Make sure you know what would be a deal-breaker for you—and make sure you break the deal if it happens. Be committed to walking away when a deal-breaker breaks. If there are other things that you think deserve second and third chances, then commit to walking away the second or third time it becomes an issue. If you stay beyond that, you’re basically lying to yourself. Walk away for what you believe in. Otherwise, you’ll just be stuck in dysfunction again and bargaining with yourself in order to accept what you shouldn’t accept.
3. 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.
4. 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 and as a couple. Figure out what you’ve always wanted to do—and do it. 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. It is important that you figure this out early on.
5. As a prelude to finding real love, learn to be discriminating in all your relationships—with family, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers.
Learn to make choices and not just let friendships and professional relationships “happen.” Don’t spend time with family just because they’re family. Choose to only have those in your life who are loving, respectful, honest, and open, and who care about you. Choose people who know that trust is earned and that once broken, it’s next to impossible to get back. Choose people who do not keep you guessing about how they feel, or how they feel about you. Choose people who are not ambivalent about you or their relationship with you.
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.
Stop thinking you have no control over what happens to you. Most people stuck in unhealthy patterns (including me when I was) are 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.
7. 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.