Have you ever done that exercise?
The one where you list all the traits your ideal man should have?
It’s fun to do. The sky’s the limit. You want blond hair, a European accent, and a passion for your favorite indie band? Put it on the list. If you can imagine it, you can have it.
But don’t get so caught up in your fantasy that you forget about the nuts and bolts that make relationships work.
You don’t want a gorgeous hunk of a guy who can’t communicate and shuts down when you have an argument.
Your dream man should not only be attractive, compatible and fun. He should also have what it takes to create and maintain a healthy, lasting relationship.
That’s why there’s one trait that should ALWAYS be on your list.
No matter what Mr. Perfect looks like to you, he needs to understand, value, and practice this trait.
Without it, it doesn’t matter how perfect he is on paper. He won’t be able to live happily-ever-after with you. You’ll fight. Your relationship will feel like hard work. And you’ll eventually make each other miserable.
The study that identified this trait was published in 2014. Researchers were studying marital conflict in older couples. They wanted to know if personality and health played a part.
What’s just as interesting is what they weren’t studying.
They weren’t looking to see if compatible couples fight less. They weren’t looking to see if sexually active couples fight less. Having a hot, passionate relationship with someone who’s like you in every way won’t protect you from being miserable in a few decades.
It does no good to marry the man of your dreams if you spend the next 50 years fighting.
The older you get, the harder it is to tolerate sniping, sarcasm, and sabotaging. You want to enjoy your golden years in peace with the one you love, not endure his presence with a long-suffering air of sacrifice.
Yet many marriages get worse over time. They’re beset by challenges such as health scares, caregiving for elderly parents, financial worries, the daily grind of raising children, and just growing older. It’s hard to hold it together.
That’s why researchers wanted to know if there was a way to identify which couples would end up becoming the stereotypical “old married couple” and which couples would enjoy growing old together in peace and harmony.
What they discovered was a brand-new trait, separate from the Big Five usually used to describe personality.
When men displayed this trait, their marriages showed less conflict over time.
So what is this mystery trait?
It’s called “positive expressivity,” or positivity for short.
Positivity is defined as “being gentle, helpful, kind and understanding.”
Positive people tend to see the best in their partners, look on the bright side of difficult circumstances, and approach differences in a constructive way.
Positive folks don’t want to fight. Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t have boundaries or don’t speak up when they disagree! Rather, they try to see both sides of the story and share their views in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person any more than necessary.
What’s particularly fascinating is that researchers found that the man’s level of positivity mattered more than the woman’s.
It didn’t make much difference if the woman was positive or not. But it made a marked difference to marital conflict if the man was positive.
Why does his positive attitude matter more than hers?
Researchers speculate it’s because men tend to make their frustrations clear, while women are more likely to hold back their negative feelings in the interests of keeping the peace.
Men high in positivity bucked that trend.
They were more likely to avoid expressing their frustrations in a destructive way. Instead, they approached difficulties with kindness and a constructive attitude.
Reading this, I was gobsmacked.
I immediately thought back to my own past relationships.
I have had partners in the past who didn’t feel they had to be kind to me once we were committed.
When we were dating, these men were eager to please and careful to avoid triggering conflict. But that changed as soon as the relationship became “official.” They said rude things, then shrugged it off. They didn’t bother to be sensitive to my feelings. Helping me was a chore instead of an act of service.
Whereas I’d blamed myself at the time for being too needy or sensitive, it turns out that gender politics were at work.
It’s not surprising to researchers that the man’s attitude matters more than the woman’s. The existing literature shows that:
At some point in the relationship, one partner may desire change from the other, but because men are typically advantaged in wealth and power, they are better able to resist women’s demands and to withdraw from negotiations, thereby precipitating conflict.” 
In other words, if a man wants a woman to change, she’s likely to do so.
But if a woman wants her man to change, he simply refuses.
No wonder so many relationships dissolve into conflict and misery.
The study found two other traits that affect whether a long-lasting marriage is likely to be riddled with conflict: his health and how neurotic he is.
When his health is poor, there tends to be more conflict. (This doesn’t hold true for women. Her poor health does not affect the level of conflict in their marriage.
Also, if he’s a critical kind of guy, he’s more likely to be critical of his relationship. He’s also more likely to perceive his partner as being hostile and critical, even when she isn’t.
So the next time you fantasize about the man of your dreams…
Don’t forget to imagine the positive attitude.
You want him to be kind, gentle, helpful and understanding.
Not critical, negative, or argumentative.
Wish I’d have known that years ago!