In honor of our 4 year wedding anniversary this past week, I feel compelled to share my journey of building a healthy committed relationship with others who want to end bad dating cycles or who are wanting to find their person. I believe that if you apply some of the mindsets I’ll share below, you will be better positioned to find that forever kind of love yourself.
Part 1: Advice for Before you Start Dating
First off, I believe you shouldn’t find someone to ‘complete’ you. Instead, work your tush off to being the best YOU – the most fulfilled, self-respecting, happy, and independent person you can be. In doing so, you will pursue paths that are aligned with your ideals and will naturally attract someone who has similar ambitions.
Expecting someone to complete you will always end in heart break and disappointment. This is because you are giving away your ability to own your happiness and contentment, willing someone else to fill the void. Another negative outcome is that you place an unhealthy amount of pressure on the other person to be perfect and not make human mistakes.
When you can be in charge of your own joy, than anything your partner does can truly be experienced as a blessing and gift. You also respect yourself enough to know your worth and will not be interested in settling for an unsatisfying relationship. One challenge I want to help you avoid, that I see many face, is that they start dating people purely out of attraction, without taking time to think through what they should be looking for on the inside. Because of this, many relationships end negatively as both individuals blindly hoped things would work out without knowing what they should be trying to find in the first place.
To attract what you want in a life partner, you must identify what you want and what you’re not willing to compromise. Below are some questions to help you begin to think deeper around what makes you tick and what would be compatible in a spouse.
Questions to reflect on to help you identify a compatible spouse:
- (Family-Centric Questions): What do I want in a marriage (do I even want to get married)? Do I want kids? What is my estimated timeline of getting married and starting a family? What do I want my family and home life to look like?
- (Lifestyle-Centric Questions): How will my professional aspirations affect my relationship? What type of house-hold income is important to me? What are some of my favorite leisure activities that I would want to incorporate in our downtime? Where will I want to live?
- (Value-Centric Questions) What are my values around faith, finances, health, parenting, and impact? How important is it to me that we have the same beliefs and how will we handle struggles in areas we don’t agree in? What type of person attracts me – in terms of intellectual, spiritual, and physical traits – and what are some things I should be looking for that bring out the best in me?
- (Boundary-Centric Questions): What are my non-negotiables in a relationship? What am I not willing to accept in a relationship? What are some red flags I should be keeping an eye out for? How can I establish boundaries to protect myself (and my children) from having an abusive, neglectful, or hateful partner/parent (we don’t ever want to think about this, but it is critically important so that you do not get into or stay in a dangerous / dysfunctional situation)?
Through reflecting on these questions, you’ll realize building a relationship for the long-run is going to take work and intention. Developing a deep sense of self does take time and experience so you may have to get to know a lot of people, do some soul searching, and reflect to figure out your answers to the questions above.
Part 2: Guidance for When You’ve Started ‘Going Out’
My husband I were friends for about a year before we started dating. It was during that period that I decided to mature and focus on finding myself to discover what my personal beliefs about the world were. By not trying to fit in or actively look for a partner, I was actually able to be my most authentic self which enabled me to more naturally find someone who was compatible.
Don’t get me wrong, having some of my bigger plans and ideals in place of what I was ultimately looking for in a husband, didn’t take away the giddiness and nerves that came with getting asked out, going on the first couple dates, and starting to learn about each other. What it did do was give me the courage to be a bit bolder sooner in our relationship by being empowered to share what my dreams and goals were to see if they matched how he envisioned his future to look like.
In order to be in the moment and savor our newly dating phase, I chose to not pre-plan what I was going to say or ask, but instead, let things unravel on own. As our conversations and connection started growing deeper, I could bring up subjects that were important to me and be receptive to hear what his perspectives were to see if we could align on the most important stuff.
I was also honest in sharing with him that I was in place in my life where I wasn’t interested in just dating around, but that I actually wanted to find and start building a life with my soulmate. This let him know early on what my standards were to give him the option to end our relationship sooner than later if he wasn’t on the same page.
The hard truth is that you can’t fix bad timing and no matter how long you try and wait, the other person just might not ever be ready to commit with you. Instead, remember what you’re worth and choose to respect yourself rather than putting up with someone who can’t. I promise, if you do, you’ll find a new person who’s also been patiently waiting for someone to go the distance with.
Date night ideas:
- (Active Date Ideas): Get out doors by going hiking, biking, tennis, golf, fishing. You can also get busy inside with rock climbing, going to the gym together, taking dance lessons, picking up a couples sport such as tennis.
- (Event-Based Date Ideas): Being in new environments around other people can help bring out different sides of each other. Some ways to do that include; concerts, stand up comedy events, festivals, local art fairs, church events.
- (Economical Date Ideas): Having a tight budget doesn’t mean you need to compromise on the fun, you just need to get a little creative. Some inexpensive ideas could be, going on a picnic, dinner and a movie at home, playing video games with/against each other, going for a walk.
- (Indoor Date Ideas – for when weather isn’t optimal): Sometimes when the weather is wonky, you need to do something engaging like; reading a book together, playing board games, completing a puzzle, playing music/jamming.
Part 3: Navigating Past the Honeymoon Phase
As much as we all want to believe the honeymoon phase will never end, the day will come where you will be able to say goodbye without needing to banter about ‘who’s going to hang the phone up first’ for an hour…. All I can say is, enjoy it while it lasts kids, but know what’s waiting on the other side of that is so much more rewarding (and tougher).
You get to the other side when you no longer see your partner and everything they do through rose-colored glasses. Its like a veil falls away and you realize; they can do wrong, they can annoy, irritate, or hurt you, they are now human and prone to making mistakes. This realization is what allows you to no longer designate every breath thinking about them, but have the capacity to work on other things as well.
So now what do you do? Work on you and on continuing to grow your relationship. Making things work when the newness and excitement fades away is hard work but also gives you the chance to build meaningful and emotional roots.
How can you do that? Through accepting that relationships aren’t easy, first off, and then through; self-reflection, learning from other couples who have healthy relationships, reading books on interpersonal skills, attending relationship events, and experiencing other elements in life.
Ways to help grow your relationship:
- (Read): Reading personal development books will help you become more self-aware and skilled in relating to others. Investing time to read books on relationships / marriage will help you better understand your partner and be more equipped to handle struggles by having tools and resources to pull from. If you are also wanting to have deeper conversations with your partner, reading together aloud or discussing chapters through independent reading is quite fun and stimulating. Here are some of my favorite relationship books: Personality Plus, 5 Love Languages, Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, 365 Questions for Couples
- (Have a Common Vision): Take time to reflect back on all of the things you’ve both been grateful going through together, but also be intentional discussing where you’re headed. One way my husband and I do this, is that we schedule a Sunday night family meeting where we catch up on the past week, discuss how we can support each other for what’s ahead and talk about how our actions align with our bigger goals. What you’ll learn is that the people you are 5,10, 20 years from now will be different than the people you were when you first got married and not doing this on a regular basis can get you off track pretty easily. Rather than grow apart, grow together.
- (Establish Rituals): Having set rituals and shared experiences in place allows you to maintain a sense of confidence due to the consistency in your relationship. Its also important to foster habits that are focused on the other person so that they feel loved. For example, my husband feels the most loved when I take care of him and when we spend quality time together; our ritual is that I typically make dinner and then we sit and talk about our day together. My love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch so a couple of our rituals are; we hug and kiss goodbye in the morning and when I get home, we text lovey notes during the day, and he gives me lots of appreciative comments and compliments throughout the day.
- (Be Back-to-Back): In order for you to feel like you have a partner who has your back in all things, you must give that same consideration towards the. This means your partners needs MUST come first over friends, family, and children. Sometimes I’ve seen one spouse complain, vent, or badmouth their lover to their friends, parents, or other family, and what happens is that your partner no longer feels safe around those people. They can feel the negative judgment from those around them and then its tough to spend time with others.
- (Love is an Action Word): You may not always feel in love, you may not always want to be patient or have grace, assuming the best in your partner just might not be easy, but that’s what’s required to keep your marriage thriving. In moments of frustration, what I remind myself is that love is an action word.To be more in love, work on acting more lovingly and those feelings with start to follow. You’ll find your partner will probably be more eager to act lovingly towards you as well.
My greatest hope with this article is to be honest and real about how much work dating / marriage can be, but also how worth it it is when you have the right thought-process and tools in place. I’d love to hear about any other tips or perspectives you could offer up as well!