulative behavior and how to avoid women who display it. These were women who had problems and baggage and used them as a weapon with the men they date.

In this article, I will be talking about the traits that you want to actively look for in a relationship parter when deciding to date or commit to them. To give a hint, it’s looking for people who manage their personal flaws and baggage well.

My first handful of significant relationships were mired with a lot of manipulation and victim/rescuer dynamics. These relationships were great learning experiences, but they also caused me a great deal of pain that I had to eventually learn from.

It was until I managed to find myself in relationships with some emotionally healthy women who were able to manage their flaws well, that I really learned what to look for when dating someone.

And I discovered in this time that there was one trait in a woman that I absolutely must have to be in a relationship with her, and it was something that I would never compromise on again (and I haven’t). Men are usually unwilling to compromise on superficial traits: looks, intelligence, education, etc. Those are important, but if there’s one trait that I’ve learned you should never compromise on, it’s this:

The ability to see one’s own flaws and be accountable for them.

Because the fact is that problems are inevitable. Every relationship will run into fights and each person will hit up against their emotional baggage at various times. The determinant of how long the relationship will last and how well it will do comes down to both people being willing and able to recognize the snags in themselves and communicate them openly.

Think of your girlfriend/wife/ex-girlfriend/love interest and ask yourself, “If I gave her honest constructive criticism about how I think she could be better, how would she react?” Would she throw a huge fit? Cause drama? Blame you and criticize you back? Claim you don’t love her? Storm out and make you chase after her?

Or would she appreciate your perspective, and even if she was perhaps a little bit hurt or uncomfortable, even if there was a little bit of an emotional outburst first, would she eventually consider it and be willing to talk about it? Without blaming or shaming. Without causing unnecessary drama. Without trying to make you jealous or angry.


Then she’s not dating material.

BUT! Here’s the million dollar question. Think of that same girlfriend/wife/ex-girlfriend/love interest, and now imagine that she gave you constructive criticism and pointed out what she believed to be your biggest flaws and blind spots. How would you react? Would you brush it off? Would you blame her or call her names? Would you logically try to argue your way out of it? Would you get angry or insecure?

Chances are you would. Chances are she would too. Most people do. And that’s why they end up dating each other.

Having open, intimate conversations with someone where you’re able to openly talk about one another’s flaws without resorting to blaming or shaming is possibly the hardest thing to do in any relationship. Very few people are capable of it. To this day, when I sit down with my girlfriend, or my father, or one of my best friends and have one of these conversations, I feel my chest tighten, my stomach turn in a knot, my arms sweat.

It’s not pleasant. But it’s absolutely mandatory for a healthy long-term relationship. And the only way you find this in a woman is by approaching them with honesty and integrity, by expressing your emotions and sexuality without blame or shame, and not degenerating into bad habits of playing games or stirring up drama.

Suppressing or over-expressing your emotions will attract someone who also suppresses or over-expresses their emotions. Expressing your emotions in a healthy manner will attract someone who also expresses their emotions in a healthy manner.

You may think a woman like this doesn’t exist. She’s a unicorn. But you’d be surprised. Your emotional integrity naturally self-selects the emotional integrity of the women you meet and date. And when you fix yourself, as if by some magical cheat-code the women you meet and date become more and more functional themselves. And the obsession and anxiety of dating dissolves and becomes simple and clear. The process ceases to be a long and analytical one but a short and pleasant one. The way she cocks her head when she smiles. The way your eyes light up a little bit more when you talk to her.

Your worries will dissolve. And regardless of what happens, whether you’re together for a minute, a month or a lifetime, all there is is acceptance.


Originally appeared at


Also read the first two posts in this series by Mark Manson: Why is Every Girl I Date Crazy? and How to Date Emotionally Stable, Amazing Women


Photo: Flickr/dustinsapenga

About Mark Manson

Mark Manson is a dating coach, writer and world traveler. He writes on how people can improve their emotional and dating lives, as well as social commentary and various life experiences at


  1. Finally. Someone who gets it. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with suppressing negative emotions. People make that mistake all the time and it’s not suppressing the emotions that generally causes people problems, it’s failing to address the conditions that led to the negative emotions that causes the problems.

    Mental health professionals tend to want people to explore their negative emotions because it’s good for the provider’s bank account. No, I’m not seriously suggesting that they’re doing it on purpose, but it is in their financial interests to let people come in month after month, year after year rather than just admit that emotions that are too strong need to be ignored.

  3. There is one problem with this logic that I think should have some attention. Flaws are an opinion, for the most part. And it can be a slippery slope if you’re often changing yourself when you don’t feel it’s a fake and the other person does. That can eventually less to you resenting them. It can also be a sign that you’re not compatible. In extreme cases someone often feeling th need to point out your flaws and requiring you to always just accept and listen to their critique is sometimes a fo of manipulation. It’s good to be open minded to the possibility of things you could work on and improve but it’s also important to keep in mommy’s you don’t have to change something that you don’t want to change. ‘Flaws’ are rarely a matter of fact point and so that works on reverse, as well. What you may not like or prefer in someone is not necessarily a flaw or a wrong to be changed. Leave room for embracing your differences and retaining your uniqueness.

    • Sorry various typos above

    • Martha – it’s not about blatant, blind acceptance of those critiques but the ability to objectively consider them. Some may be true, some not – and some are true sometimes and less in others. It is wildly different to controlling like you’re thinking and it’s incredible how much information can be learned about ourselves in the impressions of others if we can listen to them. They also may be wildly inaccurate impressions – BUT, and it’s a big one – sometimes what we do isn’t providing the information about ourselves that we think it is/expect it to, so while the impression is wrong what is needed is a change in our behaviour to show what we want to be showing more accurately. THAT is something I find most valuable in being able to look at myself through the eyes of others, and through my own ‘third person filter’ I guess you could call it. I try to be objectively assessing myself on a regular basis (without the beating up). It’s useful and it’s quite liberating – I know now I welcome the info instead of running from the views of others!

      *It took me about 2 years to learn to do this effectively, without self-hate or defensiveness.

  4. Jeanette Gabaldon says:

    It was an absolute pleasure reading this piece of work. We live and we learn. And, we share to help and inspire others to keep moving forward. I appreciate every word and will share with friends and family. So refreshing!

  5. “You may think a woman like this doesn’t exist. She’s a unicorn.”

    This made me laugh out loud (in a good way). Nope, not a unicorn. She exists. THEY exist (gasp! there is more than just one??!?!). I have proof (*points to self*).

    I want to add something here that might ignite some comment-fire (and I’m not sure that it belongs in the comments section of this particular post…sorry), but I feel needs to be said: if you expect to find a compatible, mature and – to use Mark’s criteria – accountable partner by trolling the bar for random hotties (possibly donning a PUA persona you think you need to display in order to please/attract them – see Mark’s article on gender fallacies and the ensuing comments), you may be setting yourself up for some serious disappointment. While self-aware and discerning women most certainly do enjoy a night out and may in fact engage often in flirting/partying in bars, a significant number of them do not. If you haven’t had luck at the bar, it may be time for a change in venue. Interesting and self-aware people often engage in character-enriching activities – think volunteer work, art classes, music shows, yoga workshops, etc. Maybe try looking there, too?

    (To be clear, I am not theorizing on where to find these people – these are actual activities my friends and I engage in.)

    A self-aware woman also probably expends a fair bit of energy paying close attention to the words, actions and body language of others in order to better understand THEM (sounds logical, no?). As a result, if you approach her wearing a false persona or using a line you think will work on her, she may in fact see right through you. So if she does not respond to you, pay attention. Ask yourself: is she *really* rejecting you? Or is it just that she is waiting for you to lose the mask and be authentic? Is she waiting for you to take a second and SEE her so that she can see YOU?

  6. Great Article!

    I would say that the same goes with dating men. I was MADLY in love with someone who had one huge “flaw” that was affecting me deeply. He refused to own it. His ego was wrapped up in being ‘that guy’ and he had defenses built around it from here to the moon. Three years later, I broke up with him. Now I detect guys with that trait from a mile away. Great lesson!

    Like you said, I will NEVER be in a relationship with a guy with the same flaw (happens to be my biggest button) and will never date a guy whose ego is bigger than the mountains.

    Thanks for reminding me! 🙂

  7. Oh my goodness. I love all you people. What amazing comments, and an amazing article, Mark. Here’s to your relationships being awesome.

  8. Zigy Kaluzny says:

    Mark’s piece points out what has become for me the one-single-absolutely-cannot-do-without requirement for ANY relationship, be it friends, lovers, partners, or any other name you want to give a connection of depth, value and meaning: ACCOUNTABILITY.

    Accountability to me means that one is not only able to listen and respond to another’s feedback/criticism/observations, but is willing and able to speak up from the “Observing Ego” place that ProfVersaggi noted BEFORE it has to be pointed out. Neglect to follow through on an agreement, “forget” to do something? An adult who is accountable knows what they have done (or not done) and acknowledges it from their own place of self-knowing and responsibility.

    The other great element about accountability is that it doesn’t have to be about apology as much as clarity:
    I have found that when I apologize, I expect forgiveness or some soothing response from the other; on the other hand, with accountability/acknowledgement, the other is not expected to do anything except listen and acknowledge the accountability. It is a vastly less dualistic and hierarchical process:

    “I did (or did not do) ________________; I made a commitment and failed to follow through. I commit to watching that part of myself and inquire of myself what it was I chose instead of my agreement with you.”
    In addition, that person might agree to do some simple act to get back into integrity with the other, but that is another decision.

    The main benefit is that the other person does not have to “forgive” or do anything except acknowledge that they have heard this. From that point on, it is up to the one who transgressed to be responsible for their own behavior in the future.

    In speaking of this with women, I’ve noted that women prefer the term RESPONSIBILITY; whichever word works better, the intention and effect is the same: increased trust and connection.

  9. This series of articles resonated with me in a profound way. So many of the points made showed me ways that I have sabotaged my own happiness over the years. I have always been shy about approaching women who I am interested in. However, I’m a fairly attractive, personable guy, with a sense of humor, and there have always been attractive women who would make the first move. I never realized that this kind of woman tends to be “big” emotionally, with all of the attendant baggage that goes with that. Being a man without a great deal of self-confidence, needy women always appealed to me. I got to be the hero. I didn’t know the price I was setting myself up to pay, time after time. Finally, much later in life than I would have liked, I am learning that I am the one who needs to change, in order to be with the kind of woman I want. If I keep waiting for her to find me, it’ll end up on my epitaph.

  10. I don’t disagree that taking responsibility for one’s actions (not sure “flaws” is the appropriate word) is an extremely desirable trait in a prospective partner — and in fact, it’s one of the “must haves”. However, I’m surprised that the author chose this one. To my mind, there’s only one trait that I look for, and that’s the willingness and ability to go the distance. I always ask myself, “Would this person stick around when things get boring or downright tough?” How would he respond if I lost my job — or lost everything? What would he do if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness? Would he still be around? A person’s deep character emerges in times of crisis. That’s when you really see it. Unfortunately, until someone is tested, you might not be able to assess how strong their character truly is.

  11. Thanks for the article. The central insight you’re discussing resonates for me with a depth and intensity reserved exclusively for the Truth. Not looking to stir anything up with that reference but it’s the only comment I can make that honestly reflects the power this article carried for me, particularly because of where I am in my life at present. I remain spiritual enough to believe such a thing (“Truth with a capital T”) really exists and postmodern enough to acknowledge how rarely and imperfectly human beings actually see and/or understand anything even close to this “real thing.” At any rate, the ability to see one’s flaws and accept responsibility is undoubtedly essential in a healthy relationship and must be practiced by both partners if there is to be any hope of real intimacy and longevity fueled by joyful gratitude for one another. It’s what I have spent the past two years working to develop in recovery, and now wait to see if the one I love most can join me there. Only time will tell what the outcome will be, but my love for her sees goodness and hope that what you describe in this article can be real in my relationship. Thanks for challenging me to demand this kind of honest and self aware responsibility from myself and to accept no less from the person I choose to share my life with.

  12. Bruce Bartlett says:

    What a tremendous offering this insight gives! The ability to receive criticism from loved ones, in an effort to self-improve, is a treasure. So many skills are required: LISTENING, open-mindedness, trust, devotion to self, effective communication techniques, resistance to getting triggered, compassion. The list goes on. In ALL of my relationships of the last 20 years, I have been informed of my problems/issues/shadows by my loved ones (often in very harsh or shrill ways), and I am realizing the benefit of listening to these offerings with a neutral mind-set, refusing to become triggerd. Asking questions rather than reacting. Desiring to truly be my best self. Separating my issues from the other’s issues (huge challenge).

    After immense sharings of life experiences, fears, trials, failures with each other, lovers/partners/intimate friends have a view into me, and me into them, that karmically connects us. I crave people in my life who are evolved and can receive as well as they can give insights. May such people be drawn to me, and me to them.

  13. ProfVersaggi says:

    Here’s why this one trait is the *key* trait to look for …

    In the psychological community the trait the author refers to as “The ability to see one’s own flaws and be accountable for them.”, is called “Observing Ego” and is the ONLY method in which humans can begin to combat the syndrome of “Arrested self Development” (getting older but never maturing), and initiating the character development that we require to evolve and mature as people and partners.

    Humans cannot grow and change unless they (a) observe themselves, (b) decide they don’t like what they see in themselves, and (c) institute strategies to change and mature in the future.

    But here’s the rub … it’s not just a trait for picking the *best* partner and discarding the *problem* people … it’s a litmus test for ALL human interaction, which in time has great utility …

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