Are you ready for a relationship?
As a psychotherapist and relationship expert, I have worked with hundreds of people who are looking for a healthy relationship or navigating through the end of the relationship trying to understand how to get it right the next time. The mantra, “You have to love yourself before you can find a loving and healthy relationship,” is a common one; however, the pathway to do this is ill-defined.
There is not a ‘one size fits all’ for how to build self-respect, confidence and love for self. But the following ten factors may provide an approach to self-development and relationship readiness.
- Develop self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you cannot develop plans and strategies for your life nor can you regulate counterproductive impulses and emotions. Being aware of your strengths and deeply held values and beliefs help you communicate ‘who you are’ to others - an integral mechanism in bringing yourself fully to a relationship.
- Maintain a healthy body image and care for body and mind. A healthy body image is being proud and comfortable in your own skin, not being defined by a number or size. How often do you look in the mirror and see what is wrong rather than what looks right? Taking care of your body includes good nutrition, exercise and sleep. What kind of message do you send to a potential partner when you don’t care for or diminish your physical self?
- Revitalize in a way that makes sense to you. Make a practice of rejuvenating with things like exercise, reading, meditating, massage or hobbies. Take breaks, relax, listen to and honor yourself and your body. Fill your tank before it runs out. Balance obligations with restorative activities. The ability to make a habit of self-care may contribute to the ‘independence’ part of relationship ‘interdependence’.
- Minimize external gratifications. Loving yourself has often been confused with surrounding yourself with ‘stuff,’ but materialism is a strong predictor of unhappiness (Diener and Biswas Diener, 2008). Achievements are good, but the science shows us that effort (i.e. hard work) NOT attainment is a better predictor of success and well-being (Dweck, 2006). What do you think is important to ‘bring’ to a relationship? The ability to work hard helps.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion that has a high correlation with life satisfaction (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). Hunting for the good within and around us builds optimism. The ability to see the good around you will prepare you to share the good with others which makes connections better.
- Let go of worry and forgive yourself. Worry often wastes critical energy; you play a scenario over and over in your head. Everyone makes mistakes, but are you harder on yourself than you need to be? If you have done something that has caused you to feel bad, unworthy, or carrying around baggage that makes it difficult to love yourself, let it go. If you have difficulty letting go of your own shortcomings, it may be difficult to do the same for a partner that will inevitably make mistakes.
- Trust yourself. Knowing your truth and trusting your intuition go hand in hand. How many times have you had a ‘gut’ feeling about something and not trusted it later to find out that you were spot on? You need to be able to set your own values compass before entering a relationship where your values may be challenged by someone else.
- Practice assertive communication. Develop a communication style to confidently identify problems, express feelings and ask for positive change. Exercising direct, authentic communication that addresses problems rather than attacking or blaming will prepare you for difficult conversations that are inevitable with a significant other.
- Recognize and nurture your unique spirit. You are a spiritual being and not only do you need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially fit, but also, you need to be spiritually fit. Spirituality as the process of nurturing one’s unique spirit - a very personal thing. Finding meaning and purpose in life, doing what you love, helping others or being connected to something larger than yourself are all things that the science tells us increase well-being (Lyubomirsky, 2008). Keeping your spirit unique and fit may keep that future relationship sustainable with healthy boundaries.
- Practice making connections. Develop a social fabric that includes caring, supportive and balanced relationships. It feels good to help others, but remember that accepting help gives others the opportunity to feel good too. Connections matter. Being well-connected to others, the community, something greater than yourself may provide a type of ‘capital’ that a good partner will see as one of your assets.
Knowing yourself and feeling good about who you are may make it easier to express yourself, make decisions about a relationship, and choose the right person at the right time. Knowing and respecting yourself is a prerequisite to knowing and respecting others. Mutual respect is part of the foundation for a healthy relationship. Are you ready?
- Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
- Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
- Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness. New York: The Penquin Press
- Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603-619.