Although you don’t become a serial dater by having a bunch of good relationships, I’ve learned from some of my mistakes, done a few things right, and received enough good advice to have decided upon these general guidelines for a healthy, romantic relationship.
1. DON’T cut your friends out of your life just because you’re dating someone new.
I know you’ve probably heard that before, and you thought, “I’d never abandon my friends just because I’m in a new relationship,” but it is way easier to do than you might realize. Of course, you get a three-week honeymoon period in which you’ll want to spend every waking breath with your S.O., but past that, you should make sure that you maintain your bonds with people outside of your relationship.
Flake too often and your friends will begin to feel neglected, and may even stop inviting you to things because they are tired of your BS. And if you end up breaking up with your SO, you don’t want to have to come crawling back to a group of friends you dissed while you were blissfully smitten. And on a more serious note, one of the telltale signs of an abusive partner is them pressuring you to break ties with everyone else in your life in order to isolate you.
2. DON’T tell other people too much of your business.
You can’t call your best friend up 10+ times, ranting about your S.O. being the worst person ever to draw breath and still expect your bestie to root for your relationship when you’ve patched things up. Of course, you might need advice or a listening ear, but make sure you balance out the bad with the good (and vice versa) and don’t send your friends a 911 text over every, little spat.
This is something I have had to work on because I am a person who needs to vent. If you’re like me and you occasionally need to talk things out with an impartial third-party, find one or two non-judgmental people you can trust (and be aware, that one of those people just might be a therapist) and go to them exclusively.
If you choose a friend/family member, just be sure to 1) only reach out to them about your relationship when you 100 percent need it and 2) to talk to them about other things besides your relationship woes.
3. If your friends and family notice red flags, DO listen to their warnings.
Every relationship is not Romeo and Juliet. If all of your well-meaning loved ones are deadset against your current situation, then it may be time to reevaluate. Maybe you two need therapy, some time apart, or just a heart-to-heart. Or maybe it’s time to call it quits. Bottom line: if everyone around you hates your partner, chances are they have a point, especially if they are afraid your SO is abusive.
And I feel like this is a good space to drop in this very important point: Abusers do not change. If you are concerned that your partner is emotionally or physically abusive, here are some warning signs. It is not your fault and so many of us have been there. If you need some impartial advice to help you make the first step, the phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1−800−799−7233.
4. DON’T look for that rebound as soon as you’re single.
Post-breakup, you can feel uncertain and insecure, especially if your last relationship was a serious or intense one. So when someone new shows interest in you, it can be so easy to latch onto that without thinking twice.
My advice? Don’t. That’s a sure-fire way to either project your past relationship drama onto your new one and/or to get into another doomed relationship because you’re not thinking straight. Take some time, write in your journal, talk to your friends and family, go out and have fun. I’ve said this before, but basically, live your life like the girl in “Hotline Bling.”
She had the right idea.
5. DON’T be afraid to be upset.
I want to go back in time, grab Teen/College Me by her shoulders and scream this at her repeatedly. I was so obsessed with being a “cool girlfriend,” that I let my boyfriends run over me and take me for granted. I was a martyr, telling myself that if I was kinder and softer, I could be the perfect girlfriend and they would see how good I was and love me for it.
In my mind, doing things like asking for what I wanted, or speaking up when I felt wronged was the complete opposite of that. The end result was generally the same: my feelings would be crushed and I’d be angry with myself for gleefully accepting less than what I wanted.
Don’t be this person. Say what you want and mean what you say. And by all means, do not ask your partner to guess why you’re upset. It’s immature and counter-productive. Just tell people why you’re mad so they either know what not to do in the future or have no excuse to do it again.
6. DO build trust with your significant other.
Keep your promises and respect each other’s privacy. Establish good, solid boundaries, and above all, fight fair. The quickest way to ruin the trust you’ve been establishing is to name-call and take shots below the belt when you’re in the middle of a fight.
7. DON’T be afraid to apologize.
You’re going to disagree. Hell, you might even have full-blown arguments.
But once you’ve calmed down, apologize if you know that you’re at fault. Don’t let pride stop you from making amends. And if you’ve really screwed up, being willing to accept that they may not forgive you right away.
8. DO be supportive.
This should go without saying, but you need to support your partner. Pay attention when they talk to you about their interests, encourage them to go after what they want, and tell them you’re proud of them. You should both be one of each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
9. And lastly, DON’T lose yourself.
Don’t get so swept up in your relationship that you forget about your own goals, needs, and dreams. Remember that you were a whole, developed person before your S.O. came into your life, and that you will still be your own person should you two break up. Don’t be so consumed with making them happy that you forget that you deserve to be happy, too. This will only lead to resentment.
For the past few years, I’ve been trying to take a lot of my own advice. I was sick of my relationships taking over my life. Sick of maintaining these lop-sided connections that drained me. Tired of mining one kind gesture or sweet moment to make up for the fact that I never felt “good” about my romantic life.
That’s not to demonize the people with whom I’ve connected in the past, but to make one last point about healthy, happy love: the work all starts with you.
You have to know what you want and what you need. You need to know who you are, what you need to work on, and what you’ve already got right. You have to open your mouth and ask for the things you need. It’s all work and it’s ongoing. I’ll never reach a point where I’m “done” getting to know myself, or becoming a better partner. Constant, continual growth is the endgame.