Have you experienced a desperate, unhealthy and toxic love relationship before?
A love that is painful and hurtful. A love that brings you tears and suffering. A love that you have to talk to your friend's about for hours on end. A love that you question almost daily.
While we try to avoid these relationships, we tend to find ourselves in them. I was in a relationship that caused both of us a lot of pain. We wanted love, but chose suffering daily. We didn't know how to love each other and instead, showed love in unhealthy ways. We found ourselves in a relationship that brought pain and heartache.
I realized that we didn't know how to love.
If you grew up in unhealthy home or with a family who didn't show you affection, you likely didn't learn the skills to love. You also were misguided by our society which shows you love in idealistic and unrealistic ways. The dreamy love in fairy-tales and movies are fiction that don't take the hard work into account.
Here are 9 healthy ways to love another person you care about:
1) Reduce expectations of your partner.
During the initial stages of getting to know someone, you don't have any expectations of him. You value him for who he is and are grateful for what he does for you. You appreciate qualities about him without wanting him to be a certain way. Why do we only reserve this for the beginning of relationships? You can expect some things of your partner like respect, kindness and love but expecting him to say certain things, do things or address needs that you haven't voiced is difficult for someone to fulfill. Creating many expectations is the sure way to disappointments and frustrations. Healthy relationships means letting go of silent expectations of your partner.
2) Accept your partner for where they are.
Instead of the expectations game, try acceptance instead. See what it is you can appreciate about your partner. See how you can make it work by accepting your partner for who they are. No one is perfect in this world. We each have our wounds and hurts growing up. Romantic relationships constantly trigger our deepest wounds. Can you learn to accept your partner for who they are? You may not be able to always do so and that would be the time to walk away from a relationship. But if you are with a compatible partner, try to see his point of view, extend compassion and seek understanding. Accept him for where he is today and support him to become the best version of himself.
3) Create boundaries for yourself.
While you should strive to accept your partner, you can't do so blindly either and accept without limits. You have to create your personal set of boundaries and honor those. You can't bend over backwards to please someone or put up with harmful behavior. If you don't stand up for yourself and speak up, you will continue to find people who take advantage of you, hurt you or waste your time. Know what you expect in relationships and let your partner know what you expect from him. Not voicing your preferences and needs so you can preserve the relationship is a losing battle.
4) Learn to listen with your ears and your heart.
Listening is critical to relationships but we all pay so little attention to this skill. We are bored, tired, don't make space for our partners and often ignore our partners. Listen in an uninterrupted way. Listen not to respond but listen to understand. Try to get to the core of what your partner is saying. You have to listen with your ears but also with your heart. What is your partner saying beyond the words? Once you listen to your partner, tell him what you heard and confirm that's what he said. Don't make assumptions or come up with your own version of what was said. Listen from your heart so you're listening with compassion and understanding.
5) Communicate to let your partner know what your needs are.
All too often in relationships, we tend to speak up in toxic ways. We use put downs, negativity and caustic words to hurt our partners. We don't express our needs but use shame and guilt to get what we want. Instead of defaulting to hurtful language and harmful conversations, start by expressing what your needs are to your partner. Let him know what you want. Ask him to do help, listen or be there for you. Ask in a kind and loving way. Your partner wants to do the right thing but can't read your mind. You can help him by guiding them. You guide him by speaking up and letting him know what you want from him.
6) Don't have plans to change your partner.
You're never going to be able to change your partner yet so many relationships are premised on one or both partners trying to change one another. As I've mentioned above, acceptance is the key to a loving relationship. If you really want to change your partner, first accept him for who he is. You can tell him what you want from him, ask him in a loving way to make small changes and applaud him when he does make changes in his life. Instead of focusing on changes, focus on the person you fell in love with. Focus on his strengths, qualities you appreciate and characteristics you were attracted to.
7) Know that you don't possess your partner.
Along the lines of not changing your partner, remember that you don't possess your partner either. Stay away from thinking of your partner as an object you own or a person you control. A partner is not a pet. (Speaking of pets, you shouldn't treat your pets that way either!) You do NOT own your partner. You are in a equal relationship with your partner. Your partner's feelings, thoughts and decisions are their own. You can talk about differences and make compromises but don't expect your partner to do what you want simply because you expect them to. Or because you feel he's obligated to you, being in the relationship.
8) Don't store your happiness in your partner's heart.
You will never be happy if you believe your happiness is in your partner's love for you. You will never be happy if you believe your partner has the key to your happiness. Your partner cannot fulfill, complete or love you the way you want to be loved and treated. You cannot find happiness, love and meaning in your partner. Your partner can enhance your love and happiness but they can't instill it in you. You can find that in yourself. You have to make yourself happy first and cultivate the love within. You want to be able to share the love within you with your partner, not find love in your partner. Love yourself deeply and intimately before you open your heart to romance.
9) Work on your relationship every day.
Magical relationships exists in fairy-tales, romance novels, pop songs and music videos. In real life, however, it takes work. No relationship is perfect and no relationship will work without you putting time into it. Why do you spend so much effort to get into a relationship but then let your efforts fall to the wayside once you're in it? Work on your relationship by taking active steps daily. Work on communication and set aside time. Work on romance and set aside time. Plan activities together during the week. Share. Give and take. Compromise. Compliment. Praise. Show each other respect. Remember, the path to love is a journey over time, not a destination to race to.
What have you done to open your heart to love in your relationships? Please share in the comments below.