Eric Berne once said, “Love is nature’s psychotherapy.” There is no greater catalyst for healing and growth than love. When your back is up against the wall—when you’re at risk of losing something irreplaceable—you “wake up” from complacency. This is when the real magic happens.
Regardless of whether you’re in a 50-day or a 50-year relationship, here are some tips to create healthy and realistic love:
1. Accept conflict as normal.
Perfection only exists in Hollywood. Disagreements happen. Unless you’re embroiled in severe problems (i.e., unfaithfulness, abuse, addictions, legal problems, or violence), don’t throw away a relationship because you’ve hit a rough patch. Trust and commitment deepen as you travel through storms together.
2. Grow yourself up emotionally.
Many people behave in a dysfunctional manner. What you consider “normal” behavior may actually be destructive to yourself or others. If you’re confused as to whether your behavior is “emotionally mature,” ask yourself: Am I enjoying fulfilling, intimate relationships? Am I feeling vibrant and healthy? Am I living my life with purpose and meaning? If the answer is “no,” be brave and face your issues. Talk with a skilled therapist, pastor, or counselor.
3. Take (or give) space.
Partners may choose to separate (either physically or emotionally) while they work on their own individual issues. Healing childhood wounds is difficult enough without having to be accountable to a partner. If your partner asks for space, give him the world. Stop all stalking — peering at Facebook, driving by his work, or asking friends for information. Stop obsessing about anyone else’s life except your own.
4. Learn to fly solo.
Your happiness resides within you—not a relationship, a job, or a perfect set of circumstances. My most successful clients have an abundance of joie de vivre. They literally wake up happy—no matter the circumstances, including a devastating breakup. Forgo being in a relationship until you can learn to be happy with yourself … right now … today … with or without a partner.
5. Develop an “I’m awesome” attitude.
You (and only you) determine your self-worth. I’ve seen far too many women curl up into the fetal position—and lose their power—upon the whims and moods of a man. It doesn’t matter whether he stays or goes or compliments or criticizes. Your self-esteem needs to be like nonstick cookware—a third-party opinion (regardless of whether it’s good or bad) slides right off.
6. Take care of your own needs.
You’re an adult, not a child. As a result, you call the shots. Need a nap? Take it. Want ice cream? Have some. Want to go to the movies? Enjoy. In partnership, you can ask the other person to help you meet your needs. But, like you, they have their own needs and problems. They may say “no.” This is not a rejection. Instead, it’s an invitation—to be self-reliant or reach out to your community (i.e., friends or family) for help. If you make one person your end-all-be-all, they will resent it. And so will you.
7. Communicate boundaries.
More relationships die from silence than violence. Did you bite your tongue until it bled? Did you turn away from bad behavior? Did you nag instead of enforcing consequences? If you acted “compliant” to keep the peace, you contributed to the inauthenticity of the relationship. Decide to forge a different path: Speak up. Say no. Don’t allow anyone to treat you like a doormat.
8. Never reward bad behavior.
Psychology may explain bad behavior, but it doesn’t excuse it. Have you been doling out positive reinforcement (i.e., sex, food, housing, favors) in hopes your beloved will change for the better? Is it working? If not, it’s time for a new ground rules. If your love doesn’t change him, your independence might.
9. Heed the wisdom of your internal voice.
When your relationship is in crisis, it’s natural to beg your friends for advice. But the symphony of opinions is likely drowning out the only voice that matters—your own. Get quiet. Meditate. Pray. Clear mental space, so you can hear your intuition. Can this relationship be saved? Is it in your best interest? Are you being pushed to grow? Your heart will never fail you, so learn to listen.
10. Be patient but also realistic.
So, when is it time to give up? Look to your partner’s actions—not words—for a clue. Has he committed to counseling? Is he making a commitment to change? Or simply paying lip service? You have only one life to live. Don’t waste it on a promise and a dream, especially absent a real commitment. Relationships can be like old shoes—we stay in them even when they are no longer functional because they are comfortable. But comfort is rarely an indication of a life well-lived.