Humans have a nearly irrepressible longing for meaningful connections with others. Romantic relationships are at the top of many people’s wish lists, yet it is easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of intense couplings followed by dramatic breakups. If you are ready to break that cycle and build a relationship that can last, you need to take a hard look at yourself and your previous relationships. Only once you recognize the cycle are you in a position to break it. Here are 6 keys to help ensure that your next relationship is as healthy as it can be.
1. Become OK With Yourself
Too often, the quest for romance is driven by a feeling of desperation, as if you need a partner in order to feel complete. The reality, though, is much different. While partnership is certainly a strong and primal drive, it is not an actual need. Learn to enjoy your own company. Enlist friends to help with things that you are naturally bad at, and work hard to develop the skills necessary to take care of yourself and your children. Nurture your non-romantic relationships and spend time with loved ones.
Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Take a critical look at what went wrong in the past, and learn what you can from the experiences. Then remind yourself that you did the best you could with the information you had at the time. Let go of blame and judgment, both of yourself and of your past partners. Accept that what is done is done, and look forward to the future.
2. Live in the Moment
If you are actively seeking a relationship, you might find yourself picturing a home and kids on the first date. Force yourself back into the present. On each date, focus on having a good time and deciding whether you would like another date. Don’t try to transform yourself or your date into something unnatural. Take each moment as it comes and enjoy the process. Perhaps someone isn’t destined to be the love of your life, but will turn out to be a very significant friend. Maybe this person even knows someone who would be perfect for you.
3. Take It Slow
Early relationships are heady and filled with emotions. While a lot of this is biochemical and difficult or impossible to control, you can mitigate your feelings by intentionally slowing down. Don’t be too available. Make plans with other important people in your life and resist the urge to cancel them. Don’t be too quick to become exclusive. Continuing to play the field helps you balance your emotions and make a more clear-headed decision about whether to enter into a relationship.
4. Navigate the Honeymoon Period
When you first decide to become exclusive, you will likely feel a massive surge of powerful emotionality. You might feel as if you can’t bear to be apart, and spend a great deal of your time obsessing about your new love. Keep your feelings in check by remembering that you have experienced it before. Healthy relationships are built on what happens next, when the honeymoon period skids to a halt and you see each other in the harsh light of day. Enjoy yourself, but avoid making big life-altering decisions until the intensity subsides.
5. Intersect Without Becoming Enmeshed
No matter what phase your relationship is in, enmeshment is never healthy. This occurs when the two of you become such a strong unit that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. If you share quite a few interests, it is only natural to begin pursuing them together, but make time for yourselves as individuals as well. Maintain independent friendships rather than spending your time only with couples. Create enough space in your partnership for love and trust to take root and grow.
6. Learn to Communicate
If your relationship is to last a lifetime, it will be subjected to seemingly unfathomable hardships. From illnesses to job losses, every relationship is severely tested from time to time. Couples who are able to communicate, speaking openly and honestly from a place of love, are much better prepared to weather life’s storms. Start honing your communication skills during the earliest days of your relationship, and they will only grow stronger with practice.
Not every relationship is meant to last, and there are no guarantees in life. But if you slow down, open up, and let love gradually take hold, you will be in the best possible position to build a truly healthy relationship.
Looking for verifiable information on the science of attraction and relationships? We’re a neuroscientist and a biological anthropologist eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your own life.