A healthy, loving relationship can enhance many aspects of your life, from your emotional and mental well-being to your physical health and overall happiness. For many of us, though, finding someone we want to share our lives with can seem like an impossible task. But don’t despair, even if you have a history of relationships that don’t last or if you feel burned out by traditional and online dating, you can still learn how to find lasting love.
What is a healthy relationship?
A healthy relationship is when two people develop a connection based on:
- Mutual respect
- Separate identities
- Good communication
- A sense of playfulness/fondness
Source: UW Seattle
Obstacles to finding lasting love
Life as a single person offers many rewards, including learning how to build a healthy relationship with yourself. However, if you’re ready to share your life with someone and want to build a lasting, worthwhile relationship, life as a single person can also be very frustrating.
Finding the right romantic partner is often a difficult journey, for several reasons. Perhaps you grew up in a household where there was no role model of a solid, healthy relationship and you doubt that such a thing even exists. Or maybe your dating history consists only of short, abrupt relationships where you or your partner gets bored too soon, and you don’t know how to make a relationship last. You could be attracted to the wrong type of person or making the same bad choices, due to an unresolved issue from your past. It’s also possible you’re not putting yourself in the best environments to meet the right person, or that when you do, you don’t feel confident enough to approach someone. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to believe that a healthy romantic relationship for you exists in the future.
It’s also important to recognize that relationships are never perfect and always require lots of work, compromise, and a willingness to resolve conflict in a positive way. To find and build any relationship worth keeping, you may need to start by re-assessing some of your misconceptions about dating and relationships that can prevent you from finding lasting love:
|Common Myths About Dating and Looking for Love|
|“I can only be happy and fulfilled if I’m in a relationship.” or “It’s better to have a bad relationship than no relationship.”||While there are health benefits that come with being in a healthy relationship, many people can be just as happy and fulfilled without being part of a couple. Despite the stigma in some social circles that accompanies being single, it’s important not to enter a relationship just to “fit in.” Being alone and being lonely are not the same thing. Nothing is as unhealthy and dispiriting as being in a bad relationship.|
|“If I don’t feel an instant attraction to someone, it’s not a relationship worth pursuing.”||This is an important myth to dispel, especially if you have a history of making inappropriate choices. Instant sexual attraction and lasting love do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Emotions can change and deepen over time, and friends sometimes become lovers—if you give those relationships a chance to develop.|
|“Women have different emotions than men.”||Women and men feel similar things but sometimes express their feelings differently, often according to society’s conventions. But both men and women experience the same core emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, and joy.|
|“True love is constant.” or “Physical attraction fades over time.”||Love is rarely static, but that doesn’t mean love or physical attraction is doomed to fade over time. As we age, both men and women have fewer sexual hormones but emotion often influences passion more than hormones, and sexual passion can become stronger over time.|
|“I’ll be able to change the things I don’t like about someone.”||You can’t change anyone. People only change if and when they want to change.|
|“I didn’t feel close to my parents, so intimacy is always going to be uncomfortable for me.”||It’s never too late to change any pattern of behavior. Over time, and with enough effort, you can change the way you think, feel, and act.|
|“Disagreements always create problems in a relationship.”||Conflict doesn’t have to be negative or destructive. With the right resolution skills, conflict can also be an opportunity for growth in a relationship.|
When we start looking for a long-term partner or enter into a romantic relationship, many of us do so with a predetermined set of (often unrealistic) expectations—such as how the person should look and behave, how the relationship should progress, and the roles each partner should fulfill. These expectations may be based on your family history, influence of your peer group, your past experiences, or even ideals portrayed in movies and TV shows. However, retaining many of these unrealistic expectations can make any potential partner seem inadequate and any new relationship feel disappointing.
Consider what’s really important when looking for love
What feels right to you?
When looking for lasting love, forget what looks right, forget what you think should be right, and forget what your friends, parents, or other people think is right, and ask yourself: Does the relationship feel right to me?
The first step to finding a suitable partner is to distinguish between what you want and what youneed in a partner. Wants are negotiable, needs are not. Wants include the things you think you’d like in a partner, including occupation, intellect, and physical attributes such as height, weight, and hair color. Even if certain traits may appear to be crucially important to you at first, over time you’ll often find that you’ve been needlessly limiting your choices. For example, it may be more important, or at least as important, to find someone who is:
- Curious rather than extremely intelligent. Curious people tend to grow smarter over time, while those who are bright may languish intellectually if they lack curiosity.
- Sensual rather than sexy.
- Caring rather than beautiful or handsome.
- A little mysterious rather than glamorous.
- Humorous rather than wealthy.
- From a family with similar values to yours, rather than someone from a specific ethnic or social background.
Needs are different than wants in that needs are those things that matter to you most, such as values, ambitions, or goals in life. These are probably not the things you can find out about a person by eyeing them on the street, reading their profile on a dating site, or sharing a quick cocktail at a bar before last call.
- Don’t make your search for a relationship the center of your life. Concentrate on activities you enjoy, your career, health, and relationships with family and friends. When you focus on keeping yourself happy, it will keep your life balanced and make you a more interesting person when you do meet someone special.
- Remember that first impressions aren’t always reliable. Especially when it comes to Internet dating, people don’t always accurately portray themselves. Regardless of where or how you meet someone, though, it always takes time to really get to know that person. You have to experience being with someone in a variety of situations, some good and some not so good, before you really know him or her. For example, how well does this person hold up under pressure when things don’t go well or when they’re tired, frustrated, or hungry?
- Be honest about your own flaws and shortcomings. Everyone has a flaw—or several—and, for a relationship to last, you want someone to love you for the person you are, not the person you’d like to be, or the person he or she thinks you have the potential to become. In many cases, what you consider a flaw may actually be something another person finds quirky and appealing. By being honest and shedding all pretense you’ll encourage the other person to do the same, which can lead to a fulfilling relationship.
- Invest in a vertical relationship before you invest in a horizontal relationship. Don’t be too quick to make a relationship sexual as it often becomes harder to develop a good vertical relationship afterwards. Even though it can be difficult in this day and age, try to take your time to get to know someone first. It will only lead to a more satisfying sexual relationship down the road.
Online dating, singles events, and matchmaking services like speed dating may prove successful and enjoyable for some people, but for many they lack any kind of spontaneity and often feel more like high-pressure job interviews than fun social occasions. And whatever dating experts might tell you, there is a big difference between finding the right career and finding lasting love.
Think of your time as a single person as a great opportunity to meet new people, expand your social circle, and participate in new events. Instead of scouring dating sites or hanging out in pick-up bars, find and participate in activities that interest you. You don’t have to be the life of the party or the star of the team, but just by putting yourself in a new environment it’s likely you’ll meet new people who share similar interests. Even if you don’t meet that special someone, you will still have enjoyed yourself and maybe forged new friendships.
- Volunteer for a favorite charity, animal shelter, or political campaign. Or even try a volunteer vacation (for details see Resources section below).
- Take an extension class at a local college or university.
- Sign up for dance classes, cooking classes, or art classes.
- Join a running club, hiking group, cycling group, or sports team.
- Join a theater group, film group, or attend a panel discussion at a museum.
- Find a local book group or photography club.
- Attend local food and wine tasting events or art gallery openings.
- Be creative: Write a list of activities available in your area and, with your eyes closed, randomly put a pin in one, even if it’s something you would never normally consider. How about pole dancing, origami, or lawn bowling? Getting out of your comfort zone can be rewarding in itself.
At some point, everyone looking for love is going to have to deal with rejection—both as the person being rejected and the person doing the rejecting. Some people can be overcome with anger, embarrassment, or anxiety when faced with rejection, or are so frightened of it happening again, they avoid dating or starting new relationships. Others find it so difficult to reject another person, they find themselves caught up in prolonged, unhealthy relationships.
By staying positive and being honest with yourself and others, handling rejection can be far less intimidating. The key is to accept that rejection is an inevitable part of dating but to not spend too much time worrying about it. It’s never fatal.
Tips for handling rejection when dating and looking for love
- Don’t take it personally. If you’re rejected after one or a few dates, the other person is likely only rejecting you for superficial reasons you have no control over—some people just prefer blondes to brunettes, chatty people to quiet ones—or because they are unable to overcome their own issues, such as a fear of commitment. Be grateful for early rejections in a relationship as it can spare you much more pain down the road.
- Don’t dwell on it, but learn from the experience. Don’t beat yourself up over any mistakes you think you made. If it happens repeatedly, though, take some time to reflect on how you relate to others, and any problems you need to work on. Then let it go. By dealing with rejection in a healthy way it can increase your strength and resilience.
- Acknowledge your feelings. It’s often normal to feel a little hurt, resentful, disappointed, or even sad when faced with rejection. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings without trying to suppress them. If you practice mindfulness, you’ll find that staying in touch with your feelings helps you quickly move on from negative experiences.
It’s important to be aware of red-flag behaviors that may indicate a relationship is not going to lead to healthy, lasting love. In such cases, it’s better to cut your losses early, rather than invest time in a relationship that isn’t good for you or them. Trust your instincts and pay close attention to how the other person makes you feel. If you tend to feel insecure, ashamed, or undervalued, it may be time to reconsider the relationship.
Common relationship red flags:
- The relationship is alcohol dependent. You only communicate well—laugh, talk, make love—when one or both of you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
- There’s trouble making a commitment. For some people commitment is much more difficult than others. It’s harder for them to trust others or to understand the benefits of a long-term relationship because of previous experiences or an unstable home life growing up.
- Nonverbal communication is off. Instead of wanting to connect with you, the other person’s attention is on other things like his or her phone or the TV.
- Jealousy about outside interests. One partner doesn’t like the other spending time with friends and family members outside the relationship.
- Controlling behavior. There is a desire on the part of one person to control the other, stop him or her from having independent thoughts and feelings.
- The relationship is exclusively sexual. There is no interest in the other person other than a physical interest. A meaningful and fulfilling relationship depends on more than just good sex.
- No one-on-one time. One partner only wants to be with the other as part of a group of people. If there’s no desire to spend quality time alone with you, outside of the bedroom, it can signify a greater issue.
Dating tips to help you find love #5: Nurture your budding relationship
Remember that finding the right person is just the beginning of the journey, not the destination. In order to move from casual dating to a committed, loving relationship, you need to nurture that new connection. It’s a process that requires time, effort, and a genuine interest in the other person as a whole. It also requires an openness to compromise and change.
All relationships change over time. You’ll change over time, your partner will change, and so will both of your needs and expectations. What you want from a relationship at the beginning may be very different from what you and your partner want from that same relationship a few months or years down the road.
For a romantic relationship to blossom into lasting love you need to be willing and able to:
- Invest in the relationship. No relationship will run smoothly without regular attention, so ask yourself if you are willing to invest the time and effort into this relationship. Often, after the initial blush of romance has faded, couples switch off from one another, but the more you invest in each other, the more you grow to care. Find things you enjoy doing together and commit to spending the time to do them, even when you’re busy or stressed.
- Communicate openly. Is your partner genuinely interested in your thoughts and feelings? Are you comfortable expressing your own opinions, thoughts, and feelings around this person? Are you playful, open, and able to laugh together? Your partner is not a mind reader, so tell him or her how you feel. When you both feel comfortable expressing your needs, fears, and desires, the bond between you will become stronger and deeper.
- Resolve conflict by fighting fair. Some couples talk things out quietly, while others may raise their voices and passionately disagree. No matter how you approach the differences in your relationship, the important thing is that you aren’t fearful of conflict. You need to feel safe to express the things that bother you without fear of retaliation, and to be able to resolve conflict without humiliation, degradation, or insisting on being right.
- Accept change. Every relationship changes and goes through good and bad periods, but overall a healthy relationship should continue to be good for you. It should bring the best out in you and should not only make you happier, but also make you a better person: kinder, more empathic, and more generous.
Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Greg Boose. Last updated: February 2014.