It may be a fast-paced time of year, but it is also a good time to slow down and reflect. While you may find yourself doubting if the love you desire will ever be yours, it is absolutely possible to let go of concerns and fears and focus on deepening your commitment to finding a great relationship. When fear and frustration are in the forefront of your mind, your goal of finding a relationship may feel more impossible, but you can re-frame the way you think about dating by shifting your attention back to your goal and keeping hope alive (and yes, you are allowed to feel anxious too).
Searching for the right person may feel like a lot of work (and it often is!), but landing a healthy and happy relationship is one of the most rewarding life experiences. It’s unfortunate that we are not formally educated on how to build and maintain a healthy relationship, what to look for in a partner, and how not to be. This lack of insight and knowledge makes it natural to make mistakes and misguided decisions before developing the skills needed for relationship health, longevity, and satisfaction.
There is a lot you can do to find the right relationship and take control of your dating life, your thoughts about dating, and the way you approach relationships. Here are six strategies for finding a great relationship and ensuring you are emotionally available:
Take stock of any unhealthy relationship habits you’ve engaged in during dating and past relationships.
While you may not initially realize the negative impact your behavior can have on your relationship, engaging in unhealthy or toxic habits easily destroys connection over time. Unhealthy relationship habits include keeping score (of who’s done what, who’s messed up the most, who cares more, etc.), being passive aggressive, lying, putting up walls, expecting your partner to read your mind (not speaking up for what you want and then getting upset at your partner for not knowing) and trying to punish or inflict pain on your partner (either intentionally or unconsciously). Other toxic behaviors include being unsupportive toward your partner’s goals, name-calling, acting jealous or possessive, disrespecting your partner’s privacy or independence, cheating, violence, and using abusive or degrading language.
Reflect on the meaning of these habits and make a commitment to ditch them.
If any of the above habits resonate with you, reflect on their purpose without judging or shaming yourself. For example, which feelings activated these behaviors? Did you learn them from other relationships or people in your life or childhood? Are they protective in nature? What did you gain from keeping score? What did you achieve from lying and keeping secrets? Are these habits in line with your values and goal of a healthy relationship? What could you do instead to respond to the hurt and pain you felt? Are there healthy strategies and skills you can develop and utilize instead? Take note of any patterns, such as the tendency to shut down or protect your heart by trampling on your partner when you feel hurt or insecure. Many unhealthy habits may appear to keep you safe in the moment, but they impede your ability to mutually connect and experience trust and safety in a relationship. Find alternatives to any past unhealthy behaviors that negatively impacted your relationships.
Resolve what’s keeping you stuck.
While previous relationship mistakes, dating disasters, and breakups may be filled with heartache, anger, and bitterness, they are also learning opportunities to better yourself and grow as a person, as well as guide you in landing your dream relationship. If the past isn’t resolved and learning hasn’t occurred, it becomes nearly impossible not to repeat the same mistakes and patterns over and over again with multiple dates or partner, creating chronic singlehood or a cycle of miserable relationships. Instead of feeling haunted by your past, you can take an honest look at it and allow it to serve as a building block to a great relationship in the present. Reflect on anything in your relationship past that continues to cause hurt, pain, anger, sadness, anxiety or poor self-image and find the silver lining. How can these past experiences actually benefit you and serve as useful templates for your present dating life? Learning what not to do or better understanding your needs and values are powerful takeaways from the past.
Understand a healthy relationship with yourself is the basis of a healthy relationship with others.
Trusting yourself, practicing self-kindness and compassion, and committing to being the best version of yourself are the grounds to a healthy romantic relationship. You will be a healthier, more available partner if you feel good about yourself and you are able to take care of your own needs. If you are emotionally depleted, you will struggle to give to others or if you do, it will be at the expense of yourself. Make sure you are incorporating self-care practices into your dating life and gaining confidence by taking control of your life in the present. Don’t wait for a partner to make you happy or get your life together. Instead be sure to invest in yourself starting now.
Be aware of common dating traps that lead to chronic singlehood and painful breakups, such as believing your partner will magically appear without much effort on your part, believing good sex equates to love and settling for less because you believe there are no worthy single people left. Also, if you’ve convinced yourself you will be happy with someone who exhibits your major deal breakers or red flags, you are falling for another common mind trap. For example, if you are dating someone who is adamant about not wanting kids when you for sure want them or you keep dating someone despite having a clear gut feeling something is off, you are officially in the danger zone and at risk of breaking up. Be mindful of these scenarios and do your best to avoid them by continuing to check in with yourself.
Understand the components of a healthy and satisfying relationship while keeping realistic expectations.
It’s important to know how to spot red flags and signs your relationship is doomed, but it’s also critical to understand what a healthy relationship looks like and how it feels to be in one. For instance, if you are used to dating partners who end up lying, cheating or suddenly leaving, you may not know how it feels to be in a healthy relationship with someone who provides support, respect and emotionally security. Or you may not know what it feels like to not have to walk on eggshells or carry a suspicion something is off and you are being lied to. In a healthy relationship, you will feel cared for, you will trust each other, and you will feel accepted and loved as your authentically flawed self. You will share similar values and you will be comfortable mutually sharing deep thoughts, feelings, and needs. You will be able to communicate openly and honestly, you will both have space for your own friends and interests and you will feel connected emotionally, intellectually, physically and sexually. You will shape your love and increase your bond by being vulnerable and emotionally present through the ups and downs. You will feel generally good and happy about your relationship (without expecting it to be perfect) and you will be willing to resolve natural conflict through communication and healthy conflict resolution. You will not get here overnight, but it helps to know what constitutes relationship health and be willing to give it a chance to grow. A healthy relationship stems from building a strong foundation while dating and genuinely putting effort into being vulnerable and getting to know each other.
As you reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behavior through the above strategies and seek closure around 2017, be willing to let go of any judgment, shame or fear. You are not here to judge yourself; you are here to take an honest look at what may be getting in the way and stay aligned with your dating and relationship goals. Welcome in 2018 with an open heart and open mind that is ready for love!
About the Author:
Rachel Dack is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Nationally Certified Counselor and relationship coach, specializing in psychotherapy for individuals and couples via her private practice in Bethesda, Maryland. Rachel’s areas of expertise include relationships, self-esteem, dating, mindfulness, anxiety, depression and stress management. Rachel is a co-author to Sexy Secrets to a Juicy Love Life, an International Bestseller, written to support single women in decreasing frustration about single-hood, leaving the past behind, cultivating self-love and forming and maintaining loving relationships. Rachel also serves as a Relationship Expert for http://www.datingadvice.com/ and other dating and relationship advice websites. Follow her on Twitter for more daily wisdom!