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Four Adjectives


Working on a new painting this morning. Here's the initial sketch:

I'll be getting to my river village painting soon (probably after Christmas), but I have 7 or 8 card designs to paint too. I hate procrastination.

Recently, a friend of mine and I talked of a concept I call "Four Adjectives." In short, boil down to just four adjectives those characteristics that are non-negotiable in a relationship or marriage. It's not hard to pick adjectives to describe that special someone. "Honest, loyal, attractive, hard-working, affectionate, blah blah blah..." the list can go on ad nauseum. The trick is to be succinct and get it down to just four. The four have to be non-negotiable.

The exercise is a good one, I've found. What is it that I truly can't live without in a relationship? The gotta-haves? And to find words that describe as completely as possible those aspects... it's really not easy. Nothing else can go on the list - these are the only four.

Some people might say that love is enough or that attraction is enough. But I don't go into a job search without considering what I need from the job... should love be any different? I think it's unfair to my partner to not have my expectations on the table. If my unvoiced expectations go unmet, I'll be unhappy, which leads to a crappy relationship. And vice versa...

Some people go into a relationship asking to be accepted just as they are. "Don't try to change me." Or they say that they want unconditional love and acceptance. That's a self-focus that masks laziness, in my opinion. In a relationship, I'm not perfectly suited to meet all of her needs/expectations from me - I'll first need to know what she does need by listening and paying attention, then by working to take care of her in those ways. In other words, of course I'll have to change my normal behavior because these things aren't part of my normal behavior. But in the relationship they should be.

The necessary conversation is to learn whether needs line up with abilities. If a woman requires a handyman, for example, well that's just not me. So we have the conversation and she moves on from me - I ain't "it," for her. Which is good for both of us to know or we'll both be unhappy if we force the relationship forward.

So for me... I have a couple identified, and then some inclinations. And by the way, I think this would be a good exercise to do for married couples as well, because of the conversation it spawns and potentially the rocks it turns over. "I didn't know that about you.." is always good to learn.

My first adjective is: maternal. What a powerful and perfect word. My kids are very important to me. They already have a mom, but they need to be loved by my wife as though they were her own. And grandkids will be a reality someday, and I need my home to be a welcome place for everyone in my family. Maternal is soft and warm and joyful and all about the kids. It's unselfish. Our home is inviting to all. If I had to pick just one word, it would be this one. A lot goes into it.

Second adjective: reciprocating. There has to be balance in the relationship. Both of us need to make the effort daily to stay in tune with one another and to take care of each other. In a marriage, one's partner is the only acceptable source of many things. If there is little or no reciprocation, it'll fall apart.

These two are non-negotiable and firm for me. These second pair are still under consideration, but here's where I stand thus far.

Third: devoted. I don't know that this is the right word, but for me it represents deep commitment to "us." It's one life, four hands. But I'm not sure if this smacks of "reciprocating," which doesn't really convey the one-ness I want. So it's a separate adjective for now. Or maybe I'll replace it with "imtimate." I very much need a woman who wouldn't utter the phrase, "Don't go there..." She's got to be unafraid of baring her soul wide open, and she has to trust me with that. "Intimate" also suggests good communication and a sensuality, so maybe it is better... okay, I've talked myself into it: intimate.

Fourth is tough... I have friends, and my daughter included, who tell me that I need an artsy type. "Creative" is the word my friend suggested. That would be cool, but couldn't I live without that? I would have gone for "smart" or "intelligent," but as I get older I learn that intelligence comes in many flavors. I'm a smart guy in my own way, and I would appreciate someone who was smart in a different way - who could help me see the world through a lens unlike my own. I considered playful for this one, which implies a sense of humor and eternal youth and optimism - all traits I would prize and actually need, I think.

So I'll go with those four: maternal, reciprocating, intimate, and playful.

But now having written that, reciprocating seems redundant and can be replaced with something I hadn't considered initially, but probably is necessary for me: healthy, though I don't think that's the right word. Maybe "health-conscious" is better. The gist is that she would work to be emotionally and physically healthy. No self-destruction allowed - that's non-negotiable.

What would your Four Adjectives be? You don't have to leave it in coments, but consider it.


by Brett Rogers, 12/11/2005 12:00:58 PM


Good Question. The words that come to mind quickly are verbs, not adjectives. Here's my four adjectives...

1) Selfless - I come second and sometimes third or fourth. If my wife values something, then so should I. By doing that, I am above all else, friendly (my fifth adjective).

2) Accountable - My wife has never had the power to make me mad, sad, jealous, angry - because I am accountable for everything that goes on in my life. If something goes awry in our friendship - it's my doing.

3) Humorous - We agree on the playful. Gotta have it!

4) Intimate - Good call, Brett. For all the reasons you mention.

Note: Here's why I didn't choose reciprocal (and it's probably nit-picky): I will never expect my wife to love me like I love her - it's not possible. She's never been a husband and looks through a complelety different lense. Same goes with all my loving relationships. I've found I hurt less and give more by this view.

Thanks for stretching my muscles today.



Posted by Mike Sansone, 12/11/2005 1:15:25 PM

A friend asked me if I expect of myself the adjectives that I expect in her. The answer for me is "Yes, I do." Because I can't expect her to do something that I wouldn't do myself.

The point of the four adjectives is to define and communicate what I need in a relationship. I can't do that for her... what she needs and her expectations of me will differ from mine. And they should, actually... as you point out, I would love her differently than she would love me. Part of the benefit of this discussion with one's spouse would be to help remove assumptions about what the other needs.

One thing that I'm unclear about - are you saying that she should be selfless and accountable (adjectives that you require from her), or that you should be selfless and accountable?

And I get the verb thing - love is a verb, after all, and not so much a noun.



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 12/12/2005 7:28:22 AM

The selfless and accountable are what I expect from myself. My hope is that she follows my lead - which thus far is true.

There have been times I've fallen short (my fault) and times she has fallen short (my fault again).

Wait a can they both be my fault? We set some "ground rules" (and I use the term "rules" loosely) before too much happened. If she falls short of my expectations - I'll choose to think my expectations were too high, rather than she failed to deliver.

For me, this works (most of the time).



Posted by Mike Sansone, 12/12/2005 2:48:43 PM

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