Several years ago, I became romance road-kill when a guy I was sure was “the one” unceremoniously dumped me via email after a year. As I pondered, okay obsessed, about what went wrong, I couldn’t help but wonder how my judgment could have been so far off. Was it because I didn’t really know what I wanted or needed in a relationship? Was it because I hadn’t communicated clearly about my expectations? Did I miss the warning signs that could have told me that this wasn’t going to work?

So I decided to do a relationship post-mortem, not just on the email-dumping cad, but on my entire romantic history. My goal was to look for patterns of the past so I could begin to see what had worked – and what hadn’t – in my romantic relationships. By scrutinizing my own behavior and the choices I had made, I hoped to carry that knowledge forward into my next relationship. Otherwise, next time around, I’d risk relying on a swirling concoction of brain chemicals to make me think I was in love.

Dr. Helen Fisher is a renowned biological anthropologist who has spent three decades studying love. She has identified three distinct stages of love – lust, attraction and attachment – each driven by different hormones. In the initial lust stage, both men and women release estrogen and testosterone, which heightens sexual chemistry and jumpstarts attraction.

In the second stage of attraction, three different hormones kick in to give us that familiar head-over-heels feeling. These hormones are: adrenalin, which speeds up your heart rate and causes you to sweat (sounds just like fear, doesn’t it?); dopamine which affects you much like cocaine by giving you a rush of pleasurable feelings and sense of wellbeing; and, finally, serotonin which makes you feel happy by suppressing anger and depression.

Finally, in the third stage of attachment, both men and women release oxytocin during sexual orgasm. Oxytocin, as you learned earlier when we were discussing friendship, gives you the warm fuzzies about the other person, which explains why sex can deepen the connection. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the connection is lasting, or even appropriate, just that our brains are busy doing what they’re supposed to do to make us bond and keep the planet populated. It’s a little disconcerting to realize that love is really just a chemical cocktail of brain hormones, isn’t it?

So how do you compensate for a brain on love or lust overdrive to determine if a relationship is actually a good fit for you? Take a look at the Romance & Relationship Inventory below that I designed to answer those questions for myself and others.

RISK-TAKER’S TOOL: Romance & Relationship Inventory

Complete the Romance & Relationship Inventory below, regardless of your current relationship status, so you can begin to see the difference between fact and fantasy when picking a romantic partner. Try to take as objective a view as possible to help you identify the traits that you most desire and those you consider deal-breakers.

Pick two or three positive past relationships for your inventory. When I say positive, I mean relationships that had great aspects despite their not lasting for long. (Although most of us have the nightmare boyfriend/girlfriend in our relationship closet, there’s no need to trot them out here.) Read through the following exercise, adapting the questions in whatever ways make them more specific to you. Take plenty of time to reflect on your answers and write out your responses for each relationship.

You can do the exercise separately for each past partner you chose. Or do them at the same time, comparing and contrasting each. Obviously, some areas of the inventory will be more important to you than others, so take that into account as you rate your past partnerships. In other words, if you prize Emotional Connection highly but are less concerned with Lifestyle Choices, adjust your scores to reflect your values. Score each partner in all five areas on the 1-10 scale, one being least positive and 10 being most positive. Then add up your total scores. In an ideal world, your Practical Romance partner would a score of 50. But don’t be dismayed if your scores are significantly lower. After all, these are the relationships that offered promise, but ultimately didn’t work.

If you’re currently in a relationship, ask yourself the questions and rate the satisfaction levels you’re experiencing right now to determine how well this relationship is working. If your judgment about romantic partners has failed you in the past, the inventory can give you valuable new insights on how to keep it on track.

Please note that I’m writing this from a female point of view and using “he” as the preferred pronoun. It’s only for your ease in reading and no gender bias is intended, so guys, don’t get your nose out of joint, just substitute “she” where appropriate.

• Were you intellectually stimulated by your partner?
• Did he challenge your thinking in positive, but not belittling, ways?
• Did he inspire you to learn? Read? Grow?
• Did the two of you regularly engage in dialogue or debate about ideas, and not just about the people and events of your lives?
• Did you bring out the highest level of intellect in each other, encouraging the passionate pursuit of learning?

• Did you like to hang out, share activities and talk with your partner? Did you look forward to swapping stories, insights and memories with each other?
• Did you trust him? Did you feel he trusted you?
• Did you genuinely like and support each other? Were you comfortable in revealing both the good and not so good parts of you? Did you allow him to do the same, rather than wishing he conformed to some idealized fantasy of the perfect man?
• Was there a sense of deep mutual caring and genuine interest in each other’s family, work, spirituality, health and other major aspects of life?
• Was he your cheerleader, rock, best friend and partner in crime?

• Was your partner ready and able to make the kind of commitment you wanted?
• Did you believe he was in the relationship for the long haul? That is, if you were looking for someone with whom you could grow old, did he truly seem like a worthwhile candidate?
• Did she seem like someone who would hang in if you lost a job or had a financial setback? Did you think he would take care of you if you had gotten sick?
• If you have kids from a prior relationship, did he have the capacity to love your children enough to make them feel valued and cherished (if not necessarily as his own)?
• Was he genuinely loving, or at least tolerant and respectful, of your friends, parents and siblings?

• Were your daily living choices and rhythms compatible? If he was a homebody and you’re a social butterfly, were you comfortable balancing your intro/extrovertedness?
• Did you have fun together? Did you have common passions and pursuits like travel, working out, cooking & entertaining, dance or sports?
• Could you be happy sharing limited pastimes and allowing each other your separate interests?
• Did you share, or could you compromise on, an aesthetic sense regarding your surroundings? Could you be comfortable sharing a home?
• Were you able to discuss and determine how you approached finances, together and apart? Were you able to mutually share your thoughts and feelings about food, money, schedules, fun, home and family?

• Did your partner get you sexually aroused? If sensuality (and not just sexuality) is important to you, did you share that with him?
• Did you find him exciting, no matter his physical appearance?
• Did you think about making love with him? Did you like to give him sexual pleasure?
• Could you talk about sex openly? Could you laugh, cry, and experiment with abandon in the bedroom?
• Did he make you feel that he was attracted to you and that you were exciting to him? Could you see yourself being sexually attracted to this person for the rest of your life (factoring in the inevitable ups and downs of life)?

Now, total your scores for each partnership and then check out the table below to see how the relationships rates.

Think really hard about this relationship and ask yourself whether or not it was worth your investment of time and energy (except as a learning lesson). Check out the individual categories and see what you got from each area. More important, consider what you didn’t get. Were the positive qualities worth the deficiencies? Did you fall for the fantasy instead of realistically assessing your partner and the relationship?

If this rating is for a current mate, proceed with caution as the two of you get to know each other better. On the other hand, if you’ve been together for a while, ask yourself if this is as good as it gets. Are you willing to accept that?

It looks like you and your partner had a solid foundation for a successful relationship, but it went off-track somewhere. Were your eyes open to areas of concern or did you ignore the problems and hope the positives could carry the relationship? Do you regret that this relationship ended? Were there things you’d change if you had a chance to do it all over again? How will that knowledge affect future relationships?

If you’re rating your current relationship, you’ve got a lot of compatibility and common ground already. Make sure you periodically assess the five relationship categories to build on what you already have. It might be well worth the work.

Lucky you! You know that you are capable of attracting a mate who is right for you on many levels. It looks like you found a good partner and that the two of you had a promising relationship. Be sure to take note of the qualities that you valued in your partner and the relationship itself. Now, consider why the partnership didn’t sustain. Was there something you could have done differently? Something you needed from your partner? How can you use this lesson in your next relationship?

If this is a current relationship, even luckier you! You’ve found a good mate and now the two can continue to build a promising partnership.

Author's Bio: 

An entertainment industry veteran, Libby Gill spent fifteen years heading public relations and corporate communications at Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting. She was also the branding brain behind the launch of the Dr. Phil Show.

Libby is now an internationally respected executive coach, speaker and bestselling author. She has shared her success strategies on the Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, Fox News, CBS Early Show, and in Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Self and many more.