There comes a day when we finally run across our lifelong partner. We might not yet know for certain that this person is right for us, but he or she has loads of potential and there’s definitely a good chance that they are the person we’ve been hoping to find.
We all meet this right person, and often we meet several of them over the course of our lives. What we do when we find this person varies widely, though, and it marks the difference between a happy lifelong relationship and a missed opportunity; many an amazing person has remained single and frustrated because they aren’t actually ready for their perfect partner.
Finding the right person is not enough. We must do something with our opportunity. This requires having the right skills both for those early dates and for developing that lasting relationship.
With that in mind, here are five essential skills you’ll need before you meet the love of your life.
1. Knowing How to Love Yourself
This seems obvious, but it is not. We may think highly of ourselves, we may have professional success. We might take care of our needs and say we love ourselves. That doesn’t mean we’re actually doing it, though. It just means we know the words.
Real love is unconditionally accepting ourselves for who we are, flaws and all. It means loving ourselves in spite of our mistakes and our imperfections, and joyfully embracing this amazing person we live with every second of every day. Loving ourselves isn’t about what we do in life, it is about liking and unconditionally accepting that quirky, crazy human being we see in the mirror.
We love others by finding ourselves in them. If we don’t truly love ourselves, we won’t truly love our partner. And they’ll know it.
2. Understanding True Love
There’s like, and there’s love. Far too many of us confuse the two, thinking we love someone when actually we just like qualities in the other person.
Love is when we connect deeply with the essence of our partner, that part of the person that is the same when they were 10, 20 and 30 years old, and which will still be the same when they are 75 or above. This essence transcends qualities that come and go, things like looks, intelligence, skills, professional status and material possessions. We might like someone who is charming and shares our interests, but these qualities can change over time, and they don’t bring deep connection and true love.
Ask yourself: Do you want a partner who loves you for you, or do you want a partner who likes you because you are attractive and have a quick wit? The partner of your dreams will answer the same, even if he or she might not know how to articulate it. So make sure you know how to love.
3. Creating Deep Connections
People form good relationships when they connect. There’s no dating success without the spark of a human connection between two people, and all good relationships require it.
Building this connection is not chance; it comes from honesty and vulnerability. If our heart is closed and we are not sharing ourselves, our partner will not connect with us on the deepest level. If the other person is not open, we struggle with loving and connecting with them. While relationships can function without honesty and vulnerability, they cannot thrive without it.
Making the most of our opportunity requires both the dangerous act of letting down our guard and the skillful act of disarming our partner with safety and acceptance. Get proficient at these means for connecting deeply with others.
4. Accepting Others Completely
There’s an immutable law of relationships and we must acknowledge it: What we do not accept, our partner will not share.
Life is littered with examples of this law. When our parents do not accept our lifestyle choices or our values, we hide it from them. When our judgmental friend is intolerant, we avoid discussing sensitive issues in their presence. When we make a mistake that our boyfriend or girlfriend might not accept, our first impulse is to stay quiet.
We might not agree with every decision, but total acceptance of our partner’s thoughts and actions is necessary if we want an honest relationship where our partner shares fully and feels understood. This is one of the harder skills to learn, but if we master the difference between acceptance and agreement we basically ensure that she will find and keep the person of our dreams.
5. Bridging Differences
Every relationship encounters differences of understanding and opinion. The question is not whether there are differences, but how those differences are resolved.
Strong relationships settle differences by arriving at a common understanding based on what makes the most sense, not based on who thought of it first. Both sides share what they know and how they know it, and together they sort through the facts and feelings until there is agreement. This is in marked contrast to the common but far less successful techniques of running from the disagreement, letting one side prevail through brute force, or compromising for the sake of compromise.
When we can bring teamwork and harmony in the face of disagreement, we are doing more than just avoiding an unnecessary breakup or a needless drama. We also are paving the way for a lasting relationship.
These are five of the most important relationship skills. Make sure you know and practice them.
For a deeper discussion of these five skills, and exercises that help you master them, join me at the Joy Love Club.
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.