Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives. Whether it’s your friends, family, coworkers or a significant other, our livelihoods depend on them. Relationships are our mirrors in life, and I strongly believe that the relationships we have are a direct reflection of the person we are in that given time. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve just gone through life using trial and error to make a relationship work, which is a hard and treacherous road to be on. That being said, I am proud to have come a long way, and here are some of the lessons that I have learned in the past two decades. #RelationshipGoals (just kidding)!
1.) Love yourself first!! Now this is a cliché rule and has even become trendy with the self-care movement as of late, but it is far from over rated. Now as an almost 30-year-old, I have realized that we can only love others to the degree that we love ourselves, and there is absolutely no way around that. In the past when I did not love myself, I always wondered why I felt so out of control in every one of my relationships. It felt like I was nothing without them. Everything the person would do was always never enough. I figured out that because I did not love myself in the slightest, that my “cup” was empty. This meant that no matter how much love I received, my cup would remain empty. In fact, my cup was bottomless, so nothing others could give me would be able to fix the hole or fill me up. I had to destroy the cup and make a new one from scratch for myself. One without holes! No one is going to come save us or make us whole, no one can face the world for us or fix our inner self and our problems. It is unrealistic and foolish to believe otherwise, not to mention it is no one else’s responsibility to do so. Choosing to not take care of and love yourself completely and unconditionally is even selfish in a sense. Because you are not living at your full potential, you are unable to show up in this world and for others to the best of your ability. Loving yourself will make it easier for you to be open wide, vulnerable and able to speak up in your relationships. It is only when we are whole on our own, that we can choose to spend our time with others, because we are that much greater together. A true and beautiful example of interdependence.
2.) Focus on what is right, not what is wrong. In my Buddhist practice, we believe that a relationship could be for example 80% great, with 20% room for growth. However, as humans, we tend to focus on the 20% that is going wrong, especially when we compare our lives to others’. This quickly spirals into us becoming unappreciative and ungrateful for what the people in our lives bring to the table. It makes us look at others through a cloudy, the-glass- is-half-empty lens. This can trigger us to become fixated on everything that bothers us about the other person, and it makes it so that 20% seem like 35%, and then 60% etc. to the point where we can no longer stand one another. Being on the receiving end of that will also feel crushing. It can make us think we are not enough, that there is so much wrong with us, and that we are unworthy; all lies that can take over our wellbeing. By badgering others, we unknowingly begin to walk down the path to destruction. Nagging will turn into criticism, then contempt, defensiveness and finally emotional stonewalling, also known as The Four Horsemen, which can lead to the end of a relationship.
3.) Change yourself, not others! It is so easy for us to believe that all our problems will go away when said person finally gets their life together. Or that we would be happy if they would stop doing this or start doing that. The fact of the matter is that the only person we have complete control over is ourselves, period. We can try to control, badger, force, and manipulate others into “becoming a better person” but a they will only change if they want and are ready to change. Feeling self-righteous and pointing fingers at everyone around us rather than ourselves is the epitome of projecting our insecurities onto others. Many of us don’t even realize that we are in a codependent relationship. It is a fine, blurry and almost invisible line to be walking on before you’ve completely crossed over and are drowning in the deep end. Codependency is when we are taking responsibility for others and their actions, completely ignoring and neglecting ourselves. It takes over our emotions, and we no longer feel in control of ourselves. It is often unsolicited behavior, in which the person on the receiving end will not accept, making us feel like we are being used and resulting in us feeling like a victim. It is a vicious cycle often repeating itself, and damn hard to get out of. The truth is, that we can only change ourselves. When we finally choose to transform our mentality and well-being for the better and start living for ourselves, we can take back our power. When we make the decision to evolve into the greatest version of ourselves, our environment changes as a result. I have chosen to work on myself, so I can undo my relationship karma so as not to pass on my destructive habits to my future family. All we can do is lead by example, but it may be the best decision we ever make. Metamorphosis is a beautiful thing.
4.) Create boundaries! What I personally do is make two circles. The outer and larger one is for my concrete values and beliefs that I cannot give up, and that make me who I am. These can be what we require from our partners or family in order to have a healthy relationship such as mutual respect, honesty, loyalty and our alone time. The inner circle is smaller but filled with more items. These are aspects in a relationship that are important, but that we are willing to compromise, change or be flexible with such as; quality time together without technology, who does what chores, and date nights. The purpose is to know exactly what we need and want out of each relationship and where we are willing to meet in the middle. Often, we don’t even realize that we’ve never had a serious adult conversation about setting boundaries until they have been crossed and we are in the red danger zone. And while we are quick to get mad, do we really have the right to if we never verbalized these important guidelines? Boundaries are not “common sense” and should never be assumed because they are completely different for every single person. The way I was raised and taught to treat others is nowhere close to what another person experienced and learned. Unless I want to be miserable and delusional, then I cannot possibly choose to believe that someone can read my mind. As of late, I have yet to meet a human Marvel character in real life.
5.) Don’t take things personally. This cult classic rule is from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of my absolute favorite and life changing books. It states that everything that a person thinks, says or does is a complete reflection of themselves. Similar to a mirror, we project onto others whatever we are feeling inside about ourselves. This has nothing to do with not taking responsibility for ourselves or where we are in life, it is quite the contrary. What we are doing is removing our victim, woe-is-me mindset and not allowing others to control our emotions and reactions. It means that we are realizing that hurt people will hurt other people and that everyone is going through something traumatic or painful when they treat someone poorly. It allows us to step out of the black and white perspective of right and wrong, and instead brings us to see through the eyes of compassion and forgiveness. It reminds us that we are all human and we all go through suffering. Being on both the receiving and giving end of bullying, I now know this all too well. It does not mean that the other person is sorry or that we need to tolerate the behavior, but it helps us to not turn the situation into a personal attack, alas freeing us from being a victim.
6.) Love one another unconditionally. Now this is a rule that I believe can only be fulfilled if we have already learned to love ourselves unconditionally. By loving others unconditionally, we are choosing to see the good in them, and love them no matter what versus only if or only when. It also means that we are not holding expectations for people. Expectations can be the precursor to resentment and are often held because not only are we judging others, but we are judging ourselves. By not having expectations, we are eliminating the feelings of disappointment when something is not done. When our partner or friends do something great, it feels like a cherry on top and gives us the opportunity to feel gratitude for them choosing to be in our lives. It reminds us to have patience for ourselves and others and can bring us back to making sure we are keeping up our side of the agreement when it comes to each other’s’ boundaries.
7.) Learn about attachment styles. I learned about the attachment styles through John Gottman. They are the way we attach ourselves in relationships, as a result of how we did or didn’t receive love as a child. They are deeply ingrained in us, but not impossible to change. They can transform with each relationship we have, for better or for worse. By learning about the attachment styles and where we and our loved ones stand we are giving ourselves more knowledge and power to have a healthy relationship. We can learn about what will trigger us and others and learn how to not only self-soothe but how to fight appropriately and how to bring a relationship back into harmony if that is what you want to do. It allows us to know how and why we and others react when we are emotionally overwhelmed. For example during a fight we may be clinging more and feel desperate for intimacy and security or we may shut down emotionally and want to run in the other direction. Educating ourselves about this theory will help us to heal, love and fight better when obstacles do arise. Neither extremes are wrong or right, just different. With hard work and determination, we can learn to be secure.
8.) Learn about the 5 Love Languages. The Love Languages is a concept created by Gary Chapman, and I highly recommend that if you do not read the book, then you at least take the quiz with your loved one. One of the problems in relationships is that we expect to receive love one way and then give it in another. Often what we are doing to show our affection for someone is not what they need or want. I know that I didn’t even know what I wanted until I came across the quiz, and I also realized that I was showing my love for someone in a way that was not even close to what they wanted. This often left me feeling unhappy and unfulfilled as well as sad for being unable to “please” them. Once we did take the quiz and realized the error of our ways, our bond became much stronger.
9.) Take a break. This does not literally mean break up, divorce or cut someone out of your life. It means that when you are going through a difficult time and are fighting, to just stop, take a step back and give yourself a break. Physiologically, our body needs at least 20 minutes to calm down and come out of the fight or flight mode. What we can do in this situation is tell the other person that we are feeling emotionally flooded, and that we need to take a break to calm down. Let them know that they are important to you and that solving the issue is as well, but if you stay, you may say something you regret and do not want to hurt them. It’s important to state that you love them and you will return later in order to give them a sense of safety and security, but that you need this time to be alone, cool down, and reflect. Some activities that I like to do are meditating, and taking a nature walk to breathe some fresh air if I am feeling suffocated and emotionally vulnerable. By giving yourself this time and holding space for your loved one you are creating a stronger bond, and showing that you love, support and respect them and their needs.
10.) Embrace your energy! This last one is for the couples out there. From doing self-development work and research on sex and love, I have come to see how the masculine and feminine energies are at play in every intimate relationship. While having common interests and values will surely create love and a deep friendship, what creates sexual intimacy and passion is polarity. Now every single one of us has masculine and feminine energy inside of us, however, there is one that is dominant. These energies have nothing to do with gender, as a man can have a dominant feminine energy and a woman can have a masculine energy. What matters is for us to truly embrace and embody our energy so that we can activate that sexy spark that we want. When two people are embodying the same energy, it can cause us to butt heads because we are wearing a mask that isn’t our true self and can leave us feeling unfulfilled intimately. I know that my core energy is feminine but when I am stressed or feeling threatened, I begin to change into a masculine person. The more masculine a person is, the more feminine partner they will attract. That being said, wanting a masculine partner, can you imagine how me putting on a masculine front can cause problems? As a feminine energy I need to feel seen, safe and understood in order to feel love and passion, and I am doing myself a disservice and removing that possibility when I embody the wrong energy. A masculine person’s power is in being single focused and they can naturally feel more confident, expansive and giving. By embodying our true self, we are making sure to not fall into a wounded masculine or feminine persona and give ourselves the ability to reignite our spark.
Thank you for reading these 10 tips on how to have a healthy relationship. That being said, this list is for relationships with mild to moderate issues and should not be a template for fixing extremely toxic or abusive relationships. Please seek professional help if you find yourself in this type of situation. As always, leave any comments or tips that you may have so we can all help our relationships to blossom!