If you struggle with trusting yourself when it comes to finding a healthy romantic relationship, here’s an exercise you can use to tune in to what’s most important to you:

1. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns.

2. Title the first column: “Red Flags”

In this column, make a list of warning signs that show you somebody probably isn’t right for you. Consider what traits or qualities about past relationships you didn’t like. Red flags can include certain words or phrases, character qualities, specific behaviors, or lack thereof. You can also include things you just don’t prefer in a partner.

Examples: “rarely apologizes” “lack of affection,” “tells me I’m too sensitive,” “criticizes my appearance,” “doesn’t like sports,” “always wants to stay at home,” “always wants to go out,” “doesn’t like my friends”.

Begin comparing potential partners to this list. The more red flags you notice, the more likely the relationship won’t be rewarding for you in the long run.

3. Title the second column: “Green Flags”

For green flags, list what you’re looking for in a partner. What values are important to you that you want them to share? What character qualities make you feel safe to be yourself? If you have trouble coming up with any, think about friends, family members, or others in your life who you’ve felt safe with in the past. What led you to feel that way? Remember, these are the things you value and prefer. It’s okay if your list doesn’t look the same as someone else’s. 

Examples: “honest,” “loves animals,” “good listener,” “kind,” “let’s me know how they feel,” “gives good hugs,” “enjoys traveling,” “likes the same music,” “works hard,” “volunteers for similar causes,” “laughs easily”

You may not find someone who shows every green flag on your list, but the more green flags you notice, the better!

4. Title the third column: “Dealbreakers”

Dealbreakers are similar to red flags, but much more serious. You may meet someone who has one or two red flags, but they have so many green flags the relationship is still worth pursuing. Dealbreakers, however, are your signs that the relationship must end immediately. The person can have all the green flags in the world, but if they cross even one of these lines, it’s over. Dealbreakers are the qualities and behaviors you absolutely cannot live with.

Examples: “hates my family,” “physically abusive,” “manipulative,” “wants me to quit my job and move,” “doesn’t want to start a family,” “controlling,” “refuses to work,” “criminal behaviors,” “compulsive liar,” “unwilling to travel”

 Note that some of the examples, such as not wanting to start a family, are personal preferences. Again, your dealbreakers don’t have to look like everybody else’s. Think about what you specifically wouldn’t be able to tolerate in a relationship.

Identifying what you personally value in relationships can help you begin to develop an internal compass and point you in a more intentional direction.