I'm not a relationship expert. I'm not a psychologist, counselor, or anything of the like. What I am is a listener. I've listened to the people I respect and have exemplified successful relationships throughout my life and have taken their advice to heart. I am exceedingly fortunate to have had a glorious number of gems sent my way and thus I pass them to you.
1. Me, We, Them
When I was a sophomore in college, my uncle gave me the ultimate life advice - hence, it is number 1 on the list. I was talking his head off about school, jobs, and boys. Oh, boys. Relationships were complicated in college. Guys didn't get that girls just want stability and someone to hang out with. No one likes going to movies alone or having to find someone to hang out with on Saturday nights. Seriously. I went on and on about the guys in my life and how none of them seemed to get it. As I finished my long-winded rant, he said to me:
Don't be in such a hurry. Enjoy the "me" time right now. Because when you find that special guy, it's all about "we". Then you'll fall in love, get married and before you know it, you will have kids and then... it's all about "them". You won't ever get this "me" time back.
My nineteen year old self was stopped in my tracks. He was absolutely, positively right. I wasn't spending enough time enjoying just being me. I never believed in "finding" myself, but it did make sense to enjoy who I was at that moment. I was nineteen. I was able to shape my life and my environment into whatever I wanted it to be. I could see whatever movie I wanted when I wanted, read books for hours on end, watch crappy television without having to compromise, spend time with whichever friends I wanted without having someone in tow, eat cereal for dinner without having to worry about another mouth to feed. I started going to movies solo and spending my Sunday in coffee shops reading. I lived in a one bedroom apartment with my cat and took yoga without a friend. I spent time getting to know, love and enjoy me.
And... again, he was right. I found the right guy (just so happened to be one of the guys I was originally complaining about to my uncle). We fell in love. We got married. Now, every night, we have to compromise on dinner. If we make plans, we don't ask for permission but we do have to "check in". We build our calendars and our lives around each other. Don't get me wrong - I love my husband and marriage dearly. I also very much so love this stage in my life, but I don't think I would had I not taken the time to enjoy who I was as a person when I was truly independent - just me. Learn to love yourself in your current situation.
2. Don't Rush Things
When you do find your special guy (or girl, for that matter), take it easy. Take the time to soak in and enjoy the little steps and stages along the way. We all want to know we are loved and that where we are spending our time and energy is "worth it", but if you rush, you'll miss all the good parts. You'll miss the butterflies waiting for their phone call and the rush you feel when they reach for your hand. The magic of a new relationship is special and short lived - savor it. If you are lucky, the new relationship will transform into a stable relationship with new anticipations and thrills, but don't skip the beginning.
3. Never Leave Angry
Everyone fixates on never going to bed angry, however, I think leaving angry is often overlooked. I don't care how angry you are - never leave while you're angry. Don't walk out the door to "take a drive" or "a walk". Don't run to your friend or parent's house. Don't leave angry. The minute you walk out that door, you are leaving your significant other with a feeling of abandonment. You will break the trust that they are safe with you and you will stick it out with them.
Don't do it. Period.
4. Name Calling is a No-No, You Jerk.
Idiot. Jerk. Jackass. Asshole. Stupid. Immature. Moron. Bitch. Liar. Child. Socrates once said, "When the debate is lost, slander is the tool of the loser." Whether or not you have a valid argument or you are "right", the minute a hurtful name comes out of your mouth you have lost the battle. Name calling achieves absolutely nothing. It offends your opponent and causes them to emotionally shut down. Once you call them an asshole, you have purposefully hurt them, so why would they want to fix whatever issue is at-hand with someone who would hurt them intentionally? Think about it. Name calling destroys trust and security within a relationship. If you've called someone a liar in the heat of the moment, how can they ever know for certain you believe them? The trust and security to be themselves is gone knowing you view them as a moron or a jerk.
5. Stay You to Complete "Us"
You probably hear this all the time - and that's probably because it's true. Stay you. If you watch cartoons when he's not around, don't hide it - watch them with him. Go out with your friends. Maintain your hobbies. Keep your goals in focus. Listen to your own music (it's okay, I promise). Be yourself. If you start to conform and morph into a female version of him, what are you bringing to the table? It's one thing to bond over your mutual love of football and craft beers. It's also a good idea to learn to appreciate or join him in his hobbies and likes (I've recently learned to golf so I can play with my husband). It's an entirely different thing to 1) lie about your tastes to get the guy in the first place and 2) to become a "mini-me" version of him. Stay you.
Seriously, it's really hard to dig yourself out of this hole in a relationship.
6. Love isn't a sport - Don't keep score.
Do you care how many times he's bought you flowers? Do you care how many times you've done the dishes and taken out the trash? Do you care how many times you've picked date night and he hasn't?
If the answer is yes, then I'm sorry, you're not ready for a relationship.
Harsh, I know, but relationships are not about keeping score. Giving in a relationship, doing nice things for each other, is about keeping the relationship happy for both of you. I cook for my husband because it gives me great satisfaction to see how impressed he is. He buys me flowers because he loves to see me smile. I'm not saying you should give, give, give blindly and expect nothing in return. (You should have expectations and clearly voice them early in your relationship.) I am saying that I'm not going to hold it over my husband's head that 3 of the last 5 times I've taken out the trash. If I buy him a gift, it's a gift - I don't expect one in return. Keeping score is toxic. Once you've allowed it to infiltrate the way your relationship operates, you kill the spontaneity and respect you and your significant other possess.
7. Continue to Fall in Love
This past year, I received the ultimate love advice from my grandfather (I have really amazing men in my life). He asked me how my first two years of marriage were going and when I responded with, "Amazing. We continue to grow and I'm pretty sure I love him more now than I did when we got married," all he did was smile. After a contemplative pause, he said to me:
That's wonderful to hear. You know what the secret to a long strong marriage is? Continue to fall in love with each other. Who you are today will not be who you are in 5, 10, 15 years. You will grow and change as life changes. Always be courting each other and always continue to fall in love...
Mind. Blown. I was stunned. Legitimately stunned. I will not be the same person I am now when I have kids, or they grow into teenagers, or they go off to college, or when they have kids. I will change. My priorities, my perspective and my personality will change. I will grow up... I will become different. Maybe in minor ways and maybe in major ways... but I will change. How would I feel if my husband didn't make an effort to love the person I was on that day? Not too dandy, I tell you. I was so blown away that I shared this advice with my husband. I asked what he thought and all he could say is, "Smart. It's very smart."
Relationships are work. It's the most important work you'll do in your life. Be fair and loving to yourself and others.