When I was in my teens and early-to-mid twenties, I never thought about:
How to be in a relationship
How to be a good partner
How to even be a good person
In fact, I never gave any thought to how my thoughts and actions affected my relationship. I simply just wanted to be in one.
And that’s probably why I had trouble finding, building, and maintaining a healthy, long-term, fulfilling relationship.
Now that I’m 29 (and after a lot of reflection and inner work), here’s what I’ve learned about relationships.
1. Stop treating your partner like an emotional dumpster.
I heavily relied on my ex.
When we first moved to Taiwan, I had a difficult time adapting to the new country, new city, and new job. Plus, we were apart from our support system which made things worse.
So, I took it out on him. I:
Compared how different Taiwan and Canada were, and how much I missed home
Criticized him when he did something I didn’t like because of how unhappy I was
Complained about how unfair it was at work and how unhappy I was
Cried to him all the time about how I missed my friends and family
Didn’t help out around the apartment at all
In short, I was extremely unhappy, stressed, and anxious, but I didn’t know how to handle those feelings so I depended on him.
Eventually, all that negativity seeped into and damaged our relationship beyond repair.
It was only after our relationship ended that I finally took accountability for my problems and feelings.
I realized I hadn’t taken him into consideration at all. It didn’t occur to me that he was also having a difficult time with work, his commute, and being away from family and friends. And I was just another burden for him.
So, here’s what I learned.
Yes, your partner should be there for you.
But ultimately, it’s your job to take care of yourself and make yourself happy. It’s on you to manage the regular day-to-day problems, conflicts, and negative feelings.
If you always rely on your partner to do that, it’ll destroy your relationship.
2. Do the inner work.
I took everything personally in my last relationship.
If I felt even the slightest change in his mood or tone of voice, or if he didn’t hold my hand while we walked, I’d wonder, “What’s wrong? Is he going to break up with me?”
I’d fear he’d leave me and this made me fight for his attention more.
I’d wonder if he even loved me and wanted to be with me.
I’d wonder if there was something wrong with me.
I’d wonder if I was even worthy of being loved.
These fears shaped all of my perceptions and interactions with my ex. And naturally, they led to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
After my ex and I broke up, I realized the same thing kept happening in all of my relationships. And I knew something needed to change, otherwise, I’d keep repeating the same relationship patterns.
If nothing changed, I knew I’d keep:
Being preoccupied with my relationship or wanting to be in a relationship
Feeling insecure and uncertain about my relationships
Seeking reassurance and attention from my partner
Worrying if my partner would leave me
It took a lot of inner work and positive healing methods like journaling, reading self-help books, listening to podcasts, and practicing self-care, to feel more secure in myself.
Though I’m not 100% healed yet, doing this inner work has led me to find and build a more healthy, fulfilling, and satisfying relationship with my current partner.
So, here’s what I recommend:
Read Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller to get started on building stronger, more fulfilling connections by determining your attachment style.
3. Figure out how you give and receive love.
People give and receive love in different ways.
For example, I give and receive love through words of affirmation while my partner expresses his love through physical touch.
So, I used to feel insecure in our relationship because he wasn’t giving me love in a way that was meaningful to me, and vice versa.
But once we both got clear on how we prefer to give and receive love, our relationship improved dramatically.
Can tell each other how we want to be loved and appreciated
Can show love and appreciation in a way that’s meaningful to each other
Avoid conflict and misunderstandings (most of the time) regarding the ways that we express and experience love
So, here’s what I’d recommend:
Take the 5 Love Languages test to strengthen your relationship.
4. Figure out how you resolve conflicts.
In the past, I always wanted to talk and fix things ASAP whenever there was a problem.
I (more often than not) was incapable of seeing reason and putting myself in my partner’s shoes. Instead, I resorted to saying irrational, hurtful, and accusatory statements.
Which, needless to say, wasn’t very helpful.
Over the years, I’ve learned I’m the type of person who needs time to step back, think, and process my thoughts and feelings before talking about a problem.
Giving myself this time, even just 30 minutes, has saved me unnecessary conflicts that could’ve potentially damaged my current relationship.
Because when I give myself time and space, I can talk in a more meaningful, respectful, and compassionate way.
For example, rather than say this in the heat of the moment:
Why don’t you ever take the initiative to plan dates?
I can say this after stepping away from the situation for a while:
I feel upset when you don’t plan dates because the story that I tell myself when you don’t do that is that you don’t love me. I feel loved when you take more initiative.
Obviously, the second statement will lead to a more respectful and productive conversation.
Now, what’s the main takeaway for you?
Well, when you understand how you behave in conflicts, you can communicate and resolve problems more effectively.
5. Be clear about what you want and don’t compromise.
I used to be infatuated with a guy who only wanted to date casually.
I should’ve ended things when I found out.
But because I was blinded by my feelings for him and thought I “could change him,” I stayed even though I wanted a monogamous and committed relationship.
After we ended things, I realized we weren’t compatible in the first place because our values didn’t align. He wanted to date casually, and I did not. Simple as that.
And by staying with him despite him seeing other women, I compromised my values and disrespected myself.
With my current boyfriend, I was completely transparent from the beginning.
I told him I was looking for a serious, monogamous, and long-term relationship, and if that wasn’t something he was looking for, then we weren’t compatible with each other.
Moral of the story?
Be clear and upfront about what you want. But most importantly, don’t compromise.
6. Unless you have self-worth, you’ll derive it from others.
In 2016, I used Snapchat and Instagram a lot. I was always taking Snapchat and Instagram stories, posting pictures will filters, and sharing the highlights of my life publicly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Using social media isn’t bad. It’s a great tool when you use it with a purpose.
But if you’re mindlessly posting about your life, then really, what you’re looking for is attention. And that’s exactly what I was doing and what I wanted.
You see… if you don’t feel or see value in yourself and if you don’t feel fulfilled in your life, you’ll look to others to fill that gap. I did that.
I chased the cheap dopamine and the validation whenever someone watched my stories or liked and commented on my photos. And sure, I felt good temporarily. But those feel-good feelings were fleeting.
And at night, when I was alone in my room, those negative feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about myself flooded in. I was left alone to fight those demons.
So, how do you build self-worth?
By doing hard work.
It comes from knowing that because you’ve done, survived, and overcome difficult situations, you can do it again and again and again.
And the harder things you do, you’re reminding yourself, “I am worthy.”
And once you have self-worth from within, you’ll naturally attract your ideal mate and one who values you, too.
7. Stop believing in “the one”.
For most of my life, I romanticized love. I believed in “the one”. In soulmates. In fact, I was obsessed with the Myers-Briggs Golden Pairing of the INTJ and INFJ.
But here’s the problem when you believe you’re meant to magically find a great relationship.
You hold unrealistic expectations about relationships and may give up too easily when faced with challenges.
Conflicts should be easy to resolve
True love should come naturally without much effort
Partners should instinctively know each other’s needs and want
Now, don’t get me wrong. In some ways, relationships should be easy.
For example, it should be easy to decide if you:
Even like your partner
Even want to be with your partner
Want to spend quality time with your partner
But skills like conflict resolution and effective communication? They (often) don’t come naturally. And so, you and your partner have to work on them.
Most people don’t do that, though.
Rather, whenever an issue arises, they’re met with dissatisfaction and disappointment. Then, they chalk it up to incompatibility, that they’re “not meant to be,” and often end (or consider ending) the relationship prematurely.
Why? Because they think being in a relationship isn’t supposed to be hard. And if you have to work on it, then it isn’t meant to be.
But here’s what I’ve learned.
Being in a relationship is a choice.
It’s a choice to:
Forgive the little things
Stay together when life gets tough
Communicate and have difficult conversations
To put in the effort to keep your desire and spark alive
Love, even when sometimes, you might not feel love for your partner
Here’s the bottom line.
A relationship doesn’t happen by chance.
Instead, it requires ongoing effort, communication, and commitment from both partners to build and maintain a strong, long-lasting, and fulfilling relationship.
Wrapping Things Up
Here are 7 relationship lessons I learned the hard way:
Stop treating your partner like an emotional dumpster. It’ll destroy your relationship.
If you don’t do the inner work, you’ll keep repeating the same relationship patterns.
Figure out how you give and receive love to strengthen your relationship.
When you understand how you behave in conflicts, you can communicate and resolve problems more effectively.
Be clear about what you want and don’t compromise.
If you want to attract your ideal mate, build self-worth from within.
Stop believing in “the one.”