Many want a relationship, but do they really know what that means?
In many ways, true love is similar to marriage, or having children. We have romantic fantasies, fueled by society, about these life choices. And yet, rarely do we think—what makes them really work? Often, more thought, and expense, is spent on planning the wedding than on planning the marriage. Couples find, once the honeymoon is over, that they know little about each other, or don’t share common values. Similarly, the idea of having a baby feels like giggles and trips to the park. That dies when you have triplets, your baby has colic, won’t take a bottle, or has special needs. Yet, this is being a parent. But it is a shock if you don’t think about it and commit, in advance.
These life choices, while wonderful, are also work. Most things of value are. Every day, couples get divorced. Every day, fussy babies are ignored or, worse, mistreated—because the responsibility inherent in marriage, and parenthood, was not appreciated before taken on.
To love and be loved in a positive, and healthy way is not effortless. True love means saying “no” to urges. True love means being conscious rather than hurtful, being helpful rather than selfish, acknowledging your partner’s needs, being faithful. True love includes both big and small acts. Because, love is action, love is work, and love is a decision.
It doesn’t take work to be in a dysfunctional relationship. People do it all the time. Oh, the ennui of taking another emotionally hostage, or allowing same for yourself. It may be chaos, drama, and decimation, but it is familiar.
But, to really love someone who really loves you is to be emotionally healthy, supportive, and caring. It is partnership, compromise, and acceptance. Real, true love amplifies while dysfunctional love contracts. And yet, that which amplifies comes with work and responsibility both to self and to each other.
There are things you can do that will almost guarantee success:
1. To find the right person, you need to be the right person.
Before a relationship, build your life. What went wrong in your last relationship? What patterns and habits do you need to adddress? Understand these before you get into a new one.
If you are in a relationship and are both trying to save it, you—both of you—figure it out and heal the wounds. Therapy is a good start. And, you both are in, or no one is in. If one partner wants to change and the other doesn’t, it is not a relationship anymore.
2. Know your boundaries.
Is an affair a deal breaker? What else is a non-starter? Drug abuse? Excessive drinking? Dishonesty? Financial instability? Racial slurs? Emotional, verbal, or any other abuse? Know before you go in.
Once you know your deal breakers, be prepared to follow through. This is not about losing the other person, this is about not losing your self. And, by the way, men and women: emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse is a one-shot deal breaker. A person who will treat you like this is not likely to change, but rather to ratchet up the abuse. They are not your problem to solve. Move on.
If you stay beyond any of these allowances, you’re lying to yourself. You’ll be stuck again in dysfunction, bargaining to accept less than you want, and certainly less than you deserve.
3. True love is healthy communication.
Do you want to be with someone who calls you names? Or blames you for things, nitpicks at you? I don’t. When you talk with your partner, begin with “I feel” or “I think” statements, and be with those who do the same. There is game-playing in dysfunctional relationships. Healthy relationships are not games. If you feel like you’re in a game, the way to win is to not play.
4. True love means goals and desires, both yours and as a couple.
Figure out what you’ve always wanted to do—and do it. Find out what your partner wants in and out life and support it. Decide, early on, if you can and will support each other. You want to be happy, you want your partner to be happy, and you want to be happy together. Get to this early or you will be disappointed, and disillusioned. You do only live once, so make the most of it.
5. Be proactive in all your relationships.
Make choices about relationships and friendships—even those with relatives—and don’t let friendships or professional connections just happen, or continue if they no longer meet your needs or violate your boundaries. Be with those who are loving, respectful, honest, and open. Choose people who know that trust is earned and that once broken, can be impossible to get back. Those who keep you guessing about how they feel about you do not feed your soul, they deplete it.