Have you ever seen that old couple at the movies still holding hands and thought, “I want that!” How about that couple that seems so effortlessly chill? It’s easy to see when someone else’s relationship is beautiful and healthy, but sometimes it’s hard to know how to get there in your own relationship.
No one wants a dull, hurtful, or unhealthy relationship, but how do you find the “right one?” Or how do you make your relationship more healthy? We are swamped with songs, ads, and TV shows that tell us how it could be, but they don’t always help us get to #relationshipgoal status.
Here are some practical tips to help you know just how legit your relationship is:
1. Know Your Motives Are In Sync
The very first question when you go on that first date should be, “What do I want out of this?” And be realistic. If you’ve been having a bad week and honestly just wanted a free meal out of your date, level with yourself. If you already know before date #1 that they are not relationship material, then be clear with them and yourself.
On the flip side of the same coin, make sure you know their motivations! Most importantly, make sure you trust this person. A generally good rule of thumb is to not let your first date be too private if you don’t already know your date fairly well. Once you’re there, try to assess their level of interest. If they just want to “hang out and see what happens,” probably don’t buy that wedding dress quite yet. This will help you keep your expectations and hopes in check.
As we all know, “actions speak louder than words.” If your significant other is saying they want to take things slow but then pushes for more intimacy, that should give you a pretty good idea of their real motivations. Contradictions like this are not romantic, but harmful. As Leslie Vernick puts it, “Not all relationships require full transparency (in other words, keep your emotional clothes on)…but all relationships thrive on authenticity.” (The Emotionally Destructive Relationship)
Sometimes motives are just not in sync, and that’s a good thing to recognize and address early on. Miscommunicated expectations are a recipe for relationship disaster. There’s no need to make them give you a 5-year plan, but you should have a general idea of what they are expecting from you and for your relationship if you are going to be #relationshipgoal material.
2. Take In The Big Picture
Moving on from date 1, if your motives seem aligned you might be tempted to think nothing can go wrong. When we date people, it’s tempting to put on your best face. I mean really, people do crazy things to attract their crush! High heels are a death trap, but we wear them because they give us confidence or make us feel powerful or beautiful. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with high heels, we need dates that are down to earth too. Dates where you run through the mud, do manual labor, and meet their relatives (pleasant and unpleasant alike).
Another way to test if your relationship has what it takes to be a #relationshipgoal is to see how you both react under pressure. When he comes from out of town to see you and gets a screw in his tire and has to miss a day of work to get it fixed, how will he react? Will he blow up at the tire sales clerk who’s taking too long? Or will he make the most of an unfortunate and costly incident and be grateful to spend one more day with you? (Yes, this is taken from a real event in my actual life.)
Didn’t you hate it when your parents told you “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future?” Well there’s actually some truth in that and it’s a good thing! Meeting your date’s friends and family will give you a pretty good idea of who they are. If his dad is handsome with a full head of hair that’s a pretty good indication that he will age well. If his best friend is an ex-con who keeps getting him in trouble, that’s generally an indication there may be trouble brewing for you too.
Another popular test is to see how your date treats wait staff, and not just on dates. If they are impatient, don’t tip or are just generally hard to work with, that’s something to take into consideration. If they are generous, kind and willing to forgive mistakes – now that’s what we’re talking about! But in all this, no one is perfect. There will be times that they will disappoint you and you will disappoint them. So be sure to take all this with a grain of salt and be kind and generous to them too.
3. Know When to Say “No” (And Not Just About Sex)
One of the least talked about problems of today’s relationship come from difficulty understanding and creating healthy boundaries. In my everyday life, I couldn’t say, “no.” Whatever anyone needed, I would take care of it. If you’re like me, that makes you a very busy person, going from friend to friend doing whatever is needed at the moment. Sometimes this is a great thing, but other times it’s just not healthy.
In relationships, there are so many opportunities to confuse boundaries. So let’s start with the simple first: Treat them like what they are to you. If you are just friends, then make sure you are thinking of them as just friends. I really struggled with this in my relationship with my now-husband. We were friends for 5 years and most of that time were essentially at the emotional level of a dating relationship. While it turned out well in the end for us, it did cause some seriously difficult times as well and really painful times. What do you do when he dates someone else? You’re not dating him so you can’t make him not date them, but it also hurts like you were dating. Talk about confusing!
Avoid these troubles and make sure you have clearly understood emotional boundaries!
These emotional boundaries go hand in hand with physical boundaries. Take kissing for example. We see it all the time in TV and movies — the magical kiss makes everything clear! NO. It does not. In fact, it usually just makes things way more complicated. According to a CNN study, “A kiss can cause our blood vessels to dilate, our pulse to quicken and cheeks to flush. Our pupils grow wide, which is likely one reason that so many of us are apt to close our eyes. In other words, the body’s response mirrors many of the same symptoms frequently associated with falling in love.”
Since not every kiss gives us this sensation, it’s tempting to think that this is a sign that we’ve found the one. In reality, our body is just doing what it does best — reacting. A good kiss doesn’t tell you anything about your partner as a person. It can tell you that they are attractive, but it doesn’t tell you anything about if they are “the one” for you, that is the brain’s territory.
4. Timing is Everything
For many couples, they sincerely believe that they are perfect for each other, but the timing is off. For this reason, some people choose not to date in hopes of dating later or choose to try anyway in hopes that they can make it work now. There is no easy answer when life gets in the way. I know for me and my husband, long distance made us dance along the line of dating/not dating for years.
But we learned that just because the answer is “no” now doesn’t mean it can’t be “yes” later! We remained close friends for years and finally he found a job a few hours closer, making dating a little more possible. Ours is not the only situation though, you may be graduating high school or going to different colleges and wondering, “Is it worth all this work?” Friendship can be a great way to continue to learn about each other without the added stress of a formal relationship to maintain. And if you are certain your S.O. is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, friendship is great preparation for that as well!
Those couples that are comfortable farting in front of each other or arguing without fear of breaking up—they have a foundation of deep and trusting friendship. In the long-haul, times of butterflies will come and go, but a well-constructed and committed friendship with your S.O. will survive even when times are tough.
5. Assess Your Emotional Health
While our bodies aren’t great at telling us if we’ve found the right one, they’re very good about telling us when we’ve found the wrong one. “Emotions, or feelings, have a function. They tell us something. They are a signal.” (Cloud & Townsend, Boundaries) Make sure to take note of your emotional and physical health after coming back from time spent together. Do they make you feel energized or do they exhaust you? Despite what we are told, stressing you out is not a sign that you are passionately right together. In fact, it’s just the opposite!
My mother used to tell me that when she found my dad “everything was simple.” Things sure weren’t that simple for me, but they were honest and authentic. When my husband and I started dating we faced many obstacles, but we always were honest with each other (because of our long-lasting and committed friendship). And when we argued, we argued fairly and honestly. While things weren’t easy by any means, they were not a game.
The final test of any relationship is your willingness to step back. If after reading this article there is something sticking in your mind, think it over. There’s nothing wrong or unromantic about being honest with yourself and your partner. If you are both in a healthy place and are on the same page, there should be an ability to step back for a short time to reassess the relationship. You should be able to have frank conversations with your partner about your past, present, and future without either of you exploding in tears. And when you can do that confidently, you will have reached #relationshipgoal status. Because, let’s be honest, facing the truth calmly with your partner is much harder than looking cute together.