Some years ago I thought I was going to marry my college sweetheart and become a young bride, which made it all the more devastating when happily ever after didn’t pan out. When we broke up, I felt literally like I lost a limb, complete with phantom sensations of his hand in mine.
It didn’t take long for a dark guilt to bubble up—a constant festering reminder of all the mistakes I’d made. I was highly unstable and insecure back then, and most of my relationships revolved around holding me up.
In the ruins of that romance, I didn’t know what scared me more: that someone else might hurt me again or that I might hurt them enough first to deserve it.
I simultaneously felt an aching need to fill in the hole where he’d been and an overwhelming sense of nausea at the thought of being with someone else.
For eight years I ping ponged from fling to fling and extreme to extreme—putting myself out there far too soon or completely hiding my authentic self; expecting mountains to move or anticipating the worst; choosing the wrong people and refusing to let go, or choosing the right people and running away.
In each case, I either burdened the guy with a body bag full of my fears and insecurities, or dragged it around myself wondering why dating felt so exhausting.
I learned every lesson the hard way after first proving myself completely insane by doing the same things and over and over again and expecting different results.
I’m now a little less than two years into a peaceful, loving relationship, and I realize the journey to this connection had more to do with loving myself than finding him. No relationship with someone else can ever compensate for secretly believing you don’t deserve it.
While I by no means know everything, I feel the hard part isn’t knowing what makes a healthy, happy relationship but actually applying that knowledge consistently. It’s a lot easier to make a laundry list of lessons than it is to put them into practice, especially when heightened emotions are involved.
I took a sampling of the nearly 200 responses and grouped them into 7 tips. For each one, I listed a few simple ways to apply those ideas right now. If you’re not currently in a romantic relationship, a lot of these can still apply to the other relationships in your life.
7 Important Vital Choices for Happy Relationships
1. Practice self love first.
It seems like you can only have happy relationships if you can be happy with or without them. ~Erika Gonzalez
Know that it is not the other person’s job to make you happy. The only person who can do that is you! ~Christi Emmons
The ultimate kicker: be honest with yourself about who you are. ~Kelly Bell
Know that you can be yourself and still be accepted. The best relationship is when you bring out the best in each other, and you are purely content when neither has anything to say. ~Stephanie Schwenning
Work on forgiving yourself. The past is the past and you deserve to put it behind you, but no one else can let it go for you.
Be good to yourself today. Practice yoga, meditate, or take a walk.
2. Focus on compatibility.
Be best friends first. ~Wendy Nicholson
Have an incredible “like” for each other. ~Diane Bateman
Have shared (or at least compatible) values and communication. Everything else can be forgiven, accepted, or put aside, however values are the root of how we relate to all beings. ~Frank Ra
Find the person who inspires you to be a better you, and always encourage them to become the best them. ~Corinne Morrill
Take it off the page:
If you’re single, do something social that you love. You’re more likely to meet compatible people if you get out there and foster your interests.
If you’re in a relationship, spend some time sharing something you both enjoy. My boyfriend and I met at karaoke, so singing together is a great way to connect.
If you’re in a relationship with someone and it always feels like hard work, ask yourself: are you trying to jam a square peg into a round hole? It can be scary to walk away from the wrong person, but it’s the only possibility of meeting someone who will feel right.
3. Practice acceptance.
Accept that not everyone or everything is perfect. We are all perfectly flawed. ~Simon Kirk
Be non-demanding of your partner—partners don’t tell each other what to do. ~John Bigl
Mutual adoration and acceptance of the differences that make each of you individuals are keys to a phenomenal relationship. ~Casey Kimes
Happiness is a choice, as are all things in life. I choose to see and feel grateful for all of the best qualities in my partner, rather than focusing on shortcomings. ~Emily Roberts
Take it off the page:
If you feel yourself focusing on everything someone appears to be doing wrong, ask yourself if there’s something else upsetting you. It’s easier to blame other people than it is to look in ourselves, but oftentimes that’s where the problem is.
If you feel like changing something about someone else today, ask yourself what change you can make in yourself instead. If you feel unappreciated, show appreciation. It’s more empowering and productive to show people how to treat us than to complain about what’s lacking.
If there’s something you just can’t accept, ask yourself if you’re willing to walk away because of it. We can’t change other people, but we can change our relationship to them.
4. Have realistic expectations.
Don’t expect it to be happy all the time. ~Stephanie Goddard
Don’t sweat the small things and speak up when it really is important to you. ~Elizabeth Sadhu
Remember that it isn’t always happy, but get through those not so happy moments together or apart, whichever is needed. ~Jessica Duff
Keep realistic standards for each other. ~Ashna Singh
Notice when you’re projecting something onto the other person that has nothing to do with them, like a fear from a past relationship. Then make an effort to let it go.
Recognize when you’re looking for that person to do something for you that you need to do for yourself, like make you feel lovable or take care of your needs. Then release those expectations and do it for yourself.
5. Be kind in words and deeds.
Think about the person’s feelings before you speak or criticize them. ~Dana Brewer Covey
Have a fast ear and a slow tongue. ~Mark Ward
Have compassion and grow together, not apart, as the years go on. ~Krista Tverdak
Love must be bigger and stronger than anything else. Never keep any record of your partner’s mistakes and faults and be ready to forgive. ~Mel Escobar
See the other person as if for the first time. It’s all too easy to take someone for granted. Really notice all the wonderful things they do, and let them know what you see.
If you get frustrated with each other, ask yourself, “Will this really matter after I’ve cooled down?”
6. Be honest.
Talk about things that leave you vulnerable from the heart. ~Cheryl Floyed
Compromise and dream together. ~ Becca Stinson
From my grandparents, who have been happily married for 60 years: the three C’s: caring, communication, and compromise. ~Emily Larsen
Don’t sweat the small stuff, and if something really is bothering you talk about it in a calm controlled manner. Leave drama in the theaters and movies. ~Ben Reyna
Take it off the page:
Open up about something that you’ve been keeping to yourself. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic. People can only be there for us if we let them.
If something’s on your mind, express it without implying the other person is responsible for your feelings.
7. Remember to act.
When you’re bored, do something about it. ~Ernie Somers
Adjust to change. Adjust to moods, lifestyle changes, and new additions, and always remember to love. ~Elysia Cordero
The rest comes and goes as we change and grow and struggle, but being able to laugh together brings you back together.
If you haven’t in a while, take time to do your own thing today—completely on your own or with friends.
Take time to laugh together, whether it’s watching funny YouTube videos or trying something new together.
If you feel dissatisfied with your life, don’t assume it’s your relationship. What other adjustments could you make to feel happier with your place in the world? Maybe you need to take a small step toward a hobby or more fulfilling job.
Start over again and again. ~Miguel Angel Carrillo Infante
It’s a new day–a new chance to practice giving and receiving love.