Money can’t buy you love, and, for that matter, neither can smokin’ hot looks or an amazing job or any kind of outside material at all. We all know this, but what are the things that are more important than looks in a relationship. I enlisted a troop of relationship experts, psychotherapists, dating counselors, a life coach and a clinical hypnotherapist to tell me what they hold to be much more vital in relationships than the way a person looks or the number on their bank statement, and their answers were striking.
First off, I spoke with experts and nearly all of them had a completely different take on the question. In fact, there was only one thing that was echoed by three different experts: values. It seems as though the way our partners see things like religion, family, sex and money, as well as the way they see the world, is essential to a healthy, happy, compatible, simpatico relationship. Here are the other 13 things that the crew of experts prioritized over money and external beauty. (Hint: None of them have anything to do with what you can buy with disposable income or what kind of fashion choices you make, but rather all address the way one moves through life. Of course.)
1. The Relationship Itself
“When we enter a relationship, we think it only involves two people: us and our partner,” clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. Not so, she says. It might sound a little woo-woo at first, but don’t forget that relationships themselves take on lives of their own. “There’s another entity entirely: the relationship itself,” she says. “This third being needs love and support as much as we do as individuals.”
Think about it: If you have five years’ history with someone, the relationship you share is no longer just about you and them; it also becomes about your mutual experience. Everything from inside jokes to missed trains to fights to reconciliations to birthdays goes on this list, and becomes something of a collected, common, ever-present force. And it is vitally important.
“Looks fade; money comes and goes,” Astarte says. “What doesn’t change is the commitment to the ‘Third Being,'” this entity we call a relationship. “We nourish that being by honoring our partner, no matter what he or she is going through,” she says. “You can’t get oranges from an orange tree that you don’t water. Nourish each other and you will nourish your relationship.” Never assume that if you just think of yourself and your partner, the relationship will take care of itself. ” Keep your joint experiences at the forefront of your mind as you interact with one another, and be sure to be kind, above all: “Be gentle with each other,” Astarte says. Yes.
2. The Way You Handle Conflict
The manner in which you address conflict within your relationship is way more important than material things, which is something Caitlin K. Roberts, founder of To Be a Slut and cofounder of I’d Tap That, didn’t realize until she met her current partner. In her current relationship, she feels comfy bringing up issues, which hasn’t always been the case. “Never in my life have I been more OK to bring up a controversial topic, something that has been bothering me, or even instigate an argument,” she tells Bustle. “My feelings are never undermined, and everything I say is heard and given a thoughtful response.”
It’s not just luck, though, or only because her partner is so great; Roberts also handles conflict well, and appropriately. (It’s also worth saying that everyone has different conflict styles, and yours either aligns with your partners’, or the two of you will have to figure out how to make your differing styles align if you’re going to get anywhere together.) “I know what I personally need before I enter into a heated conversation,” Roberts says: “Taking a moment to myself to breathe deeply and examine where and why my feelings are coming from, so I can calmly explain my end; and he knows he has to give me this space if he wants a rational and logical conversation,” she says. “Every single argument we’ve entered or issue we’ve discussed has brought us wildly closer together afterwards” as a result of their harmonious conflict style. And no, you didn’t read that wrong: It really is possible to have harmony in conflict. And that’s better than a hot bod or mad bills any day.
3. Common Values
“I find that if your partner shares your values, everything else is negotiable,” zen psychotherapist Michele Paiva tells Bustle. And the flip side is less than ideal, she adds that everything can be a struggle if you have differing values from your partner. Agreed, life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle, and just like Paiva, she cautions that if your values are in conflict, you may kind of be screwed. “If your core values do not add up, then the relationship is already in a precarious position,” Rogers says. “Focus on things like religion, finances, gender politics, family, sex and principles,” she says. The rest of life will take care of itself. “Little things that you have in common or pique your interest (income, looks, similarities) should be considered bonuses,” Rogers says. “Life is long and challenging, and you need a partner who has the same overall view on life that you do in order to take on its obstacles as a team.”
Values were definitely a hot-button issue for the experts. “Values are extremely important,” Carlyle Jansen, author of Author, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms , tells Bustle. If you’re trying to figure out if your values are symmetrical to your partners’, ask yourself some questions. “Where do you spend your money?” Jansen says. “What causes do you donate to or volunteer for? What is your environmental commitment or understanding? How do you handle challenging family members?” These are all really good queries, and too often we don’t even think to ask ourselves and our partners about this stuff until way down the line in a relationship. “If your values and priorities match, then you can navigate through life together with those as your guide and get through most disagreements,” she says.
4. A Sense Of Humor
“For me, humor is super important in a relationship, I cannot stand a boring life,” Rob Alex, who created Sexy Challenges and Mission Date Night with his wife, tells Bustle. “Humor is something that is unique to everyone, yet it is my opinion that it is vital to relationships,” he says. Don’t worry: You don’t have to have the same sense of humor as your mate. “Even if the approach to humor is different for each partner, it is still something that adds a level of fun to your relationship,” he says. In other words, the important thing is that you both have a sense of humor, whatever it may be.
“Many couples forget how to have fun together as their relationship progresses,” Alex says. “When they forget how to have fun, the relationship turns sour and everything starts to lose it’s color.” No bueno. “If you look around, couples that are laughing together and joking around together seem to have relationships that are amazing; they typically have better sex, better conversations and, obviously, more laughs together,” he says. “There is an old saying, that ‘laugher is the best medicine,’ and I believe it is one of the best ingredients for a relationship too.” Just have fun together, people!
5. That Ephemeral Sense of Je Ne Sais Quoi
“When I was younger, I had a friend who was perhaps the best-looking guy I had ever seen,” dating expert Noah Van Hochman tells Bustle. “He worked in NYC at Chippendale’s and had women swooning over him, even if he were just standing on a corner eating a hot dog.” But his looks were not what defined him, or his relationship. “His wife … was another story,” Van Hochman says. “My friend, however, was smitten, he loved this women with a passion I have rarely seen.”
The point is, sometimes that simple, magical, mysterious sense of je ne sais quoi is all you need to stick a relationship together with incredibly strong glue and make it work for the long haul. It doesn’t have to be about money, power, fame or glory. “Income can rise and fall like the tides and life can throw all manner of issues at you, but if there is true chemistry brought about by similar values, goals and interests, looks don’t seem to hold as much weight and can easily be overcome with respect and loyalty,” Van Hochman says. “After all, looks fade, but true love lasts forever.”
“Relationships fueled by love, trust, companionship, chemistry, kindness, trust, respect and tenderness seem to have what it takes to weather the storms and the trials and tribulations that life throws their way,” relationship coach and psychic medium Cindi Sansone-Braff, author of Why Good People Can’t Leave Bad Relationships , tells Bustle. “These are the things that we can not see with our naked eyes or hold in our hands, but rather we feel them in our hearts and sense them with our souls.” Like they say, beauty or literal dollar bills won’t keep you warm at night; snuggling will, though. “The invisible, invincible ties that bind” are what we should all be after — not chasing skirts.
6. How You Get Along With Each Other
“How well you get along is paramount,” Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences , tells Bustle. “You need to be able to talk about difficult things without fighting.” And, you need to be able to be with this person, day in, day out. Do you look forward to seeing them at the end of a long day? Do you think about them when they’re gone, and miss them when they go on trips, and love having long talks about life with them? You’re on the right track. “Shared feelings” are essential, Tessina says, and “the ability to talk about how you feel, what’s bothering you, what hurt your feelings.” You have to be able to talk to your partner, and get along well. “The ability to solve problems as a team, work together to achieve goals, create the life you want together,” she says.
7. Being Super Respectful
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. “Respect is glue in a relationship,” New York–based relationship expert and author April Masini tells Bustle. “It’s what keeps people in a relationship when times are tough, and it’s what keeps them on good behavior.” Mutual respect is an absolute must in any healthy relationship. “When you really respect the person you’re with, your future is clear,” Masini says. Without it, you actually have nothing. No matter how good looking you or your partner are, there will be cracks in the foundation of the relationship if you don’t respect each other, she says.
8. A Combination Of Benevolent Factors
“The things that are most important are definitely not the looks and the superficial, as these will fade,” psychologist Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. “You need a stronger foundation than that.” To go deeper, look for someone who really complements you and your lifestyle. Do they pay attention? Do they listen? Do they care? “You should want someone with great communication and listening skills,” Martinez says. “”The person should make you laugh, as laughter is a huge factor in what makes a partner happy.
And a feeling of honesty and openness is key, she says. “Someone who is open and honest with you, so that you can build a foundation of trust and respect,” she says. And though, like looks, money doesn’t buy happiness, don’t completely write it off, Martinez adds. “You should want someone who is financially stable,” she says. “They do not have to be rich, but they should not be struggling.” To each their own, but it could be argued that someone who has their sh*t together is always going to be a better partner than someone flailing around. This may be a slightly different story depending on how old you are, however. When you’re in college, for example, it’s cute to count change to do laundry together. In your thirties — much less so.
9. Deep Friendship, Emotional Intelligence, And Knowing How To Manage Conflict
Deep friendship, emotional intelligence and the ability to work through conflict are the Holy Grail of relationship harmony, relationship counselor Crystal Bradshaw tells Bustle. And they build upon each other, she adds: “If a relationship is lacking in any of these areas, there will likely be some turmoil.” For starters, you have to be friends with your partner. “Deep friendship is the foundation to a healthy relationship,” she says. Things build from there. “Trust and safety follow friendship. As these elements are planted and strengthened, the relationship grows and matures.”
“Emotionally intelligent partners know their spouse’s inner world, and this nurtures fondness and admiration for them,” Bradshaw says. “Emotional intelligence is crucial to relationship happiness. It nurtures the deep friendship, and embodies respect, admiration and fondness for each other, which makes the relationship strong and helps protect it from negative experiences when they occur — because they will happen, even in the best of relationship.” Sounds good to me. And as to conflict, Bradshaw says, if you have the first two, you can tackle issues when they come up.
“Having this positivity built into the relationship by cultivating an emotionally intelligent friendship will aid the couple in giving each other the benefit of the doubt, and help them maintain an optimistic view of the relationship and each other, which will then help them overcome challenges as they arise,” she says. “When you know your partner respects you, loves you and cares for you, it liberates you from self-created or unnecessary conflict, and you can focus on your partner’s positive qualities and valuing each other and your relationship.” Yes to that.
10. Simple Kindness
Is your partner kind? This is way more important than Benjamins and good looks, Danielle Sepulveres, sex educator and author of Losing It: The Semi-Scandalous Story of an Ex-Virgin, tells Bustle. “Someone who can be counted on for kindness towards the people whom they love is an ideal partner for a relationship,” she says. “Their kindness to others is a mark of someone who fundamentally looks for the good in everyone.” Pay attention to how your prtner responds to little things that come up on a daily basis, she advises: “The way they react to inconveniences is telling as to how they will handle larger problems,” she says. If they are kind to everyone — even the annoying neighbor, even the unhelpful bellhop, even the dismissive waiter — this says volumes.
11. Empathy, Compassion, Patience, Respect, Flexibility And Openness
As to beauty and finances, throw them out the window, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With A Narcissist , tells Bustle: “Those things do not actually matter,” she says. “Instead, here are the things that matter most for a long-term relationship: empathy, compassion, patience, respect, flexibility, openness.” If you have most or all of these in your relationship on a daily basis, you’re doing great. “If you have those, you can build a stairway to relationship heaven.” Isn’t that where we all want to hang out?
12. Mental Flexibility
Atop the list of requisite relationship components to be valued way above hotness or bank: “Mental flexibility, relationship coach and therapist Anita Chlipala tells Bustle. “Being able to see things from your partner’s point of view, and bing willing to work on a compromise if necessary” is where it’s at, she says. “Despite popular belief, a couple won’t see eye to eye on the majority of issues, and that’s OK as long as both convey acceptance of the other and work on solutions that work for both people.”
She also stresses that open and honest communication, trust and a certain kind of love are crucial. “Being able to communicate your needs and feelings to your partner is critical to your own relationship satisfaction,” she says. “Trust needs to be present for a healthy relationship.” You aren’t automatically in the good graces of your partner’s eternal trust at all times — it must be established and replenished. “I encourage my clients to not assume it is freely given, but that it should be continually earned,” Chlipala says.
And yes, sure, you love your partner — but how do you love them? How do you show it? “People feel loved in different ways.” (See: love languages.) “Talk with your partner about how you feel most loved and connected to each other,” she says. This is a two-way street: Tell your partner how you want to be shown love, and ask what they need. “Be as specific as you can and do the things that your partner needs as consistently as you can.” Chlipala says. “It will help keep your relationship strong.”
13. Not Expecting To Be “Saved”
Never, ever, ever-ever-never look at your partner as your savior. We are all just trudging along together; no one can save you, and you can’t save anybody either. In this context, I always think of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” As certified relationship coach Rosalind Sedacca tells Bustle, “Don’t expect to be completed, saved or fixed” by your partner. “No one can fill the void in your inner self. You’re setting your partner up for failure if you expect them to fix your problems and love you through your unresolved issues.” So, yeah, don’t pick your partner only because he’s got a pretty face or she can buy you as many pairs of shoes as your heart desires. But equally don’t choose a mate because you think they’ll be able to save you. “Heal your wounds and neediness. Then seek out another soul who has done the same to partner with you,” she says. Sage advice.
“Relationships based on the things that rise and fall and come and go, such as money and looks, often have a built in expiration date,” Sansone-Braff says. “These superficial things don’t provide what people truly need to make it over the long haul.” Instead, Sansone-Braff stresses the importance of looking for, basically, a combination of the preceding 13 relationship facets.