A lot of us have grand ideas of what a “good relationship” with the “right man” looks like. If you’re single, you use this vision as fuel to keep you going through the lonely nights and bad dates, telling yourself that one day all the pain will be worth it, that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and he will be everything you’ve ever wanted and make you happier than you ever thought possible.
If you’re in a relationship, you question if you should stay when things get rocky or problems arise. These doubts make you wonder whether he really is the man for you because aren’t you supposed to “just know” when the right one comes along? And if that is the case, then are these moments of uncertainty a sign that it’s not right?
It’s no secret that our society idealizes love. Starting at early childhood, we get inundated with idealized portrayals of eternal love. From Disney movies to Nicholas Sparks novels, we develop expectations of what love should be, how it should feel, what it should look like…and we feel disappointed when reality doesn’t quite align with that vision.
Here’s the thing that no one really tells you: good relationships don’t always feel all that good…but it’s not for the same reason bad relationships don’t feel good.
Bad relationships are the ones filled with all the drama. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. When I say “bad relationship,” I mean everything from a toxic, codependent situation, to a relationship with a man who won’t commit in a significant way, to a match that is simply incompatible.
It’s even better if you’re dealing with a guy who comes with a lot of emotional baggage. Investing in his problems is like a vacation from dealing with your own.
But in a good relationship…a relationship where you’re on the same page, when you aren’t waiting anxiously for the next text, a relationship where wondering if he likes you just seems ridiculous because you know exactly how he feels…well, those are the relationships that bring you face to face with who you truly are. Sometimes they will bring out the best in you, because we all have inherent goodness within us. And sometimes they will bring out the worst in you, because a lot of us have been burned or are holding on to traumas from the past that we didn’t even realize were still buried within us.
Sometimes there will be nothing wrong in the relationship but you will feel sad or anxious or upset. You won’t be able to blame this on the fact that he didn’t call or text or that you’re not his girlfriend or he hasn’t said “I love you” because he never leaves you hanging…he was proud to call you his girlfriend…he adores you and you know he does. The feelings aren’t coming from him, they’re coming from you. If you’ve been hurt in the past, this feeling of unease is your deep-seated trust issues. If you can’t seem to trust that he’ll be there for you, then out come the fears of abandonment.
Sometimes you’ll feel unloved, sometimes you’ll feel insecure, sometimes you’ll feel angry, sometimes you’ll want to just run, and sometimes you’ll feel really lonely, and that will surprise you because how can you be lonely in the company of someone who truly loves you?
Some will make the mistake of thinking this is the wrong relationship and they’ll leave. Some will blame their partner for “making” them feel that way and issues will continue to arise until the relationship implodes, and other will realize that you can’t let love in from the outside if you don’t feel it on the inside and will do the inner work to get there, as hard as it can be. They will face their demons, they will deal with the pain from the past, they will communicate openly and honestly with their partners about their fears and their doubts and they won’t hold on to anger and resentment. They will realize that all relationships, even the best ones, take work, but it starts with working on yourself.
There’s this idea that in the right relationship, everything will just be perfect. He’ll be the other half of your soul, you’ll reach a level of happiness you never knew existed, you’ll feel secure and comfortable and confident. A good relationship can give you these things for sure, but not on its own. It has to start from within. If you don’t already feel good, if you still have issues to work through, if you have a void within, you will never fully be able to trust him, you will never truly feel “good enough.” No matter how many sweet things he says or does, you will never be able to give and receive love freely.
When we’re single, we’re often unaware of the work that needs to be done because those parts of us that are hurt and need to be healed don’t get accessed. Or maybe we do know but think the right guy will make it all better. Love forces you to face yourself. Love brings up all that is unloved within us. And you can’t hide who you are when you are in a good, loving relationship. Instead, you are forced to face it and deal with it. Your partner will always reflect back who you really are (and vice versa). And everything that happens will be much more emotionally significant.
When all you’ve had are bad relationships, it’s hard to really know what you’re doing when a good one comes along. You’re not used to this feeling of things just being right. You’re not used to just coasting along on placid waters and you can’t trust it. Instead, you stand on high alert, waiting for a storm to roll in and knock you overboard. For some of us, it might genuinely feel weird to just know how a guy feels about us and not have to guess and decode and look for clues. It can be unfamiliar and we may take that to mean something is amiss and we’re overlooking something. Maybe we pick him apart, maybe we start fights, maybe we feel despair because this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
But the path to becoming your best self isn’t always a smooth one. There are bumps and sharp turns and it can be dark and scary sometimes…but it’s OK. It’s normal, in fact.
The road to becoming our best selves takes time, patience, and a lot of work. It involves gaining an awareness of what you need to work on and finding the tools to get there.
Here are a few key things you can do to make a “good” relationship even better:
1. Manage Your Thoughts
Emotionally generated thoughts tend to become magnified and then multiply. Let’s say your wonderful, loving boyfriend doesn’t text you back for hours one day. In that moment, maybe you start to get upset and think, “I can’t believe he didn’t answer that sweet text I just sent him; I know he always has his phone on him and is constantly checking it. He must not care about me, or maybe he’s having doubts. He never shows me he cares (then insert a running tab of all the instances, big or small, where you didn’t feel cared for by him). I can’t believe I’m with a guy who doesn’t appreciate me, I don’t deserve this,” and on and on.
The more the thoughts come flooding in, the more upset you will become. Instead of going down this road, cut it at the source. OK, he didn’t text back right away, it must mean he’s in a meeting or got tied up. He cares about you; you know he does. He texts back right away the majority of the time. His feelings didn’t suddenly change; that just wouldn’t make any sense.
Try to identify your faulty line of thinking and gain more objective awareness. Look for the good in him and the good in your relationship and focus on that instead of participating in a negative line of thinking that isn’t serving you in any positive way.
2. Tell Him What You’re Feeling
I mentioned earlier that sometimes we can suddenly feel hurt or upset by something minor. When this happens, it usually isn’t the result of what’s going on in the present, but it’s because some hurt from the past was triggered. If you find yourself feeling scared or upset, just be open and tell him.
Being vulnerable is what strengthens emotional bonds. In a healthy, loving relationship we need to trust that we can be vulnerable with our partners without them using our disclosures against us. If something happens and you feel an emotional response, tell him what’s going on. Maybe you say something like, “I really care about you and I want to get closer to you but I have been hurt badly in the past and sometimes my fear of being hurt again gets triggered.”
These honest disclosures will not scare him away; if anything, they will make him feel even closer to you and he will want to protect your emotions even more. When you get angry or defensive or blame him for making you feel a certain way, then you activate his fears and his defenses and it pushes him away.
No matter what darkness you have inside, being open and honest about it and sharing it in a loving way will strengthen your bond. As long as it’s done without blame or shame, you can basically tell him anything.
3. Manage Your Mood
The only person you can control is yourself. You can inspire a man to feel and do certain things, but you can never force it out of him. A lot of us fall into the role of being victims of circumstance. We let the things that happen dictate how we feel when really that’s our decision to make. Yes, sometimes something will happen and you will have an immediate emotional response, but it’s up to you whether that incident ruins your day or not. You can choose to participate in the negative thoughts that come along with whatever happened or not. And your mood is largely under your control.
When you bring a happy, positive mood into your interactions with your guy, it’s contagious and spills over onto him. When he feels that positive energy, he feels happy and empowered and he wants to do more and give more and be even better in the relationship. It is only when a man feels defeated or feels like a loser who can’t make his woman happy that he retreats and doesn’t do those loving behaviors.
4. Resolve Your Issues, Don’t Wait For Them To Solve Themselves
A good relationship will always bring your unresolved issues to the surface. That’s because good relationships with partners who love us force us to be at our best…and in order to be our best, we have to deal with and rid ourselves of our worst. Whether it’s insecurity, poor self-esteem, fear of abandonment, or character flaws like being insensitive, inpatient, or selfish…they all come out. You can try to shove them to the side, but they’ll keep coming back until they are properly dealt with.
Love can be healing in some ways, but your partner is not responsible for your emotional wellbeing – only you are. The path to resolution will be different for everyone. Some will find the answers on their own, some may find it in a self-help book (one of my favorites is the Six Pillars of Self-Esteem; I think this is a must-read for everyone, no matter what your relationship status), and some will want to work with a therapist.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Problems don’t just work themselves out on their own; you don’t wake up one day and discover that all your issues are gone. The greatest service you can do for yourself and your relationship is to be growth-oriented and continue striving to be your best self.
5. Tell Him What You Want
Even the best boyfriend or husband in the world isn’t going to give you exactly what you want all the time because he doesn’t always know what you need…and the best way to get it is to just tell him! Men are not responsive to nagging or criticism, but they can be enormously receptive – and appreciative – when you tell them what makes you happy in a loving way.
This feels so much better than being upset at him for not doing something and holding it in and silently resenting him for it. When you do this, you transmit a punishing vibe that hangs in the air and poisons everything, making him even less likely to do what you want.
We all give and experience love in different ways. Even in the best relationship, you aren’t going to feel completely loved all the time. Again, some of this is the result of your own stuff and some of it is because he doesn’t always know what to do to make you feel loved.When you tell him, then you free yourself of the confines of feeling resentful and unloved and he feels betters because now he can rise up and be the amazing man you need and deserve. So everyone wins.