The good partner test

Are you bringing your best self to your relationship?

Are you a good partner?

Most people are a little uncertain how to answer that question. Many of us will say, “Hmmm, I’m okay on a good day.” But we all know only too well how our relationships look on a bad day, and no one’s hurrying to open that door. We also often don’t know for sure what a good partner is. When our relationships are going well, we don’t stop doing the dishes and try to figure out why. Just as people don’t usually rock up to therapy when life is going well, we don’t tend to pull apart what’s working in our relationships.

We roll with the “Why fix what ain’t broke?” philosophy, and just get on with it. It’s only when our relationships crack or break down that we want to know where they (or we) went wrong. When you’ve been struggling in a relationship, you can lose your radar on what it means to be (and have) a good partner, or even what a healthy relationship looks like. Or maybe you’ve never known because you haven’t had the right modelling? Or you’ve had a string of difficult relationships – partners with “issues” – that has messed with your idea of healthy love?

The truth is, there’s no definitive “yes” or “no” answer to what makes a good partner. The question is too broad; it’s like asking someone if they eat healthily. They’d say something like: “Well, I’m pretty good most of the time, but I do have a thing for cheeseburgers and fries.” You need to help people unpack what, where, when, why and how they eat – and the best way to do that is to ask specific questions.

It’s the same in relationships. People are complex; while we may share certain traits, none of us fits neatly into boxes. There’s no such thing as a perfect partner and you should bolt from anyone who says they are. We all have our quirks and foibles, our good and bad days, our strengths and vulnerabilities, our inner demons and – hopefully – angels.

But in order to “do” relationships well, we have to understand what a healthy relationship is – as well as have a clear idea of what it means to be a good partner. Here’s a test to help you figure it out. The questions are in no particular order but in various ways each of the seven pillars of love is covered.

The Good Partner Test

Answer “Yes”, “Could do better” or “No” to the following:

  • I freely admit when I am wrong. I can apologise fully, without being prompted or having an agenda. I show my remorse in both my words and actions.

  • I have my own independent interests and friendships, and I make time for them. I am happy for my partner to do the same – and encourage them to do so.

  • I’m fun to be with. I can be upbeat, have a laugh and share a dumb in-joke with my partner. I am not perpetually gloomy. (You get a leave pass here if you are depressed or struggling with mental illness, but you don’t get one if you are not actively working on your difficulties. It’s not fair on partners or families to leave your recovery to chance.)

  • I’m not a Drama Queen or King. I don’t overreact (too often). I am consistently able to manage my emotional reactions. If my partner were looking over my shoulder while I do this test, they would agree with me.

  • I agree with my partner over the time we each spend on our devices and recreational activities (including alcohol, drugs, porn, gaming, sex, social media and spending money). If we don’t agree, I’m working on my part of it!

  • My go-to conflict resolution style is reasonable. I usually settle an argument in a fair and healthy way. (Note: Storming out, giving the silent treatment, vanishing into your emotional cave for two days, withholding sex and picking over issues endlessly aren’t healthy strategies.)

  • I (mostly) keep our relationship in the present. I don’t repeatedly bring up old wounds or past conflicts. I don’t compare my partner with someone from my past.

  • I make an effort, physically, emotionally and socially. I do chores. I do my share with the kids (if we have them). I talk. I listen. I attend important events. I’m nice to my partner’s key people. I don’t wait for my partner to come up with all the domestic and social ideas, or “organise” me and, if I do, I don’t complain about my busy schedule.

  • I share the emotional load with my partner. I give at least as much as I take. I talk to them about their worries. I ask how I could be more supportive (and I try to do it).

  • I’m dependable. I do what I say I’ll do, I’ll be where I say I am, and I’m a reliable sounding board for my partner when they are struggling.

  • I’m generous. With my time, energy and attention. I give at least as much to the relationship as I get.

  • I support my partner’s hopes and dreams, but not to the point of martyrdom. I know I deserve support for mine, too.

  • My relationship standards are fair. I don’t expect my partner to be a super-hero or heroine, and/or to meet all my needs. I’m able to function well independently.

  • I treat and speak to my partner with the same respect I show friends, people at work or in other settings. I treat my partner as I like to be treated.

  • My partner always feels safe with me. Physically, sexually and emotionally.

  • I don’t play games. I don’t manipulate, abuse, gaslight, control or criticise my partner excessively. (Note: This is a trick question. People who do these things won’t admit to them anyway, and they’d never take a “stupid” relationship quiz.)


Mostly “Yes”

It’s a hard job being the perfect partner, but you sound like you’re close. This test was designed for humans, however. Are you sure you’re not a robot? And why are you reading this story? I’m kidding. Relationships are more complex than this, and we all have our limitations. While there’s no such thing as perfect, you’re getting close. You have all the elements of love in place and you’re contributing to them.

You are generous with your time, energy and spirit. You are complimentary, kind and supportive. When you disagree, you can step back and apologise genuinely. You can overlook minor annoyances in your partner for the greater good of the relationship. Sure, you have your moments, but not too many of them. Best of all, you’re up for doing even better. Well done.

Mostly “Could do better”

You’re doing well as a partner but, like almost everyone, there’s room for improvement. We all have communication struggles, arguments and battles over whose turn it is to do the vacuuming. We’re all vulnerable to distraction, and the temptations of technology have amped up the problem: we could solve a lot of difficulties if we just put our phones away and paid more attention to our partners.

But that’s a challenge when a 24/7 source of entertainment is just a click away. Aiming to be a better partner is great, but it can be hard to know where to begin. This test may have highlighted areas where you could improve – it’s a useful starting point and you’ll find lots of ideas ahead.

Mostly “No”

Hmmm. You’re definitely not a robot, are you? At least you’re honest, even if you do have (a lot of) work to do! Seriously, not many people who are inclined to take a test like this will come in with a lot of “No” answers. Just by getting involved, you’ve shown you’re an invested partner – and that’s a good thing. If you’ve spotted some faults in yourself, don’t be alarmed. You’ve just got a generous margin for improvement, and a starting point for quietly going to work. 

Whatever your score, it’s time to put aside the labels. We’re all a little of everything. Just think of your answers as knowledge you need to embark on your journey.

This is an edited extract from The Good Partner by Karen Nimmo (HarperCollinsNZ), $38
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