TBH dating can be an absolute mess. From finding a good partner, learning how you work together, to encountering all the changes our twenties bring – being in a relationship is a lot of work! After celebrating my five-year dating anniversary last week, I realized there's a lot I've learned over the years and while each relationship is unique, here's my advice:
Trusting your partner and talking about what that means
I believe trust, respect & communication are the foundation of a healthy relationship and after being long distance for four years of our relationship, trust is really essential. Having conversations around trust is a good way to talk about deeper topics, fears you may have and expectations of the relationship and your partner. A topic I did not think about before dating was 'emotional cheating' and it was a great conversation to have with my boyfriend on what that looks like and our expectations for one another.
Don't get mad until you tell them what they did/said upset you. Even if it seems obvious to you, the other person might genuinely not know it was upsetting.
Take this advice with a grain of salt; if they were out-and-out offensive, say BYE. But if they were late to pick you up, changed plans last minute or said something rude this is where communication is key. It is much easier said than done, as in the moment getting upset is a lot easier but giving your partner an opportunity to apologize and understand your view will help you both grow and allow for forgiveness. I am big on this for another reason as once we have had a conversation around something that upset me, I can reference the conversation as a reminder if the same thing happens again. (AKA yes you DID know this was annoying).
Stick to your standards
People always told me my standards were too high, and I do not agree. Keep your standards on how you want to be treated 100%. If you communicate your expectations and the why behind them, your significant other should (within reason) strive to better themselves to meet those expectations. This is essential as you look at long term relationships, you don't want to feel like you settled. There will always be room for growth on both sides of a relationship; if you have conversations around what you both want from the relationship and how you want to feel in the partnership then you will find you don't have to lower your standards. Instead, you both rise to the occasion to make the other person feel loved, respected and heard!
Ex: Even after five years, my boyfriend Sam comes up to the door & comes inside every single time he picks me up, as opposed to waiting in his car. It's simple, but it's a sign of respect that I care about and he knows this small act makes me happy.
They are lucky to spend time with you!
Going into the start of a relationship with the mentality that they are lucky to spend time with you gives you confidence and prevents the relationship from becoming your one and only priority. Spend time with your friends, date other people, and focus on you all the while getting to know this person. This empowering mentality reminds you that you're in control and can end the relationship at any time because you are a boss babe!
I have heard too many stories of people I know and care about who feel they should bend over backwards for men or feel they should be grateful they are asked out and it ends up leading to unhealthy situations. So while the advice may sound a bit self-important... YOU'RE AWESOME! If someone wants to date you, remember it's because you're already wonderful.
Quality time talking is essential
There are a lot of types of 'quality time' but spending time off the phone – talking about your day, interests and even nothing-ness is so important! Relationships where you love AND like each other are the goal; there will be times where the sparks aren't flying or you're in a rut but if you know you still like the person under it all, it will make it easier to get the fire burning again. You're a team and it's important to like your teammate.
Ex: Sam and I make time to talk by going on a long walk (from Carlsbad to Encinitas about 14 miles round trip!) every other week where we are walking & talking the whole time. It's great exercise, we spend time enjoying the sun and we are uninterrupted by distractions.
Encouraging each other in our wins, and supporting in the misses.
You often here people are looking for 'their person' in a relationship, and that means something different in each relationship, but (going out on a limb here) feeling supported and encouraged is a universal want. If you have a personal or career goal, you should feel supported by your partner, and vice versa! If you have concerns about the goal (is that a good career move? Do you have the resources to go on that trip right now?) you should absolutely voice them, but in a kind way. The first thing you say should be supportive and allow them to fully explain their ideas so you have all the information. Many times I've been too quick to be the voice of reason instead of hearing out a plan... only to find Sam has already addressed my concerns.
When you or your partner has a big (or little) win: be proud! There are a million things to celebrate so find ways to let your SO know their hard work is worth it and you're there to back them up! It can be a little congratulations card, a special dessert, or just a big hug after a long day. I think of this as leading by example, if you celebrate their wins, they should want to celebrate you in turn.
Supporting one another in the 'misses' is equally as important as your partner may lean on you for encouragement and confidence in this time. 'Misses' might be a bad day at work, a rough patch with friends or family or even a total career move. When looking for a new job, getting rejected or simply not hearing back from companies can take a toll and finding ways to keep morale high is essential!
If you're not having fun in your relationship, what's it all for? As twenty-somethings we are figuring it all out and one thing we do not need is a relationship that as does not, "spark joy" as Marie Kondo says.