About half of my clients come to work with me because of problems in love relationships, which means l have heard endless variations of love stories and love games. Most of these variations include people being carried away by childish emotions, ignoring the warning signals, betraying their needs and values, lowering their criteria, and, in essence, investing too much into illusions and hope rather than reality.
Love relationships are one or the cornerstones of a healthy human life, yet so many people spend so much time and energy on incompatible and unhealthy relationships, sometimes wasting a lot of their potential in the process. Of course, the best way to learn is from mistakes (check out: How To Overcome the Fear of Making Mistakes), so some mistakes are not just fine, but necessary. Still, l think it makes life much easier to learn from others’ mistakes, not just our own! Here are some of the most important lessons about love assembled from many, many stories in various countries and cultures. Let’s start with the basics:
1) Just because somebody seems to be attracted to you, doesn’t mean they are serious. They might like you, but not enough; they might enjoy flirting, or they like attention and feeling important. Don’t presume clarity of intentions.
2) Even if they are seriously interested, it doesn’t necessarily mean love. They might just be in lust, or enjoy the challenge, or be in conflict with themselves. Many people have different parts of themselves pulling them in different directions. Don’t build castles in the air too soon.
3) Even if they love you, it doesn’t mean they are compatible with you, or healthy, or available (emotionally or otherwise).
4) Pay close attention to any sign of childish attachment (either within yourself, or by the other person). Idealizing the other, anxiety, longing, the need to prove ourselves are some common signals of the inner child getting attached to a substitute parent (more on this in: Patterns in Love Relationships) . In that case, it’s of utmost importance to first heal the inner child, and only then consider a relationship. Whatever you don’t resolve, will come back later to bite you in the bum.
5) Involve your rational mind and give it extra consideration. I generally recommend finding balance between emotions and the ratio, and finding balance in context of infatuation might require paying special attention to your rational mind, because the emotions are so strong, promising, and easy to give in to, even if completely unrealistic.
6) People don’t change because of love, at least not in the long term. In fact, presume problematic behavior will get worse once they feel the relationship is secure. If you hope they will change, abandon all hope. 😉 Seriously, they won’t. Once people’s brains are formed in a certain way (good idea to read about prefrontal cortex of the brain and its development), only long and dedicated effort can change it, which most people are not willing to invest even for their own sake, especially not for somebody else.
7) strong sexual desire doesn’t presume personal interest or respect to start with, let alone love or compatibility.
8) What you see in the beginning is mostly an illusion, created not only by the other person hiding their faults, but also by your hopeful mind.
9) The more somebody is using traditional, cliché romantic and seductive approaches – compliments (especially flattery), gifts, dinners, flowers, overly public or sugarcoated displays of love … the more likely they are just manipulating you rather than being genuinely interested in you. Or at least they might be suffering from a serious lack of authenticity. Consider also the fact that gifts and dinners make one feel obligated (which is a thing salespeople often exploit by offering small things, even candy, for free). Healthy love includes thoughtfulness relevant for the current situation, which is individual.
10) Instantaneous attraction and intense enthusiasm from the start are more likely to indicate either childish attachment (including toxic obsession and possessiveness) or conscious manipulation. Neither is good for you.
Healthy, adult attraction is much more likely to start slow and grow over time, without obsession and big gestures. This means your partner is taking time to really get to know who you are, rather than constructing stories in their mind or even seeing you as a possession.
11) Infatuation is fleeting – respect, cooperation, balance and shared values endure.
Even as you get more involved and things are looking well, you need to stay observant, not get carried away, and not get committed too quickly. Don’t allow yourself to commit emotionally until you know much more about the other’s character. I’m not saying you need to be cold and perfectionist, simply centered and balanced.
Here are some things to keep in mind as the relationship progresses:
12) Any suffering means you need to take a step back, detach emotionally and carefully consider if you’ve been honest with yourself and if the relationship is truly worth it. You don’t need to be angry or demean the other person in your mind to decide that you don’t need to sacrifice yourself to an incompatible person.
If you feel you have to sacrifice your important values and needs, it’s not worth it. If you are tempted to lower your criteria, justify hurtful behavior or give up things important to you, it’s a sign to back off. Even if the other person is well-meaning, these things indicate incompatibility and probable suffering in the long run. (Check also: Values vs. Personal Traits.)
13) If their words don’t match their behavior, trust the behavior rather than the words.
14) Only get involved with people who you feel truly respect you and see you as a person. If you have any doubts about this, if you feel you have to analyze their behavior and words to “determine” if they do – be on your guard. True respect will often show in “micro-signals” which you will pick up unconsciously rather than consciously.
15) Trust your intuition. (See: How To Teach Children To Use Their Intuition)
16) Be alert to any kind of role playing and lack of authenticity, even if it seems unconscious. Too bad that many people are so used to watching inauthentic behavior since childhood, they have difficulties recognizing authenticity! You might want to practice that for a while.
17) There is no healthy relationship without healthy self-esteem and sufficient emotional independence and maturity on both sides.
18) The above includes freedom from following cultural expectations. If someone tries to put you into a box labeled “what my culture thinks a (wo)man should be like” they are not really seeing and loving you as an individual. Best to let them find somebody who genuinely fits their expectations, than to struggle all the time with not being understood and appreciated as who you are.<
19) Even honest, committed, healthy relationships are not guaranteed to last forever. Things change, emotions change, people change. If you have inner strength and a good relationship with yourself, you can accept that risk and be fully in love and committed without losing your independence and identity. In fact, you can value your partner more and take them less for granted if you accept there is no guarantee – and that would automatically make your relationship stronger.
Do you feel disappointed, frustrated or lonely? It might tempt you to lower your standards and make you an easier prey for unhealthy if not toxic people. In the same time, frustration and desperation might repel healthy potential partners. Rather than succumbing to pessimism, keep in mind the following:
20) There is a lot of truth in the old saying, “You’ll find once you stop looking.” Especially if “stopped looking” doesn’t mean you have given up on new experiences and have sunk into routine, but means you have relaxed, made peace with life, found other sources of fulfillment besides a romantic relationship, and strengthened your relationship with yourself instead. It makes sense that a content, self-respecting person with a fulfilled life would be much more attractive than somebody who comes across as needy and desperate. What you feel does show in the micro-signals you send.
21) Stay away from dating sites if you can. They turn people into merchandise as well as attract narcissists, liars and all kinds of immature people. Even when people start dating or claim to be in love, they often continue keeping an eye on the dating sites, wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere. Best to meet new people in person so you can pick up their micro-signals and let your intuition do its job. (More in: How To Overcome Social Exclusion And Awkwardness).
22) Explore if and why healthier and/or more available people might not feel so interesting to you. Perhaps you feel they lack mystery, or that a difficult conquest is more of an achievement and makes you feel more important? There are probably some childhood patterns there to find out and deal with. (See: What Does Your Subconscious Believe About Love?)
Some final thoughts:
Don’t take this advice too much into extreme – don’t search for absolute perfection, but do look for health and compatibility. Don’t be paranoid, but be discerning.
Does it mean losing some of your “spontaneity” and intensity? Yes, but you gain so much more in happiness and fulfillment. (Also, a lot of what we call “spontaneity” is not truly ours anyway, but learned from others.)
Does it mean that the number of potential partners will be dramatically reduced? Yes, but the ones left will be worth it and won’t cause you to waste years if not decades in frustration and disappointment.
Don’t unhealthy people deserve love too? Yes, but “tough love” from a safe distance is much better for both them and you in the long run. Helping, justifying and tolerating only encourage the same behavior. I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t ever help anybody, as some simple people might claim – help them get on their own feet if they are willing to be responsible, but don’t try to be their “savior”.
Fantasizing about somebody can sometimes be beautiful. It’s ok to enjoy the fantasies – but be aware that they are usually much better than reality, and come back to the ground in time.
Don’t try to avoid pain and disappointment at all cost – but, as Winston Churchill said, “never let a good crisis go to waste“. Learn from it all you can, for your future.