Love Life 101
Love Life 101...
grasping the bigger picture.

Top Ten Tips for Romantic Relationships

Love Life 101 poses the following challenge to parents, aunts, uncles and other sources of advice for young adults to capture their collective wisdom, "Given the life wisdom and insight you have accumulated over the years, list the ten 'top tips' on romantic relationships or sex (other than 'how to' advice on sex) that you would have liked to have better understood when you were between sixteen and twenty-six years of age or now think that a sixteen-to-twenty-six year-old person should understand."

Tested on siblings and friends for Love Life 101, this exercise produced some very useful insights. Going through the process also proved helpful to the older adults because it made them reflect on the themes and patterns they had experienced in their lives. It provoked some interesting discussions. Although the intent was to help a young adult, it is hard to escape the fact that older adults still have issues to work on and much of the advice applies to them as well.

We suggest that you prepare your own list of top ten tips and then compare them with the following consolidated list of tips excerpted from Love Life 101 (pp. 123-129).

We should:

  1. Know ourselves as well as possible, as early as possible. It helps us recognize compatible romantic partners more easily and steer our relationships in a direction that we are better able to live with over the longer term.
    • The most important job we have in life is to know ourselves and be true to that person. It is an ongoing job. We should be ourselves from the beginning. There is no way to sustain a relationship otherwise. Often, the friction inherent in a long-term close relationship helps us further learn about who we truly are. The more we discover and understand about who we are, the better positioned we are when it comes to discovery and knowledge of the life partner.
    • We should be true to who we are and invest our heart in those who want to be with us as we are. We should not be afraid to allow for growth and improvement. In fact, we should insist on room in our relationship for both people to grow. At the same time, we should not change just to pacify someone else. We have our own positive points, habits, interests. We should modify, grow, evolve - but not abandon who we are at our core.
    • We should make sure we keep our long range goals in mind. Tomorrow always comes, even if we do not think it will. We should think long and hard before we give up career dreams just to be with someone. Both people in a relationship should be willing to sacrifice for the relationship.
  2. Get to know our potential partner well before committing to marriage, and be prepared to accept (or reject) the potential partner as he or she is (rather than as the person we want to make him or her become).
    • Personalities are set at early ages. By the teen years, basic behaviors are set. We should not expect to meet someone who lacks traits we like and change them to meet our needs or expectations. This makes an awareness of who we are and what we want (point #1) important.
    • We should note areas of common interest and note areas of dissonance and disagreement. Do our long-term plans align? Do we like many of the same movies, sports, books, music, crowds or solitude, beaches or mountains, etc.?
    • We should get to know his or her family. Much can be learned about a potential partner from this knowledge.
    • We should watch the level of respect a person has for the others in his or her life; it will give us a measure of where we will stand once the honeymoon is over.
    • Make sure we can DISCUSS things comfortably. We should be sure we can agree and agree to disagree. A lopsided relationship is the pits! If someone does not listen to us, we must question how much he/she cares. If he/she does care, but still does not listen to us, then we are being put on notice of a personality trait with which we will be butting heads, if we choose to pursue any long-term relationship.
    • Be aware of the motivations (ours and the other person's) for the relationship. Are these motivations a healthy foundation for a long-term relationship?
    • Physical attraction is important, but do not let this blind or distract us from seeing the whole person. We can be captivated by the shiny glass bauble and miss the diamond in the rough that God is bringing to our attention. In particular, the teen years are often awkward and some people do not hit their stride until later. What is popular now may not be the best fit for us in the long run.
    • Be together for a long time before we even think about FOREVER.
  3. For help in making better decisions, consult with trusted, experienced friends and adults; be wary of peer pressure and less reliable guidance; trust your instincts and inner guidance.
    • "Red flags" mean more if we talk to a parent or respected adult about them. It helps to understand the meaning and the needed action. It is important to choose such an advisor wisely.
    • Pay attention to our friends who love us (with no strings attached). They are more likely to tell us the truth about our romantic relationships.
    • If we pick a role model for reflection or as a "yardstick" against which we measure our direction or progress, choose him or her carefully. Make sure the role model or "yardstick" is a positive one.
    • If peer pressure leads us in directions that do not feel good to us, find a different peer group exerting pressure in a more constructive direction. Some bad relationships can flow from the pressure to "be with somebody."
    • Awareness and cultivation of our strong, inner guidance will help us stay comfortable with our course even when it is different from what we perceive to be the experience of our friends at that time.
    • "Old wives' tales," "sure things," facts or assumptions that "everyone does it" are not always true.
    • Have exit strategies to deal with situations which tend to take us where we do not want to go. As a teen, the exit strategy could be to blame it on mom. As an adult, it could be, "I have to work." Sometimes we just need to have strategies or reasons to put distance in a relationship or put an end to a relationship or a "come on" in a bar or at a party. Know when to get out. Have a reasonable vision of what a decision tree may look like. Practice makes perfect and having rational awareness in practice can be helpful when the emotions in the situation are heavily weighted.
    • Be true to our healthy selves. No one can make these decisions for us.
    • To make decisions that are pure and contributing, know our priorities and keep them in plain view. Visit them early and often and be aware of the changes as they come at you. Have a good time, but keep it between the lines! Relationships are worth developing and growing. If our natural tendencies are to grow through trial and error, choose our direction wisely. Instinct is a gift to be sharpened. The wise person takes time to prioritize, evaluate and learn, even when engaged in trial-and-error learning.
    • Pay attention to our instincts (the hairs on the back of our necks). If a situation or relationship doesn't feel right, do not force it. Move on.
    • Take time to reflect and connect with our intuitive side. The deep, inner guidance of the intuitive side reveals the difference between something to do and the right to thing to do.
    • Cultivate our self-discipline. Discipline is freedom. With discipline, we are able to stay focused. When we know the right thing to do, we will have the ability to do it. Without self-discipline, we are running the race of life with our legs hobbled. Our key choices will be more the product of outer influences than the inner guidance that comes from our true selves. We leave ourselves, our future and our relationships at the mercy of whims, lusts, fears, peer pressure and the like. We will have very little ability to overcome obstacles.
    • Instinct is natural. Discipline is learned, developed and required in all walks of life. It is the fruit of the vine, the very thing that wins ballgames and the answer to managing life's direction. It must be practiced and that requires pushing ourselves - giving up some things that we want (but do not need) and doing some things that we should do (but do not want to do).
    • Disciplined impulse and calculated risk allow us to interact with others in safe, open communication/interaction. Without self-discipline, we will lose ourselves in the prevailing current of our peers and the flow of life. We will lose connection with who we truly are. The problem is compounded if we lock into a long-term romantic relationship that is based on us being something other than what we truly are. At that point, awakening to who we truly are and beginning to let that true self emerge is a necessary event but will strain the relationship.
  4. Take things one step at a time.
    • Not all social situations are about romance.
    • The best relationships begin when we aren't "looking" (or trying too hard).
    • Small steps can help increase awareness in increments that can be linked and learned from. Long leaps may promote excitement, but also may create more chance for irreversible results. The higher the climb the harder the fall--unless the climb was one of true awareness and problem-solving to deal with setbacks.
    • Many relationships do not last. We should not be in a hurry to lock in on a soul mate. We may be surprised to know how our tastes and expectations will change over time as we are exposed to different things.
    • Love at first sight may be a fact of life, but it is not very practical. If possible, take time to know someone as a friend before we even consider romance. Even when we know we have found the "right" partner, it may not be prudent to rush to marriage because there may be aspects of the relationship that need time to surface and be worked out before the vows are exchanged. The true guidance on timing (as on everything else) comes from deep within - just make sure we are accessing the still, small voice, rather than a lust, fear, wound, judgment or some other part of our "husk".
    • Learn about self - first as a single, then as a couple. Learn to be a couple in the context of a community before being a couple in private. If we are not safe or comfortable with a person in public or among friends, then certainly we are not likely to feel safe or comfortable with him or her in private. We are more vulnerable to manipulation, negativity, etc. when isolated. If our date treats other people in a mean or rude way, it is only a matter of time until that demeanor is directed at us. The fact that we develop a close relationship can cause rudeness to be increased in intensity when it is inevitably directed at us (rather than giving us immunity from the rude treatment in the long-term).
    • We are not practicing for life. This is our life and each minute is important because it builds on the next minute. Mistakes are made so we can learn about life and about the opportunity to make choices.
  5. Step back and objectively consider whether the relationship is really a "good fit," all things considered.
    • Attraction is a composite of non-physical traits as well as appearance. Non-physical traits include a sense of humor, the ability to carry on a conversation, self-confidence, etc. The wider the list of mutual attractions, the easier a relationship is to maintain.
    • We do not have to be clones of each other to have a great relationship. Opposites attract. Differences are healthy and provide opportunities for mutual growth through the relationship, but the center of gravity for a relationship is the area of common interests and shared purpose. The strongest relationships evolve from working together toward common goals. If there is not a strong center of gravity, one has to question the long-term viability of the relationship.
    • Do not try to create an apple from an orange. Know ourselves clearly in terms of our comfort zones and emotional/behavioral tendencies, Be aware that when a relationship becomes more draining, there is less "give-and-take" and the bottom line is unhappiness. Do not think that we are going to change someone to suit our perceived needs. They are who they are, and we should be too.
    • Only have romantic relationships with people who let us feel good about ourselves.
    • Only have romantic relationships with people to whom we can be kind and who are always kind to us.
    • We may have a preconceived notion of what a good fit is supposed to be - always loving, always beautiful, never a serious disagreement, always meeting our emotional and physical desires on demand. These expectations cannot be sustained over the course of a long-term relationship. There will be differences and disagreements. These are healthy and highlight the fact that a "good fit" has to include the ability to work out differences in ways that are fair, hold the relationship together and allow each spouse to continue to grow as a person.
  6. Seek a relationship that is a win/win proposition; watch for negative patterns in self, partner or relationship and begin to change our part in it; consider leaving if that is not enough.
    • What goes around comes around. We should work toward equally contributing. The equation needs to come out positive for all involved. If it is predominantly a minus, then we should make a change to positive, or reconsider the relationship.
    • When we have a disagreement, particularly a challenging one, we should pay attention to the dynamics of how we work through it as a couple. In a long-term relationship - even between the most compatible people - there will be serious disagreements. Is this a person with the kind of temperament and values that make us comfortable resolving the disputes that will arise in the future? Does this examination help us see any need for adjustments in our own temperament and values when it comes to dispute resolution with a close loved one?
    • If the work and compromises needed to develop common ground for the relationship appear to be one-sided, some deep reflection is needed. If we have to leave most of our preferences behind to suit our partner, be careful that we do not lose ourselves and our purpose in life. However, if what appears to be one-sided is actually like the opening of a door for us in the discovery and expression of who we truly are, then full speed ahead - but only to the extent that we are finding ourselves and our life purpose, rather than losing touch with them.
    • In practice, relationships are rarely in equilibrium. There is an ebb and flow to emotions. It can happen over a long period of time or in just a few minutes. We cannot love equally, be angry equally or be indifferent equally. If this is understood, the shifts are not as devastating. If we are patient, the ebb and flow meet in the middle. Life is wonderful at this point and can be good most of the time.
    • Be mindful of any negative pattern in our date choices and work to correct that pattern.
    • Embarrassment or a need to "cover up" or be untruthful is a sign for caution.
    • One should not stay in a relationship that is negative to the exclusion of other potential dates.
    • If we are a "nurturer," we should do that professionally. We should not invest our romantic energy in a mate who needs to be taken care of, and has nothing to give us. A mutually caring and mutually dependent relationship is healthy, but we should be careful of relationships where the energy flows in only one direction.
  7. Understand that romantic relationships require continued investment of effort.
    • Relationships take work. Friends, clients, family, and that "significant other" will not survive neglect.
    • There needs to be time apart and things we do on our own and for our own development as well as time together and for the common interest. If all time is spent together, it is likely the relationship may be taken for granted. When this happens, the good is forgotten and the irritating becomes amplified.
    • The center of gravity - the common focus - needs to be cultivated and kept strong. Partners should also strive to support each other in individual endeavors compatible with the relationship. Let the relationship achieve its potential to aid each partner to achieve his/her life purpose rather than become a millstone around each partner's neck.
    • Look for ways to grow as individuals that take a direction of positive growth for the relationship.
    • We do not always have to be talking to impress someone. Asking the right questions and being a good listener is often more enjoyable and impressive. A good relationship requires that both partners give and receive on an ongoing basis (so there is a time for us to do the talking as well as do the listening).
    • Be sure we listen well. Sometimes the most important things are said in a very subtle language. It can be very difficult for our partner to communicate an important message effectively if we are expressing hostility to the anticipated message, rather than trying to listen. It is as important for us to know this information as it is for our partner to convey it. The communication becomes even more difficult if our partner knows that something bothers him/her, but does not have a clear handle on what it is.
    • Most people crave two things: acknowledgement and appreciation. If we take the time to let our partner know that we appreciate the things that he or she is and/or does, even the little things, this goes a long way to promote trust and closeness. As a relationship goes on, the partners tend to take one another for granted. This can be "the kiss of death."
    • We can be wrong and when we are, we need to accept it! Often, an apology is all we can give when we are wrong. It is also all we will get when we have been wronged. We should accept an apology gracefully and move on.
    • Actions speak louder than words.
    • Sharing life, such as projects, community, work or studying, is the best way to make new friends.
    • Try this: Before getting married, make a list of all of the things you love about your fiancee. Keep the list stored in a safe place. Ten years later, or earlier if things get rough, pull out the list to remind yourself of all the things you appreciated in your spouse, earlier in the relationship.
  8. Be honest about whether it is over. If it is over, move on.
    • Be honest. When we think it is over, it is.
    • Just because we "thought we were in love" but changed our mind is no reason to continue an unwanted relationship.
  9. Remember that both parties to the relationship are human beings worthy of friendship and respect, whether or not the romance continues.
    • Learn the difference between assertive and aggressive behavior. Do not display or tolerate displays of aggressive behavior.
    • Treat each relationship with the warmth and respect it deserves, even when it is over. Every relationship is important in the "bigger picture" of our lives, even the early romantic ones. Though both parties of a dissolved relationship move on in different directions, they still share a bond from that early experience together. Their shared experience in the relationship can still constructively contribute to their development as mature, healthy adults.
    • It is good to build friendship as part of dating and to try to maintain the friendship after the dating relationship is discontinued. Every relationship opens doors to understanding other people as well as ourselves. Unless there is something abusive or distasteful about a date, there is no reason to be negative about moving on.