Susan Elliott, M.Ed., J.D. on Aug 17, 2022
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author, Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened to You (Hachette 2009)
Getting Back Out There: Tips for Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette 2015)
Copyright Ⓒ All Rights Reserved
Many people want to be in relationships without really having a clue what it is all about or what they're all about. An old adage is: to find the right person, BE the right person. This is so important. Part of being the right person is knowing what real love is and is not.
Real love is akin to getting married, having babies, or even getting a dog. Many people have some romantic fantasy about all these things without looking at the work involved or the responsibility or the commitment required. Some think more about the DJ they want at the wedding, the gurgling and happy baby, or the fun-loving puppy. They don’t think about how to live with a person every day, deal with a colicky newborn, or manage a “mouthy” puppy that keeps eating the sofa.
Each of these wonderful things has another side that you must acknowledge going in, or you will fail. Every day, couples get divorced, dogs are dropped off at shelters, and cranky babies are ignored (or worse, mistreated) — because the responsibility inherent in marriage, parenthood, and pet ownership has been ignored.
Being able to love and be loved for many years in a good and healthy way takes work. It takes resisting urges. It's about making a decision not to do things that would wreck your relationship or hurt your partner — like calling someone a name, being selfish when you should help out, not acknowledging or caring about your partner's needs, or having an affair. It includes big and little things.
Love is an action, love is work, and love is a decision. Real love is about real life, not fantasies and dreams. This is what you need to know about real love:
1. To love someone, really love someone who really loves you too, you need to be a sane, supportive, and caring partner. This involves knowing how to understand and compromise, knowing to accept your partner for who he or she is without trying to change them. It's not about taking someone away from those they love or their hobbies, interests, and friends. Each person should have a well-rounded life that includes outside interests and other people.
2. Real love is an enlarging experience, and dysfunctional love is a narrowing one. But anything that is enlarging comes with work and responsibility to self and to each other. A couple must support each other's hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Invest time and attention into your partner and your partner's dreams and goals. Jealousy and manipulation to get your partner to quit having other interests or other people in his or her life have no place in a healthy relationship.
3. To find the right person, be the right person. Before you get back into a relationship, build your life. Finish your unfinished business. Become objective about what went wrong in your last relationship and in the relationships before that. You must discover the patterns and habits that torpedoed previous relationships before you get into a new one. If you're in a relationship and trying to salvage or save it, you — both of you — must figure out and heal that which has been hurting you and your relationship. If one partner changes, the other is forced to change or leave.
4. To be the right person, you must develop your boundaries. Know what you stand for before you have to stand for it. Is an affair a deal breaker? What else will you NOT stand for: Porn use? Pot abuse? Drunkenness? Forgetting to call? Standing you up? Not being financially stable? Not holding a job? Not being honest? You have to know this before you are tested. You have to be able to say, "If x happens, I am out of here — without argument."
5. Real love communicates in a healthy way. Name calling is out. Blaming and nitpicking is out. Accusations are out. Learn to begin sentences with "I feel" or "I think" or "In my opinion," and be with others who communicate similarly. Don't let anyone project onto you what you are thinking or feeling. Don't defend yourself against that which you're not doing. There is much game-playing in dysfunctional relationships. The only way to win is not to play. Healthy relationships are about forthright and honest communication.
6. Real love requires goals and aspirations, both individually and as a couple. You have to have plans and dreams and agree on the future. You must help each other fulfill your hopes and dreams as individuals, but most importantly, as a couple. Figure out what kind of couple you want to be. Discuss this early on. Find out what your partner wants in life and out of life. Figure out, early on, if you can and will support each other in achieving everything you've always wanted together and alone. It is important that you figure this out shortly after agreeing to commitment so that neither of you becomes frustrated by the lack of support later on or the fact that your relationship is very different than what you originally had in mind. Talk about "What kind of couple are we going to be?"
7. When dating, don't put up with people who say, "I'm confused," "I gotta be me," or "I want to be a good partner, but I don't know how." You get what you put up with. If you want less doubt in your life, stop putting up with it. Real love is discriminating and insists upon loving treatment no matter what. Know what you think, know what you feel, and act on what you think and feel and expect that from others. This will thin out the herd very quickly.
8. Don't be a victim. You have control over what happens to you. Most people stuck in unhealthy patterns are sometimes stuck in a mud pit of denial, justification, and rationalization. Learn to call yourself on your own rationalizations, and stop believing the justifications that keep you stuck and "victimized." You need to untangle yourself from any need you might have to be pitied. If you find yourself telling stories in which you were taken advantage of or someone did you wrong and the stories are being told to generate sympathy, stop and realize that going through life as a victim is not attractive to healthy people. Take charge of yourself and what happens to you day in and day out.
9. Live with purpose. Spend some quiet time alone each day, without interruption, to think about your life and how it's structured. Think about what you need to do to "get better" in different areas. Learn to meditate by getting quiet and relaxing. Meditation is not sitting on a pillow chanting — it's just learning to calm down and go inward without distraction. Living purposefully is the opposite of living randomly. It's thinking about what you're doing when you're doing it. It's about not looking at your phone every 10 minutes or mindlessly checking Facebook 200 times a day. It's about having your head where your feet are. Look around, and see what's going on where you are at this very minute. Live a calm and serene life free of useless distractions. That becomes very attractive to healthy people.
10. The most important thing to know about real love is that love is an action from you and to you. Act it and insist on it. Every single day, whether in a relationship or not, you must affirm that love is what you do, not what you say, and you must insist upon it with everyone in your life. If it's a "non-romantic" relationship (i.e. professional), respect is the action and you must be treated with respect in all your relationships. A healthy life is purposeful, meaningful, respectful, and loving. It takes discipline, work, and a balance of selfishness and selflessness. Healthy communication and healthy boundaries are essential in a healthy life and a healthy love. If you don't know how, find out before you go back out there.
If people understood what real love entailed, they would be less inclined to go in and out of relationships in which they experience anything but love. Use your time out of a relationship wisely to build what you need to be in a healthy relationship. And then go out and build it.
You can do this!