My clients ask me this question often. I've address parts of this issue before in this column, but it's certainly worth exploring again. If you haven't learned from your past love mistakes, you aren't alone. We'd all like to think we won't make the same-or worse-mistakes, but we do.  

Often circumstances can impel us to start a relationship.You should ask yourself the same question that I ask a client, "What was going on in your life about a year before you met your partner?" Perhaps you were ill, lost a loved one or had financial struggles. Or got divorced and want to find love. Life's challenges can speed up and blind us to our attraction to a new partner.  

So, the first smart step you should take is to slow down. If you feel desperate, you run the risk of over-accommodating, compromising and tolerating unacceptable behavior in your partner. Of course, we all have our unique needs and attractions. Otherwise, as the song says, we'd just "love the one we're with" or agree to accept an arranged marriage-which tend to work out in cultures that promote it. The burden of freedom to choose your mate is the possibility of making a poor choice.

Here is a list of the top characteristics to look for in choosing a partner regardless of your personal needs.  This list is a compilation of the major research findings on marital happiness. 

1. Shared values. Life and the world may change, but partners who share common root values about issues such as religion, work ethic, child-rearing, and money management say they each are happy.

2.  Acceptance of differences.  Oops, on the other hand, you might diverge on some of these values.  I helped a couple, for example, where the husband converted to Catholicism from Judaism.  The change was big, as you can imagine.  Yet, the couple incorporated Christian holidays and felt richer for it. 

3. Complimentary styles. Couples who solve and react to problems differently are often attracted to each other. Their differences provide greater depth and resources. For example, if one partner tends to be too tolerant, the partner who tends to be less so might help by pointing out what things not to put up with in other people. Love can offer a wider world. Over time, couples "absorb" aspects of their partner's style and become a better manager of life.

4. Commitment. Love doesn't go so smoothly when your partner isn't committed to long-term love and working out issues together. Trust is part of commitment. You shouldn't have to worry if your partner is having affairs.

5. Good actions and interactions. It's great when your partner does kind things such as fill your gas tank, do a food shop or buy you something for no reason. These are good actions. But, on a daily basis, happy relationships thrive on good communication styles. Anger, avoidance, sarcasm, and criticism poison love. Kindness, pleasure in pleasing, and thoughtfulness-no matter how small the deed-go a long way. Happy couples say that they give compliments to their partner, say "I love you" often, and share in household chores. Good interactions do not include abuse.

6. Ability to apologize as soon as possible-and from the heart. Even happy couples have their moments-and sometimes years! Yes, that's right-happy couples say that they experienced rough times but hung in there because of all the good things on this list. One of the things that makes arguments and challenges easier is getting a meaningful apology from their partner when he or she has "misbehaved."

7. Shared sense of humor. Life tosses lemons-and bricks and curve balls. Being able to laugh and roll with the punches builds strong bonds. Laughing at the same things means "we share the same world view, can laugh at ourselves, see absurdities, and maintain a perspective when the going gets tough." I remember when my husband and I were building a house, and we put almost all our possessions in storage. We checked the storage facility weekly, but when we returned after being away for 6 weeks in another city to take care of my mother-in-law, we discovered that the storage facility had failed to maintain the air conditioning. Most of our items were ruined. I remember staring at each other, speechless, and then we both threw up our hands and laughed from the bottom of our souls.

8. Respect.  Love without respect for your partner can fizzle very quickly. Aim for a partner whom you like. Respect also includes cheering for your partner's successes and not turning a blind eye to alcoholism and other serious problems. 

9. Sacrifice without compromising your values. Every day good relationships face events that could make less caring couples go off the trolley. Life is unpredictable. People have to move, change jobs, put dreams on hold, and survive tragedies.  Sometimes, one person has to go along with decisions that they don't like. One of the couples I counsel has struggled for years with the husband's assignments in the armed forces. He's had to relocate and go far away to dangerous places.  Another couple had to face whether to have children late in life. Some of these experiences don't allow for a lot of wiggle room.  You can't, for example, decide half way whether to have children. Usually, one of the partners evaluates the situations and puts aside his or her preference or needs. Happy couples survive these difficult decisions because they can assume that "their turn will come." 

10. Sexual passion. Sexual passion knows many journeys. You might experience great sexual passion in the beginning, it might wane as you raise infants and toddlers, and it might pick up again during the school years. Yet, there is an understanding that you desire each other. Happy couples accept these ups and downs in frequency, but when they do make love, they say it always "feels right." 

So, I may not be able to tell you whether your new love is the right person for you, but if you follow this guide, you just might increase your chances at happiness.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at