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How Lists Can Help You Choose a Mate Wisely

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Many singles hope to marry yet lack clarity about what traits to look for in a spouse. Consequently, they may get involved in relationships that disappoint them.

Some people settle for less than they deserve because they don’t recognize their own fine qualities. Another obstacle to marrying occurs when they find an imperfection in a good person which becomes their reason to reject him or her.

I ask women in my Marry with Confidence workshops to make three lists. You can make the same ones. By carefully creating each list below, you’re likely to:

  • Gain clarity about the qualities you value in a spouse
  • Gain confidence in your ability to succeed in marriage
  • Accept that none of us is perfect, yet we can still be wonderful marriage partners

List # 1

  1. List ten specific qualities you want your spouse to have.
  2. Review your list. Note whether each feature on it is something you want (W) or need (N). For example, you may think you need him to have a certain occupation, height, weight, or hair color, but not include on your list one or more important traits for lasting happiness, such as kindness, empathy, a sense of humor, integrity, chemistry, similar values, emotional stability, religion, intellectual compatibility, or something else. In general, desirable character traits are needs; physical characteristics are more likely to be wants, which are less important.   
  3. Revise your list to include more needs and fewer wants. Is an important trait missing? If yes, add it to your list and remove a nonessential quality. It can help to discuss and evaluate your list with a wise person you trust, such as a happily married friend, a therapist, or some other advisor.
  4. You can rate the importance of each quality you’ve listed on a scale of 1-to-10, ten meaning most important to you; one meaning least important.

List #2

  1. Identify ten traits of your own that your future spouse is likely to appreciate.
  2. Keep your list in mind while you experience the ups and downs of dating, knowing that you deserve and can create a great marriage.
  3. Instead of feeling like a beggar at a banquet, expect to feel like a giver. You are bringing your own unique contributions, which are likely to complement those of your future spouse.

List #3

  1. List five less-than-perfect qualities in yourself or areas in which you have room to grow.
  2. Remember that we can’t expect to find a partner who’s more perfect than we are.
  3. Recognize that the field of potential spouses has now expanded greatly.

Lists Are Helpful But Not Cast in Stone

These lists are likely to be quite helpful, but they’re not cast in stone. You may meet or already know someone who might be “the one” even though he or she lacks a quality or two on your list.  

No one gets everything they want in life. But by thinking through what you need, want, and have to offer, including even your less-than-perfect qualities (!), you’re on your way to creating a marriage that fulfills you emotionally and spiritually as well as physically and materially.

How Lists Can Help You Choose a Mate Wisely

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). How Lists Can Help You Choose a Mate Wisely. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.