What should you know before your first relationship? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Lauren Campbell:
Society educates us very little on how to have a healthy relationship or what a healthy relationship looks like.
Trust vs. Control
One of the most damaging things it teaches us is that if we feel insecure, the answer is to try and control our partners until we feel more secure. This involves an arbitrary set of standards that people claim is "being smart" about avoiding cheating when really it just involves being controlling. These include, snooping through your partner's cellphone and hacking their online accounts to see who they are talking to, banning them from speaking to or remaining friends with their ex, telling them to cut ties with their girl or guy friends, demanding all their passwords and/or getting angry if they talk to a member of the sex they're attracted to.
I've seen all the above listed as steps people take to avoid getting cheated on, obviously some are more extreme than others. But what you need to understand is that no one can make you feel secure. Feelings of security have to come from within yourself. If you feel jealous, it is not some magical sign that your partner is really doing anything wrong. It's a reflection of your own feelings. You need to then figure out if your insecurity is really coming from something your partner has done (becoming distant, staying out late, etc) or if it's something inside yourself making you feel that way (low self-esteem, past relationships etc) and then address the problem as you see it. Controlling what your partner can do, who they can talk to, etc is not grounds for a healthy relationship and it is a temporary fix that won't make you feel more secure in the long-run. You can certainly discuss your feelings with your partner (this makes me feel insecure) but issuing demands (I forbid you) is different.
The above being said, you are allowed to have deal-breakers. These are expectations that you are unwilling to compromise on. Here's the thing about deal-breakers though: you are responsible for finding someone who is compatible with your needs and you need to make your deal-breakers clear to your partner.
You should absolutely have deal-breakers but these are not things that you get to impose on your partner but rather you should try and find partners who want the same things or are willing to meet those expectations, not date someone and then issue them an ultimatum. If you want kids, for instance, find someone who wants kids too. Don't just date whoever you want and then demand that they have kids with you, five years down the line.
A lot of times we are told to do everything but communicate. We meet someone we like and then there's all these strange rules about texting. Don't text too fast but don't wait too long either. Don't play too hard to get but don't come across as desperate either. There's all these strange lines we're supposed to walk and then interpret and a lot of us waste our time agonizing over what something means rather than just asking the other person.
So that being said, don't play these games. If you want to date someone, don't tell them no "to not seem desperate". If you want to talk to someone, send them a text message, don't hold off. If you're uncertain if someone still likes you, then ask them. If something bothers you, talk about it (politely). If you like someone, then tell them. You will save yourself so much time and unnecessary confusion if you are just willing to talk plainly.
Also, be able to clearly communicate your expectations. A lot of times we assume that everyone wants the same things. Don't assume. If you have needs and expectations, talk about them. For a relevant example, remember the Rachel and Ross storyline on Friends. Some people believe that "taking a break" means free to sleep with other people. Others believe "taking a break" means taking time to yourself to think. Don't assume your partner knows which one of these you mean, discuss it.
Know warning signs
Don't buy into the myth that if you really love someone, you'll stand by them no matter what. That's how I and likely a lot of other people ended up in abusive relationships we took way too long to leave. If your partner's behaviour is unacceptable, then get out.
A really good rule is that if someone shows you a glimpse into their behaviour, you should believe it the first time. If they call you names when you're in a fight, expect that they will keep calling you names. If they get jealous and controlling over one issue, expect the jealousy and control to continue. If they lose their temper over a small issue, expect them to have a short temper. If they hit you one time and then apologise, expect that they will hit you again. Too often we are taught to ignore, overlook and give the benefit of the doubt to someone that we like. Don't fall for that. Know what the warning signs and the red flags are and don't dismiss them when they start. Some warning signs include rushing you into a relationship, jealousy, control, unrealistic expectations, isolating you from your friends and family members (often possessive of your time), blaming others for their own behaviours, making you apologise for their own behaviour and many others. Here's a list: New Hope for Women
Research and memorise those warning signs and don't ignore them when you see them. My ex showed a lot of these and I naively chose to give the benefit of the doubt. It was a huge mistake.
A huge one, if you're with a person that makes you feel worthless, like you deserve bad treatment, or that you are doomed to be alone without them, run.
Don't fall into a trap of believing that your self-worth is measured in your relationship status, don't ever believe that another person will be the one to make you happy. Learn to be happy and secure in yourself and look forward to sharing those positive things with a partner. Don't seek a relationship to make yourself feel like you are desirable or beautiful or worth something. Know that you already are.
Give and receive
Some people unfortunately go into relationships with a desire to prove themselves. They constantly hover around their partner trying to please them and give them everything. It's really, really good to give in a relationship but also know that relationships are two way streets. Don't stay with someone who only takes, who criticises you and demands more. Expect to have something given to you in turn, love, respect, affection, appreciation, etc. If you find yourself in a one-sided relationship you'll burn yourself out at the worst or end up being abused at the best. People who are takers are often unhappy and impossible to please. They are often abusers, blame everyone else for their unhappiness, have unrealistic expectations, make everyone around them walk on eggshells and no matter how giving and accommodating their partner aims to be it's never enough. Plenty of people have spent years of their lives trying to please only to realise one day that it is unappreciated and did not pay off.
You should absolutely love to do nice things for your partner but make sure that they feel the same way about you.
In order to be in a healthy relationship it not only requires that your behaviour is appropriate and healthy but that you expect appropriate and healthy behaviour from your partner. Far too many people fall into the trap of:
- Using relationships to validate their self-worth and then jumping at anyone who will agree to date them, tolerating unacceptable behaviours in the process because they are afraid of being alone
- Trying to be the best partner they can be without any expectations and wind up being a doormat for someone else
- Ignoring clear warning signs because they like someone or want to prove their love
- Engage in healthy behaviours, expect healthy behaviours.