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 address? 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.
6. You are not a victim.
You have control over your life. People stuck in unhealthy relationship dynamics—including me when I was—are stuck in denial, and rationalization. Call yourself on your excuses. Stop believing them. Disengage from a need to be pitied. Are you telling yourself or others stories about being taken advantage of trying to generate sympathy? Stop. Victimhood is not attractive to healthy people. Not only that, you are not a victim. You are in control. Take it.
7. Live with purpose.
Spend quiet time alone each day, without interruption. Think about what you need in life to feel better, or do better. What is missing for you? You don’t have to officially meditate, unless you want to, but be still and quiet. Go inward without distraction. You can be a person who makes things happen, or a person to whom things happen. Which do you want?
Living with purpose is about doing the tough things, and then reaping the rewards. When you sit with your feelings instead of eating them, or watching mindless TV, or drinking five beers, you can get past them, understand them, and process them. When you go to the gym to re-energize, relieve anxiety, and get strong, you give yourself an immeasurable gift. When you eat healthy to fuel your body you can be present in mind, body, and spirit for your family, friends, partner, and yourself.
It is also important, when you’re in a relationship, to maintain this practice, as tempting as it may be to spend all your time with your new love. We all need me time. You’ll find you have more to give to your partner, when you also give to yourself.
8. True love does not hurt.
Loving relationships are consistent. There will always be times of inadvertent hurt or disappointment, even with those who truly love you. That’s life; no one can meet your every need. A comment may be taken the wrong way, your partner may be struggling with something—there are a myriad of reasons for a minor hiccup. It’s not always smooth, but if you work at it, it works. True love helps you with life, it’s not what makes life more difficult. Love is support in a difficult world. Everything in life is not an argument or a challenge. Emotionally healthy people don’t live that way.
9. True love loves us as we are, and wants us as we are.
If someone asks you to give up interests, hobbies, friends, a job, or anything that makes you who you are, that’s not true love. And, it’s not healthy. To nest in a new relationship is normal, but after a time, you settle in, and get back to your routine. Life is about balance. Because life is busy, you may adjust how much time you give your interests and loved ones, but it’s important to maintain the fullness of who you are, just as your partner does the same. One plus one equals two, not one.
10. Finally, true love is an action from you and to you. Act it and insist on it. Every day, whether in a relationship or not, assert that love is what you do, not what you say. And, require it. For non-love relationships, such as those with friends, co-workers, even acquaintances, respect is the action from you, and the action to you. You deserve to be treated with love and respect. In all your relationships.
Real, true love is work, and when you understand that, you will be less likely to go in and out of relationships in which you will experience anything but love. Use your time out of a relationship wisely. Build what you need to be in a healthy relationship. And then, go out and make it. And it will be real, and true, and wonderful.
This post was originally published in goodmenproject.com