Note: I am not a relationship expert, nor am I a licensed marriage/family therapist. I am merely sharing what I’ve learned over the past few years and words of wisdom I’ve gleaned from others.
Since January 27, 2017, I have been in a relationship with my amazing boyfriend Charles. However, before this relationship, I had three boyfriends in the past.
Over the past few years, enduring several heartbreaks and dating guys have taught me a multitude of lessons about loving myself and other people. Today, I will be sharing several lessons that I have learned from my past and current relationships – lessons that have shaped me into the young woman I am today and have molded my perspective on love, heartbreak, and everything in between.
- Before you enter a new relationship, you need to make sure that you are comfortable being alone and dealing with yourself first.
Notice how I don’t say “you need to love yourself first.” Yes, loving yourself is wonderful, but to truly say that you love yourself, you must first say that you are okay with being in your own company and putting in effort to deal with your own mental and physical health.
This lesson was one of the most difficult ones for me to learn. When I was in my very first relationship, I was extremely co-dependent and toxically involved with my partner. I didn’t feel comfortable being on my own, and when I felt lonely, I instinctively ran to my boyfriend for solace.
That, however, was terrible for my mental health. As I endured my first (and second… and third) breakup and eventually matured through the years, I came to the striking realization that I needed to learn how to be happy while I’m single before being in a relationship. I was putting a ton of effort into my relationship that I didn’t realize how deprived I was of self-love and appreciation myself. Although I loved somebody so much, I didn’t love myself.
So after my third heartbreak, I decided to go on a mighty quest to learn how to love myself. I took myself out on dates to Starbucks and the nearest shopping center, treated myself by scheduling hair and nail appointments, read countless self-help books by myself in Barnes & Noble, listened to music that I truly loved, ate all the food I wanted to, exercised whenever I had the chance, and celebrated all the tiny milestones in my life. It wasn’t until I wholeheartedly appreciated myself and my well-being that I started dating my current boyfriend and eventually entered our relationship.
If you are currently single or dating someone, make sure that you are unequivocally happy on your own prior to jumping into your next relationship. Take yourself out on dates, take as much time as you need to learn your strengths and weaknesses, and get to know what you do and don’t want in a relationship. That way, you will be much more content in your relationship and you will not rely on your significant other for validation and joy.
- Accept that you and your partner will have differences, and will therefore have arguments.
There is no such thing as a “perfect relationship.” In fact, it is foolish to believe that your relationship is (and will be) spotless.
Every relationship endures hardships because two people are never fully alike, and therefore go through difficult times, no matter what point in the relationship both partners are at.
Before you enter your first or next relationship, accept the fact that you and your partner will have disagreements and will not have a flawless journey together. It is natural and healthy to have conflicts in your relationship, as long as they are not physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally abusive.
- If you have a problem, communicate with your partner.
It is very common to see petty partners in a relationship – one in which one person says, “I just think it’s funny how…” and the other deliberately chooses not to speak whenever he or she feels upset about something that his or her significant other did.
Despite society normalizing this spiteful behavior, this is extremely toxic for both partners in a relationship. Communication is absolute key when in a relationship – without it, both partners would be uncertain about how the other one feels and would cause further conflicts down the road.
One effective way to better communicate with your partner is to resist the urge to be petty and to speak your mind whenever you feel the smallest tinge of discomfort, sadness, anger, or guilt. This open communication may feel odd or uncomfortable in the beginning, but it is imperative to practice honest and clear communication in order to have a lasting, healthy relationship in the long run.
- Find ways to make your relationship interesting, even after the “honeymoon stage” has ended.
In the beginning of your relationship, it’s easy to feel caught up in your emotions and have the burning desire to spend every waking moment with your partner. In the long run, though, this honeymoon phase ends, resulting in what I like to call the “comfortable stage.”
During this comfortable stage, you and your significant other stop putting in as much effort as you once did in the beginning of your relationship due to the sense of comfort and longevity your relationship has built up. Although this is not as emotionally gratifying as the first few months of your relationship, this is a realistic and inevitable phase that affects most – if not all – couples.
To undergo this comfortable stage without any major conflicts about separation or lack of commitment to one another, you need to make that extra effort to impress your boyfriend or girlfriend like you once did in the beginning. One way I love to do this is to make surprises for my significant other by writing spontaneous letters, paying for his dinner, buying him a small gift without provocation, or giving him a massage whenever he feels exhausted. You can try this by communicating with your partner to figure out what he or she likes, and finding one or two days out of the week to surprise your significant other with his or her personal interests. Spontaneity is key!
- Respect yourself enough to walk away from someone who deliberately abuses or cheats on you.
One of the worst heartbreaks I have ever experienced was when I found out I was being cheated on. The sense of betrayal you receive when someone willfully cheats on you or abuses you physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally is never worth feeling for the rest of your life. This is why it is so important to break up with someone if he or she is cheating on you or if your partner purposely harms you or your emotions.
Being completely honest, this is extremely difficult to do, even for the strongest people in the world. It can be very simple to be tricked by an abusive partner to stay with him or her, but this will only cause more pain in the long run. But it’s absolutely necessary, even if the pain you feel after the breakup hurts more than the relationship itself.
According to stopdv.org, nearly 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Despite this incredibly shocking statistic, not many women or men know the signs of an abusive relationship, which is why it is crucial to be informed and to know when to end it. Do your research ahead of time and call the Domestic Violence Hotline if you are ever in an emergency at 877-988-5559 (it is a 24-hour, toll-free hotline).
Signs of an abusive relationship include (but are not limited to):
– Constant jealousy
– Controlling demeanor
– Threatens to kill himself/herself if you break up
– Threatens to harm you in any way
– Isolates you from spending time with other friends or family
– Does not allow you to dress or act a certain way
– Blames you or another person for his/her wrongdoings
– Explosive temper or mood swings
- Be there for your partner.
You should always remember to celebrate your significant other’s successes and comfort your partner during his or her lowest points. Your boyfriend or girlfriend is one of the most important people in your life, and he or she deserves special recognition, even when your significant other doesn’t anticipate it at all.
Never hesitate to buy your girlfriend her favorite flowers whenever she is least expecting it, or to write a meaningful letter to your boyfriend when he’s feeling down. The ways in which you show your appreciation to your significant other are paramount to your success as a couple.
- Know your significant other’s love language(s).
Whether you are two months or twenty years deep in your relationship, I highly recommend purchasing and reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman as a couple. In Chapman’s book, he explains how each partner in a relationship – romantic or not – has their own special way of giving and receiving love (hence “love language”), why it is crucial to know your significant other’s love language, and how you can implement other love languages into your relationship to spice things up.
The five love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, receiving gifts, quality time, and acts of service. Talk with your partner to find out which ones are his or her favorite and brainstorm unique ways to incorporate them into your daily lives.
- Never rush.
It is important to slow down when you feel the relationship is going too fast for your personal comfort level or when your significant other believes so. If you are thinking of having a long-term relationship with your current partner, remember to take your time in achieving certain milestones – such as having your first kiss together or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time – and to slow down upon his or her request.
If you think your relationship is going way too quickly, don’t be afraid to tell your partner about your feelings and offer a solution to the matter at hand. For example, you can suggest taking it slow while still going on consistent dates every two to three weeks. This way, you will not be overwhelmed in the very beginning of your relationship and each milestone will be much more valuable than it would be if done sooner.
- Do not be in a relationship because you feel pity for the other person OR because you need someone to save you.
Your partner is your partner, not your patient. It is not your responsibility to save that person, nor is it your partner’s responsibility to save you. Although it is nice to have a boyfriend or girlfriend who will be there for you when you feel upset, you are ultimately in charge of your own emotions and you should never depend on your significant other to give you the happiness you need to give yourself.
If you are going through an emotional time in your life, seek professional help through a therapist or counselor, but never search for that assistance solely through your relationship. Your partner is not responsible for validating your self-worth or providing a “meaning” for your life. This will only exacerbate your mental health and will cause more serious issues in the long term.
Similarly, you should never be in a relationship because you feel sorry for your partner. Yes, it is nice to empathize with your loved ones, but do not “rescue” them from their misery by being romantically involved with them. This will inevitably result in further heartbreak to the person you are with and may devastate his or her perspective on trust and relationships.
- Trust is the most important aspect of a relationship.
Beyond communication, trust is imperative for a relationship to work out. If you do not completely trust your significant other, then your entire relationship will be rocky. On the other hand, having trust in your relationship is the foundation for your bond together – you will be able to share secrets, open up about your past, and be vulnerable with your partner, all of which are significant in a long-lasting relationship.
To establish this trust early on in the relationship, it is vital to be friends before being romantic partners. The friendship you two share before your relationship will be a miniature test of how trustworthy your significant other is and how your relationship will play out in the future. By developing your friendship overtime, you and your significant other will grow closer and will maintain that healthy proximity of a friendship that one needs to possess in a healthy relationship.