Maybe I’m young and naive, but I think all healthy relationships can be boiled down to just two goals:
1. Be comfortable with yourself
The thing we most often forget when we are “falling in love” is to just be ourselves. But this is almost impossible if we aren’t even comfortable with that person.
Becoming comfortable with ourselves is a step that should ideally occur before we are in a relationship at all. Otherwise, our view of ourselves will be determined by how someone else treats us. And that’s about as smart as using your dog as your only alarm clock. You might be okay most mornings; but when your pup played a little too hard the day before and decides to sleep in, you’re screwed.
We can blame all kinds of things for our culture’s staggering divorce rates, but I think it ultimately comes down to this issue of our own hearts. I feel like Jesus said something about that as well. How can it be possible for someone to accept love for who they truly are until they know how to love that person first?
A huge part of this has to do with your spiritual identity. I don’t believe anyone can understand the purpose of a relationship altogether until they have submitted themselves to God and are actively trying to follow Him with their life. For someone who doesn’t know how to humble himself before God and submit to Him, then by definition, the purpose of every relationship will only be to meet his own needs rather than to be a reflection of the love and forgiveness he first feels (and accepts) from God. Someone who isn’t pursuing God will abandon a relationship, at least emotionally, as soon as it ceases to provide for their own perceived needs. His motivation is almost entirely self-seeking.
What sucks is that a divorce often happens when just one person in the marriage doesn’t have both of these at least mostly figured out. For a healthy relationship with each other, it takes both people being comfortable with their own selves– pursuing and enjoying a personal relationship with God. Therefore, these are the two non-negotiable things we should look for in a potential spouse, no matter how gorgeous they are. No amount of physical attractiveness will make up for an irrationally insecure relationship. And for the same reason, this is what we should put most of our own attention to for ourselves.
Being comfortable with who we are doesn’t mean we shouldn’t constantly be trying to better ourselves. If there are things you know you need to work on, start those new habits and transformations before you have someone in your life that you want to impress. Better to impress someone with the parts of you that are real rather than with what has been freshly painted on.
When it comes down to it, you are the only person you are guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with–so you better make sure you’re someone you want to be around. Once you reach that level of personal confidence and contentment, you’ll ironically find that you’re much more attractive to other people. Funny how that works.
It’s the real us they would need to fall for anyway, right? So why delay the process of revealing who that person is? If you’re quirky, be quirky–nerdy, be nerdy. Just be that way with purpose and contentment. “Swag,” if you will. If they don’t accept those basic, fundamental parts of you, then why waste your time? Fight the urge to morph into who you think the other person will be more attracted to, especially if that person doesn’t come out naturally.
By the way, that “real you” I’m talking about isn’t insecure or overly-jealous. Those are emotions (learned from previous experiences) that you should still fight against simply for the sake of making your own life and relationship with yourself better. It’s the insecurity about who we are that leads to us questioning why or how someone great could ever have feelings for us. Before we know it, the opportunity has passed us by. And an irrationally jealous nature that deems other people as a real threat to our chance of success is only a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we set off down these paths, we’ve unknowingly doomed a potentially awesome relationship before it ever had a chance simply because we weren’t comfortable with ourselves.
Not feeling valued or loved by yourself is unfortunately a major reason why people just jump into the first relationship that comes sailing by–vowing to “just make it work.” You might be able to muscle five or six years out, maybe even ten. But eventually, insecurity and feelings of unworthiness will bring it all crashing down.
Society seems to say marriage is the ultimate goal. But ask your married friends and you’ll hear otherwise. Being married won’t fix you–in fact, it might actually make your insecurity worse. Singleness isn’t a terrible option, and to think that it is should be a blazing red flag that you have work to do in your own heart.
Regardless of whether you get married or not, heaven is still a real place (and there happens to be no concept of marriage there). It’s tough to swallow, but eternity slightly outweighs a few decades. And Jesus himself said that not everyone is at a place where they can handle marriage. He wasn’t talking about what they looked like on the outside. He was talking about what their hearts looked like and their motivations for wanting it in the first place.
2. Stay unpredictable
Being unmarried myself, I feel like I should spend less time on this one. But I have no less confidence in its truthfulness and effectiveness. It’s much less about spirituality and more about my own common sense and experiences.
Life is best lived as an adventure, which is a worldview that should filter into just about every task, obligation, and especially every relationship. To “do life with someone” is like a long road trip. There are planned pit stops along the way, but what makes the journey worthwhile and ultimately worth telling about is the unexpected moments in between where you allow yourselves to veer off course here and there (together), just for the fun of it.
You can gauge your success in this area with one main indicator: laughter. When laughter ceases to be a regular aspect of your relationship with someone, you’ve cut off your water supply and you’ll likely face trouble soon. It takes a healthy dose of intentional effort to keep laughter going, and it’s impossible to make it happen consistently if you’re constantly in fear of the entire relationship collapsing, which is a reference to the first point of being comfortable with yourself.
Try new things. Plan new adventures. They don’t have to be expensive mega-productions, or even out of town. In fact, they can take place right along with the normal day-to-day routines. Prank each other; play with each other; be best friends; be unpredictable. The more creative, the better. And if your prank or adventure turns into a disaster, chances are it will make for an even better story than it would have if everything went perfectly to plan.
The way to keep a relationship fresh, with both people giving each other that “I’m crazy about you” look from across the room, is to be interesting and unpredictable enough to be a good choice as someone’s partner in crime.
This, along with a healthy relationship with ourselves, would completely transform the bleek, terrifying statistics in our culture regarding romance.