According to the top relationship experts, there are certain things you need to understand about yourself and your partner:
1. Understand relationship phases.
Relationships have three general phases: romantic, conflict and commitment. Unless they’re sending you a serious red flag, it’s hard to figure out if someone’s a keeper in the romantic phase.
“This is the stage where it’s all fun,” says Richo, a psychotherapist (DaveRicho.com) and author of How to Be an Adult in Relationships (Shambhala). “Neither person will show their dark side very much, so you don’t have a picture of the whole person.”
So when do you really know whether he’s that special someone? When the masks come off, says Richo. Which is why fighting from the very start about money, work and how many times you have sex a week can threaten even the most promising unions.
What’s key is how you handle these relationship stages and working through relationship issues appropriately.
2. Admit your emotional dependence.
Making an emotional connection is what people hunger for the most, says Sue Johnson, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and author of Hold Me Tight (Little Brown and Company).
Recognizing and admitting that you’re emotionally dependent on your partner can transform key moments in your relationship and bring you closer than ever.
“All the evidence shows that when you feel safe, connected and sure, you’re better at taking care of your partner, at talking about everything from kids to sex,” Johnson says. As a result, you’ll have a more satisfying sex life.
People often feel ashamed about needing emotional ties. “Not just men either,” she says. “Women say this means I’m weak or immature. I shouldn’t need this comfort from him.”
3. Show your love the right way.
Attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection – as well as respect for each other’s deepest needs and wishes – is the foundation of a good relationship, Richo says. To improve your relationship, help your partner know what he means to you by expressing these 4 A’s.
“Love isn’t based on the amount of adrenaline we feel coursing through our bodies, but rather whether we’re present in those five ways,” he says. “I know I love someone when I show those four A’s and I know they love me when they show them in return.”
Unfortunately, we often mistake that first rush of hormones for true love.
“The pitter-patter excitement of a heart skipping a beat is all OK in the romantic phase,” Richo explains, “but that can’t be your ultimate test of whether love is real.”
4. Embrace “Me, me, me!”
Sound selfish? Not at all, says Alison Armstrong, founder of the Understanding Men series of workshops (UnderstandMen.com) and author of Making Sense of Men (Pax Programs).
“Before you commit to someone else, get clear about what is most important in your life and spend your time, money and energy on that.”
In fact, most people are attracted to those who feel comfortable in their own skin, she says.
5. Fight, yes, but don’t be cruel.