Suppose you could choose ten qualities that your future spouse will have. Which would you choose? But wait—let's sweeten the deal. Not only do you get to select ten positive qualities this person will have, but you can also identify and eliminate ten deficits. Which twenty items would make your list?

At a recent singles seminar where I spoke, I asked for a volunteer and an energetic young woman named Jessie came bounding up to the podium.

"Okay, Jessie," I said. "I'm going to put you on the hot seat. I want you to tell everybody here what you're looking for in a partner."

"Oh, that's no problem," she responded, clearly enjoying being my guinea pig. "I can tell you exactly what I want in a man, because I've given it a lot of thought. I want someone who's good-looking, hard-working, fun-loving-oh yeah, and mentally stable."

The audience laughed, and I said, "That's a good start. What else?"

She thought for several moments, then said, "Well, uh, I guess he'd need to have good manners, too. And I want a man who's thoughtful-someone who will bring me flowers and chocolate."

I asked if she wanted to add anything else to her list, and she said, "Nope. That's it. If I could marry a man like that, I'd be very happy!"

Then I got to the point of this exercise: "Actually, Jessie, I don't think you'd be very happy. Based on my thirty-five years of experience as a psychologist, I can tell you that when people name only a few indistinct qualities, they end up with a spouse who has a lot of characteristics they don't like. And over the course of many years, undesirable traits or missing attributes become a source of tremendous frustration. I'm not trying to pick on you, Jessie, because the vast majority of singles I talk to have a list like yours. It's far too vague, general, and limited. To find a partner who is a great match for you—and to someday have an outstanding marriage—you must be extremely precise about what it is you want and don't want in a partner."

Your "Top Ten" Lists

All of this is why I stress to singles the vital importance of compiling lists of the top ten positive qualities and the top ten negative qualities in a partner—what I call "must-have" and "can't-stand" lists. Becoming crystal clear about these characteristics will prepare you to be a highly efficient "mate shopper":  a person who will know with confidence and clarity whether a potential partner is worth pursuing. If you think it's important to have a shopping list when you go to the grocery store, it's a thousand times more important to have a shopping list when you're looking for a partner.

So what should go on your list? That all depends on you. You've got to spend plenty of time pondering, contemplating, and soul-searching. After carefully sorting and sifting all your likes and dislikes, your preferences and aversions, write them all out. Make a long, detailed inventory—and then narrow it down through a process of elimination. Your goal is to end up with a total of twenty nonnegotiable items.

For instance, I know many people for whom spiritual pursuits are the most important part of their lives. They pray frequently, think a lot about their relationship with God, attend church and Bible classes regularly, and are convinced that the development of their spiritual life matters more than anything else. These people need to put SPIRITUAL PASSION at the top of their must-have list, in capital letters.

We could cite hundreds of examples. If you keep your house, car, and desk clean and spotless—and if it's important that your spouse share your passion for neatness—put this on your list. If you hate secondhand smoke, you should put "smoking" on your can't-stand list. If you are super ambitious, and if you get bored by complacent, apathetic people, write "must be a go-getter" on your list. If you have a need for fun and laughter, put "great sense of humor" on your list.