What makes a healthy love relationship? A year of loving in a new-to-me way taught me 6 unexpected lessons.
Last year, I finally graduated from my 15-year intensive immersion course in toxic love. I’m a newbie at healthy love and eager to share my experience as it unfolds. So while the El Paso Zoo names cockroaches after people’s exes and feeds them to the meerkats, I offer 6 things I’ve learned so far from moving on and loving in a new-to-me way.
1. There is no formula.
I didn’t spend years being single and exclusively focusing on self love before I found my partner. We didn’t start dating right away, but we also didn’t take things slow once we decided to start a romantic relationship. I believe healthy partnerships can form in all types of settings, circumstances, and stages of personal growth. (Side note: I also believe there are situations that make healthy love highly unlikely, for example, he’s married.)
2. It’s easy.
Despite throwing his house and my kids into the mix, there is no drama between us. We support each other through life’s inevitable hard spots, and our relationship is a source of solace rather than an added stress.
3. It’s hard.
Being in healthy relationship requires a level of vulnerability that most of us aren’t used to. I’ve had to open in ways I’ve never opened before and confront wounds I wasn’t aware existed. My partner is a mirror that reflects all the parts of myself back to me in a way I wasn’t able to see on my own.
4. It feels like I’m getting more than I give.
My partner says he feels this way, too. We intentionally choose to say we’re renovating “our house” and raising “our kids,” because that’s how we function. We both participate in housework, child care, and the tasks of daily living. Consequently, life just feels lighter, even when it’s hard.
5. It makes me more me.
I don’t feel pressure to dress or act a certain way. My partner loves me for who I am, so the only thing for me to do is be my sensitive, quirky, intense self. Since entering a healthy partnership, I’ve been doing more of all the things that make me who I am—writing, reading, exercising, making music, going on outdoor adventures, and raising our boys.
6. There’s always more to learn.
I think we’re pretty awesome, but I acknowledge that there’s always more for my partner and I to discover. We’re learning what healthy love feels like long-term after that initial dopamine high. We’re setting our own pace in outward markers of relationship progress. I’m working on self love and overcoming lingering attachment issues. And as much as we adore our house and kids, we’re learning how to balance those responsibilities with our personal and relationship goals.
It’s also worth highlighting my partner’s observation: healthy love requires two solid individuals. He often says he’s never done this before, citing his series of shorter relationships and my previous experience with marriage and parenting. But I’ve never done this before either—at least not this way.
Our life experiences as single and coupled people made us the two strong individuals we are today. We’re leading from our sense of self, not our previous relationships. As equal partners on the path of healthy love, we have so much to explore about each other, ourselves, and the journey of life.
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