In the pilot for the ABC television show Desperate Housewives, character Gabrielle Solis (she's the beautiful ex-model with the gorgeous rich husband, big house, and bottomless bank account) sets the tone for the series with this simple but poignant statement about her marriage:
"I have everything I wanted -- but I wanted all the wrong things."
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More than just a catchy phrase, you don't have to be an unhappy (or desperate) housewife to get what she means. Indeed, when it comes to choosing a life partner, experts say too many of us remain clueless about what we really want and need -- one reason so few of us seem to find it!
"We go round and round, and we date and we date some more and we think, yes! We have finally found the secret to landing that perfect mate. And still the divorce rate goes higher and higher," says psychologist Gilda Carle, PhD, associate professor at Mercy College and author of Don't Bet on the Prince -- How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on Yourself. Clearly, says Carle, something is going wrong.
If you've already figured that part out yourself, take heart. Psychologists say the key to getting off the dating merry-go-round often requires nothing more than taking time to get to know yourself before you try to get to know someone else.
Here are five ways to help you do just that:
Define your core values.
Understand your emotional needs.
Identify your love pattern.
Test drive a potential relationship.
Once dating, go in for a three-month checkup.
1. Define Your Core Values
Understanding your core values is at the heart of truly knowing your needs.
"These are the things about yourself that are not likely to change. They are the tenets you grew up believing and that deep down inside still seem to fit into your life no matter what else changes," says JoAnne White, PhD, a therapist and instructor at Temple University.
Indeed, White tells WebMD that no matter how many qualities you put on your list of "must haves," nothing matters quite so much as finding someone who shares your core values. "In the end, they represent who you are and what you need. They are the deal breakers," says White.
While core values are different for every person, they often touch on such personal issues as:
The desire to have children
How you deal with money
How you make important decisions
The importance you place on honesty, integrity, fidelity
Even how you view divorce itself
And while we all have heard that opposites attract -- and experts say they do -- when it comes to the really big issues in our life, shared values are still what count the most.
"When it comes to our most important and lasting relationships, it's similar core values that becomes the glue that cements a couple together," Carle tells WebMD.