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What men want, what women want

Published:Wednesday | September 7, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Why do so many of us find it hard to develop and sustain satisfying relationships? I see couples who are either unhappy or seem to be tolerating each other's company.

As I work with couples to strengthen the intimacy, passion and commitment that Sternberg tells us is essential for a fulfilling relationship it becomes very clear that a number of people choose partners who don't meet their expectations for intellectual, emotional and sexual satisfaction.

They then complain that they are just not getting enough or that they hoped their partner would grow and change. In order to find out what people were looking for in a partner and to see if these qualities were the ones that make relationships fulfilling, I decided to conduct an Internet survey.

My Internet survey

We asked 100 people to answer five basic questions:

1. What would you do if your partner did not satisfy you in bed?

2. How do you behave when you meet a new partner?

3. What is the most important characteristic you look for in a partner?

4. If you could only choose one attribute in your partner what would that be?

5. Are you currently in a relationship?

Some of the results were surprising as a little over half of the respondents said they would stay with a partner they found sexually unsatisfying and accept that their partner has other good qualities. Close to one-third said they would not get into a serious relationship with that partner. Most people said they tend to listen and let the other person speak on a first date.

Only a quarter said they talk about themselves and watch how their date responds. Half of both the men and women said what they want most in a relationship was respect, followed by honesty. It also seems that we value reliability and smarts over sex appeal, which few people said they were looking for. Almost two-thirds of the respondents were in a relationship.

Men vs women

So how does this stack up when we compare the responses from the men against those of the women? Eighty per cent of both men and women said they would stay with a partner who didn't please them in bed. Both say they listen rather than talk on a first date. Men, however, want fewer characteristics in a woman than women want in a man. They want a woman who shows them respect, is honest, faithful, reliable and smart and a few want her to be good-looking too. Roughly two-thirds of the men who responded were already in relationships.

Women wanted more positive attributes in a partner and in addition to respect, honesty and fidelity more women wanted reliability than did men. Women also wanted kindness in a partner. Good looks scored zero for women and their man doesn't have to be that smart. No men or women said they wanted a sexy partner.

Ironically, we already know that close to half of all marriages in the West end in divorce, and infidelity is the major cause. When partners go outside the relationship they often say, "My partner doesn't excite me/doesn't get me/doesn't understand me".

It seems that what we want in a partner is more about our fears of separation than our passion and intimacy that would make our long- term commitment a rich experience.

Dr Karen Carpenter is a Florida board certified clinical sexologist and psychologist. She is also the host of a radio programme, 'Love & Sex with Dr Karen Carpenter'.