I’ve been engaged, un-engaged, married, divorced, dumped and every relationship stage in between. And through that process and the subsequent fallout, there are a few key things I wish I had known sooner — because it would have made my life a whole lot easier.
If I had a time machine, here are four key pieces of relationship advice I would go back and share with my younger self immediately.
1. You are in charge of your own happiness.
Someone else can’t bridge the gap, fill the void, or glue together the broken places inside you. Other people can go on the journey with you but they can’t provide anything you don’t give to yourself first.
The buck stops with you. Decide now to quit casting around for a lover to fix you give you a fix of any kind.
You will not be much happier tomorrow even if they pledge their undying love, ravish you in bed, juggle the dishes over their head, take out the trash, or detail your car.
Anything a partner can do for you is short-lived in its ability to provide you with pleasure. Things lovers give and do for you are wonderful, but they are no substitute for providing your own emotional shelter.
If you aren’t happy, someone else CANNOT make you happy.
Actually, you have a greater chance of dragging someone else down with you if you try to have a relationship when you’re going through a crappy time or trying to find yourself. Sort yourself out first, then engage with other people.
2. Accept other people or leave them.
Trying to change the person you love is soul-destroying for both of you.
Consider this. When you try to change someone you love, you’re showing that they are not good enough just the way they are. You’ve taken the self-serving position that they need to be the one who changes and you’re going to help them do it.
It stings when people don’t accept you, right?
Treating someone else like a fix-it project is deeply harmful on so many levels. Often, it starts with some little thing that they do which annoys us. Over time, the criticism blossoms into something more widespread and insidious.
Soon, the disapproval and negativity will spread through the relationship like cancer. That’s why people don’t usually see it coming until one day, they feel like they’ve been dragged down by their partner’s total disapproval of them.
We could ALL stand to be more accepting and allowing of others — especially people we love.
Dishing out criticism is deeply corrosive for you also. Over time, trying to change others turns you into a naggy, overbearing, angry person.
That’s why it’s high time to decide with me right now to stop forever trying to change your partner — in whatever form this tends to take for you. Your new choice is to leave them or accept who they are.
I’m not saying you should put up with abuse or not kindly negotiate about the dishes. I mean that it’s time to let the person you’re with be who they are — no half measures, no passive aggressiveness.
3. Make the hard choice to gently speak your truth instead of avoiding, placating, manipulating, smoke screening, and/or stonewalling.
Many good relationships go bad when one person continually sweeps what they really want under the rug in a misguided attempt to keep the peace.
That’s why it’s time to be honest about what you really want. You don’t have to browbeat your partner or try to change them (I already explained why you shouldn’t try and change anyone).
However, too many people are secretly unhappy with their relationship because they are too afraid to negotiate. They pretend that they like going to NASCAR races or the ballet and silently seethe during yet another weekend event with their beloved’s family.
When you sell yourself out by faking what you want, like, and desire, the other person can’t help but fall in love with a lie.
The absolute worst part about lying about what you really want is the sinking dread that if you were authentically yourself, they wouldn’t love that person. That’s a pretty high price to pay for imaginary peacekeeping.
Instead, commit to living authentically within your relationship. Tell your person kindly and respectfully that if you have to go to another one of their aunt Ethel’s sewing circles, you might have a nervous breakdown. Choose to compromise and negotiate instead of placating.
In the long run, both of you will be happier — and you won’t have to worry that if you let your mask slip, they might run.
4. Love people in a way in which they personally can feel it.
Let’s say you’re allergic to peanuts. One day, you fall in love with a farmer whose pride and joy is their peanut butter. You tell them about your allergy, but they insist on giving you jars of peanut butter for each holiday because it’s what they’re most proud of.
After reminding them once or twice, most people would start to feel hurt and angry because the farmer isn’t thinking of their safety first. But the farmer’s intention was never to upset you. After all, they were sharing their pride and joy with you.
The problem is, when the peanut farmer insists on showing love their way, the kind intention behind the action is completely lost on their partner.
Lots of people show love like the peanut farmer. Enthusiastically, but tone deaf.
Often we spend years and years with someone who we deeply adore and never actually think to find out what makes them feel our love. We know what makes US feel loved, but do you really know what makes your person feel it?
If you’re going to love someone, you might as well do it right. Find out what makes them feel loved and do those things.
You can ask them, or for deeper clues, it’s worth it to check out Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages. It’s a short read, but the rewards are so worth.