LCSW, LMFT, CST
Good Men Project:
Kicking the Tires: How to Find a Healthy Intimate Partnership
A wonderful quote from a (sadly) little known movie starring Cate Blanchett, Bruce Willis and
Billy Bob Thornton entitled “Bandits” goes like this. Bruce and Billy Bob’s characters are
literally fighting over who “gets” to keep Cate’s character, who walks up to them and asks, “Are
you boys sure you don’t want to kick my tires first?” Now, I’m no expert on this, but I think
that’s one way guys used to check out a car - by kicking the tires. Since we can’t do that with a
person, how do we determine if they’re really what and whom we’re looking for? Choosing a
partner is very complex and requires a balanced blend of emotion, understanding and thought!
Let’s look at the example of important decision making when buying a house. We look
carefully and thoroughly. First we decided if we’re ready and can afford to own a home. We
usually find a realtor to show us houses fitting our needs, the school district we want, our desired
areas, and comps to make sure the price is fair. Once we find a house, we negotiate a price, find
out about property taxes, search out the best interest rate, hire inspectors, find a lender, insurance
This obviously goes way beyond tire kicking. Yet do we do anything close to this much
scrutiny when we choose a partner? I suggest most often we don’t. Although, I certainly am not
implying that this is a business deal, I do submit that a committed relationship deserves at least
as much time, effort and learning as does buying a house or any other big decision.
Unfortunately, people often neglect to do this. I do understand that the heart wants what the heart
wants. I also realize that choosing a partner is a very emotional process. I believe however, that it
is important to address practicality and that not enough people take the time to do this. Perhaps,
understandably, we don’t want to be talked out of what the heart wants. Sometimes this works
out okay, but sometimes it doesn’t. On the other hand, some people do just the practical and
neglect the heart part. As I said earlier, this is a complex decision!
A similar pattern often exits when people become sexually involved without finding out if the
other person is sexually healthy. Of course that interferes with the flow of going with the
moment and the passion. On the other hand, STIs and STDs abound, and the level of denial
which must be present to ignore that is alarming. One of the reasons for this, based on my
professional experience, is that most people have a really difficult time talking about sex
altogether, so they just skip that part. This is risky behavior.
I believe another part of this is our difficulty in taking care of ourselves. We don’t want to
appear “selfish” or treat sexual intimacy like a business transaction. First, keep in mind the all-
important fact that we have to love ourselves first before entering into a loving partnership with
another. That said, I do believe there are ways to have this conversation which speak to concern
not only for ourselves, but for our partners as well. And while we’re on the subject, I want to
make clear that when I say “sex” I am talking about sexual intimacy - not just intercourse. Sex
and intercourse are not synonymous!
Going beyond sexual intimacy to look at how we learn about our partners, many questions
come to mind. Do I know myself and what’s important to me? Do I know if my partner shares
the same mindset? Do we both agree on having children? Do we share similar views on money
and what to do with it? If I am a left-leaning liberal, does it matter if my partner is a staunch
Republican? Does religion play a part for either one of us in terms of compatibility and/or
childrearing? How do our backgrounds compare? If there is a large disparity can we be
comfortable operating in a different world? Are we sexually compatible-have we talked about
how to manage different libidos? Are we socially compatible? Do we like each other’s friends?
Family? How do we fit in our needs for space? Since no two people will be completely
compatible in all areas, can we comfortably tolerate those differences in one another?
This is just a suggestion of some of the issues which might arise to cause difficulties in a
relationship and ideas of where priorities have to be established by each and discussed with the
other. So often, we hear what we want to hear and move on from there. I believe this is human
nature, and that we’re not to be faulted for being human. That said, the more we can learn,
discuss, negotiate and plan, the better equipped we are for a positive outcome and a collaborative
Many people are shocked to learn that how we choose a partner is in great part unconscious.
We very often seek out what’s comfortable and familiar, even if it also creates distress and
disharmony. For example, if your mother was emotionally smothering and without boundaries,
you might very well unconsciously choose a partner with similar traits, or if you had a father
who was emotionally distant, you might choose a partner who is emotionally unavailable. The
unconscious goal is to get a better result this time than you were able to achieve with your
parents. This seems counterintuitive. Why would I want someone who gives me something I
don’t want or fails to give me something I do? It all gets back to the original imprinting and the
powerlessness we feel as children to change our parents into becoming what we want and need.
So, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
My favorite metaphor to explain this unconscious reconstruction goes like this. We’re walking
down the street, and we see an apple tree. We think “Hmm, an apple would taste good right
about now.” So we walk up to the tree to look for an apple in its branches. Failing to find one, we
think, “Well, maybe the apple fell to the ground.”, and we look around the tree for an apple.
Finally, having no luck in finding an apple, we shake the tree in hopes that perhaps there’s an
apple in one of the higher branches which we can’t see, but can shake loose. Nothing falls. We
finally give up and walk on without an apple. At some future time, we find ourselves on that
same road again and encounter that same apple tree. Once more, we go through all the steps
trying to find the apple, still, with no luck. The same results occur. We repeat this process as
many times as necessary until hopefully, we come to the realization that even though it’s an
apple tree, it has no apples. At that point, we cease to try to find the apple from the source which
doesn’t provide it.
If you apply this to finding a partner, using the above examples, you’ll begin to see that if you
find someone with good boundaries who is able to be loving and nurturing without being
smothering and who is independent but available and connected, then you have your apple! You
may not find yourself attracted to this initially, but the right mix, over time, has the potential to
turn into multiple, consecutive apples - maybe even enough for an apple pie!
Despite the fact that choosing a partner is not simple, the healthier we are, the more likely we
are to choose a healthy partner and get a better outcome. The creation of the “translation” of
intimacy to, “into-me-see” does a great job clarifying the meaning of that word. It’s literally
letting someone see into you and you into them. Although it is a blissful state, it can also scare
the dickens out of people at times!
Intimacy may or may not include sexual intimacy. One of the things which makes sexual
intimacy in a loving partnership so powerful and wonderful is that, at its best, it is an all-
inclusive sense of connection, knowing, and being known physically, emotionally and
intellectually. It has the potential to rise to the greatest heights and provide the most profound
sense of togetherness possible between two people.