When you meet a guy, the very first question you ask yourself is:
“Do I like him?”
If the answer is yes, the next question is:
“Do I have fun with him?”
And if you start dating, you’ll eventually ask yourself the question:
“Could I be with him forever?”
At each stage, you’re looking for different qualities.
When you first meet someone, you want to know if you have chemistry, if you’re compatible, and if your values align.
As you get to know each other better, you want to know if you can communicate and work together and spend large amounts of time together without driving each other crazy.
But that question of forever is the hardest to answer.
How do you know that THIS relationship is the one?
Every couple walks down the aisle expecting to be together forever. But many of those marriages end in divorce, despite those beautiful intentions.
Could they have predicted in advance that their love wouldn’t last? Were they missing some special ingredient?
I’m not in the business of predicting the future, but I do know much of the research behind successful relationships, and that research can provide a clue.
Three qualities that frequently come up in the literature are:
Safety, belonging, and acceptance.
In good relationships of ALL kinds, we feel emotionally safe, we feel like we belong, and we feel accepted for who we are.
Think about your relationship with your best friend or group of friends.
Think about how safe you feel with them. You know they’re not going to turn around and say something mean to you out of the blue. You know they’re not going to take something private you said and share it with others.
You feel a sense of belonging when you’re with them. They’re your posse. You have a shared history together.
You also know that they take you as you are. When you’ve been going through a bad stage in your life, they’ve been there for you. They will always accept you exactly where you’re at.
Good romantic relationships are the same.
In good romantic relationships, you feel emotionally safe.
You know that he’ll never say anything rude or cruel to you on purpose. If he does hurt your feelings, he apologizes. He tries to do better because he doesn’t want you to feel bad.
In good romantic relationships, you feel like you belong.
You’re a single unit, not two individuals spending time together. He refers to you as his girlfriend. He treats you as an equal partner and respects your ideas. You have certain things that make you special as a couple: a shared sense of humor or love of music or favorite hobby.
In good romantic relationships, you feel accepted for who you are.
He is not auditioning you for the role of his ideal girlfriend. He is not comparing you to the women he’s dated before. He is not hoping you fulfill his fantasies.
Instead, he wants to get to know YOU. He wants to learn who you are. He knows that there will be things about you he likes and things he doesn’t like, but you are a package deal. If he wants you, he gets ALL of you.
If your relationship isn’t quite there yet, it may just be that you haven’t been together long enough. Those qualities tend to grow over time.
You can also actively work to build safety, belonging, and acceptance together. Here are some ways.
You can build a sense of safety by being vulnerable together.
When you trust each other enough to open up and share something very personal, you learn that you can rely on each other to be gentle with your heart.
You know that neither of you will share what was said with anyone else (even your mother or best friend). You won’t psychoanalyze or judge each other. And you’ll never use what was shared as a weapon.
You can build a sense of belonging by developing your couple identity. What makes you special as a couple? Why are you perfect together? What are your “in jokes” that no one else understands?
Show off who you are as a couple. You might wear something of his, or give him something to wear to remind him of you. Tackle a challenge together. Let the world see you as a team, strong and unbroken.
You can build a sense of acceptance by stopping the comparisons.
When you compare your relationship to other people’s, or to the dream you have in your head, you can’t help but feel a sense of dissatisfaction.
You can’t help but feel even more dissatisfied when you compare your guy to your exes or the man you hoped he would be.
And when you start to compare yourself to HIS exes, the pressure is on. You’ve got to be better than they were.
Comparison works against acceptance.
Instead of embracing what we have, we focus on what’s lacking or imperfect.
So quiet those voices in your head that say that love is a competition and you’ve got to be the best.
Your love is a private thing, beautiful and sacred, and as long as it fills your heart with joy it is enough.