Over the years, I have experienced my fair share of unhealthy relationships. I am now happily married to a wonderful man and enjoy a loving, healthy relationship free from drama, doubts and tears.
The first few months of our relationship were completely different to my prior relationships, which ranged from abusive to disrespectful.
I believe those differences are key indicators of a healthy relationship and have taught me what I was doing wrong during those many years of searching for true love.
They taught me what not to do:
#1: Move Too Fast
I know how exciting it is when you finally meet someone you like, and they seem to like you too. You want to be with them all the time, they are constantly on your mind, and you never get tired of receiving their texts and messages.
You’re single one minute, and then the next, you are in a fully committed relationship, discussing living together and marriage.
Do not jump into bed with them straight away.
I know times have changed, and we are more open about sex, but if you genuinely want a long-lasting, loving relationship, you will hold off for a while.
When I met my husband, he did not expect sex on the first, second or third date. I started to worry that he didn’t find me sexually attractive. I was used to men expecting sex immediately. However, he was simply holding off for the right time and place when we both knew each other better and felt comfortable around each other.
Lust is not love. Get to know each other first to find out if you are attracted to each other on more than a physical level. Lust does not last.
Do not spend every waking moment with them.
Yes, you are always thinking about them, but that does not mean you should constantly drop everything to be with them.
I used to think it was romantic — meeting someone and never leaving their side. I thought it was a sign of love. I would get involved quickly and change my plans to be with them as much as possible. When I met the person who was to abuse me for nine years, I gave up my evening job and moved in with him within a few months because he “hated being apart from me”.
When I met my husband, we started seeing each other once a week, and it built from there. Again, I initially saw this as a sign that he wasn’t interested in me, even more so when he refused to meet my children because it was “too soon”. However, he was treating me with the respect I deserved but had never received. He valued my time, respected my commitments, and appreciated that I was a single mum. He didn’t want to become a big part of my life until he knew he would be staying.
Spending time apart gives each other space to choose whether you want to see each other again and when. You are showing regard for the lives you have aside from your relationship. A healthy relationship includes time spent apart following different interests.
Do Not Bring Them Into Your Family Immediately
I am sure you want to introduce this wonderful person to your children and family, but you need to know them well before bringing them into your bubble.
I am ashamed to say that my two boys met too many “potentials”, and my family were also introduced to a couple of them too soon. I desperately wanted to be in a “normal” family and not be the single one at family gatherings. I desperately wanted my potential love interests to meet my amazing boys and lovely family. However, it puts pressure on the relationship once those boundaries have been crossed. A new relationship will not survive the scrutiny and issues of dealing with stepkids and families.
Keeping your relationship separate from your family for a while allows you to build a relationship aside from your family roles. It gives you time to build trust and understanding so that when the time comes, you can enjoy it without fear or doubt.
#2: Mould Yourself Into What They Want You To Be.
If you are desperate for love and to be in a relationship, when you meet someone, you do not want anything to go wrong or spoil the chances of a relationship. So, you put yourself aside and become the person you think they want you to be. You do not give them any reason to break up with you.
Do Not Change Who You Are
You want them to fall in love with you, not a persona you are taking on, based on their wants. When you change who you are — your clothes, appearance, pretend to like doing things you hate — you are lying to them, and you are lying to yourself. Not a good foundation for an open, honest relationship!
Subconsciously you are building a belief that you are not good enough for them. When this belief takes hold, you will cling to them desperately, accepting any relationship they offer rather than the one you deserve.
I was not immediately smitten with my husband. This was good because I was not desperate for him to like me. Therefore, I was more myself when around him. I soon realised that he liked me just the way I was and encouraged me to continue showing him the real me rather than the person I thought he would want me to be. Pave the way for true love and trust.
Do Not Ignore Alarm Bells or Concerns
I have lost count of the times I have glossed over alarm bells, worries and concerns. I was so desperate to make a relationship work that I would try to focus on the positives and reframe the concerns as my issues from previous relationships. I would convince myself it was me, not them.
Pay attention to how they make you feel. If you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or disrespected at any time, do not brush this off. This is most probably a warning sign of things to come.
Alarm bells or red flags FEEL wrong. Barriers you have put up because of how you have been treated in the past make you THINK something could go wrong. There is a difference. I have written an article that goes into more detail about the difference between red flags and self-sabotage :
I had a ringing in my ears and around my head during the early stages of one of my relationships. Something felt very wrong. I ignored them, and within a couple of months, I had been physically abused for the first time — that went on for nine years.
My husband has never made me feel unsafe, unsure of his intentions or love for me.
Do Not Accept Anything Other Than Respect and Appreciation
If they do not treat you with respect and appreciation during these first months of the honeymoon period, they never will. “That’s just how they are; they don’t mean anything by it” is rubbish. I repeatedly used this excuse to play down disrespect and a lack of appreciation. I know it’s hard to accept that this person will not be your forever after, but you deserve to be treated with respect and gratitude.
What would you say to a friend being treated this way?
Start treating yourself with the respect you deserve, and you will soon start to expect the same from everyone else and not accept anything less. This was how I finally met the love of my life. I started treating myself with love and respect and found it became easier to stop any new relationship that was not giving me what I wanted.
Do Not Compromise Your Values and Morals
What you value in life makes you who you are. If your new beau values different things and has questionable morals, it will be tough for you both to be genuinely yourself with each other.
Having different hobbies, likes and dislikes is one thing — that keeps things interesting, but if they do things that make you uncomfortable, they are not the right person for you.
You know what is important to you. Do not brush these things aside to fit in with their life. You will feel resentful and could even end up disliking yourself and seeing yourself as a pushover.
I know you want to impress them and find similarities. Fake similarities are not going to last. If you have to search for things you have in common, they are not there.
#3: Put All Your Trust In Them
Trust builds over time. When we blindly trust someone we do not know, we open ourselves up to be taken advantage of and manipulated. I know this sounds cynical, but it is sensible to keep someone of yourself to yourself for a while.
Do Not Tell Them Your Life Story on The First Date
They don’t need to know, nor have they earned the privilege to be privy to your history. I always used to blurt out that I had been in an abusive relationship. I thought that if they knew straight away, they could decide whether to take on someone who was damaged goods. Talk about putting myself down!
I know opening up and telling each other your secrets sound romantic. However, your past is your business; keep it that way until you are confident that this is a long-term thing and that you see things in a similar light. How you interpret your past is unique to you, and it can be damaging for someone to pass judgment on something so personal.
The right person will want to take the time to get to know you and focus on who you are right now. It’s ok not to know everything about each other.
Do Not Share Your Phone
And do not expect them to do this either! This is about having healthy boundaries. We all need privacy. You do not need to look through each other’s phones to prove that you can be trusted.
You should never feel obliged to show anyone your phone. Nor should you need to look through someone’s phone to prove your doubts wrong.
I will never forget the heart-hammering as I secretly looked through his phone and the stomach-churning as I saw message after message of cheating and lying. I have never once felt the need to go through my husband’s phone or social media accounts, and he never looks at mine. They are personal; we have no right to expect each other to share texts and messages.
Trust is built slowly, with every little show of support. It is not built by sharing all of our personal data.
Do Not Hand Your Belongings Over
I was always way too generous with sharing my belongings, including my car. Before I knew it, they were using my things more than I was and had commandeered them as their own, even my bank cards.
If someone can comfortably take your stuff and make it their own, they are not healthy relationship material. The person you deserve has their own things; if they need something, they will get it for themselves. They are self-reliant, as are you. You do not need each other; you want each other — there is a big difference.
Treat each other, spoil each other and keep some things aside for your own use. Being in a relationship with someone does not give them the right to everything you have, especially those things you have built up before meeting them.
It took me a long time to get used to my husband giving me money and buying me things. I wasn’t used to being on the receiving end and didn’t know how to accept them. I initially tried to give him something back of equal or more value, but being a single mum, I did not have much! We now share many things and respect each other’s stuff as much as we do our own.
Photo by Scott Broome on Unsplash
In summary, when starting a new relationship, we are always on our best behaviour. Of course, we want to impress and make an effort. However, we should always have enough self-respect to be ourselves and not accept anyone other than someone who builds us up, supports us and loves us exactly as we are.
I know how it feels to yearn for love and companionship. I have finally found it, and so will you. It will come when you least expect it, as soon as you start treating yourself with the love and compassion you deserve.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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