I’ve not only written a lot about love for years and published a book on it, but I’ve read, discussed, researched, and questioned plenty of ideas and theories about how love, relationships, and dating work.
And what I’ve found, time and time again, is that people end up learning the hard way some of their greatest lessons on love. Not only that, but people recount having learned these lessons a little too late.
But that’s the great thing about wisdom: it can be shared. You have the opportunity to gain knowledge now rather than later through trial and error.
Because life might be filled with a lot of twists, turns, and unknowns, but with these twenty lessons about love, you can feel a bit more certain about where you’re heading:
1. You can’t assume someone knows you appreciate them.
Don’t take your partner for granted. Even if you’ve been together for twenty years, tell your partner you appreciate them, preferably every day.
You can even comment on certain actions of theirs. A simple, “I appreciate how you remind me to water the plants” or “I love that you get a cup of water for me when you get one for yourself” can go a long way.
2. Sometimes, you have to choose happiness over being right.
My dad once told me that he picks and chooses his battles with my mom. He can’t think about only his own interests in life; he must consider what’s best for both him and my mom.
Trying to be right at the expense of your partner’s happiness will make you unhappy as well. It’s going to affect your relationship either right away or over time. You’re both a team, and when one of you loses, you both lose.
3. You’re better off alone than settling for someone who keeps your bed warm.
It’s not fair to either person if you settle on a relationship for the sake of being in one. You’re telling yourself you don’t deserve more. You’re closing off the path for either to meet someone else.
And just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean your loneliness will disappear. Without a genuine connection, you’ll simply be going to bed with a friend (if that) every night.
4. Date what someone presents to you, not their potential.
I’ve talked with countless people who thought they could change the person they’re dating. “If they only had more ambition, they’d be so successful,” they’d state. But then years would pass, and nothing changed.
Thinking this way is building a relationship with something that doesn’t exist. You’ll have high expectations that the other person never agreed to. You’ll end up resenting them, even though you created this resentment yourself.
5. Another person can’t make you happy.
If you aren’t happy with your life when you’re single, a relationship won’t fix that. Happiness is an inside job only you can take on.
It’s not your partner’s job to make you happy, nor is it their fault when you’re sad (unless they mistreat you, obviously). As an individual in a relationship, it’s your responsibility to do whatever needs to be done to make you happy.
6. You can’t make someone love you.
People can’t control who they love. No matter how hard you try to make someone love you, forcing them to try and feel the way you do won’t change their mind.
If someone wants to be with another person or falls out of love with you, let them leave. Yes, it’ll hurt, and it’ll take time to move on, but it’s better than being in a relationship with someone you have to convince to love you.
7. Surface-level qualities won’t make for a lasting relationship.
This advice feels eye-roll worthy, but it’s true; looks, ambition, and wealth might initially attract you to someone, but it won’t make you happy in the long run.
Qualities like respect, admiration, the ability to communicate, and willingness to grow are all things in a person that indicates you can ride the rollercoaster of life with them.
8. You either grow together, or you grow apart.
You’re a lot different than the person you were ten years ago, and you’ll be a whole different person ten years from now. If you’re with someone who isn’t interested in growing as a person, you’ll find you start to grow apart in life.
Instead, find someone who’s open-minded and isn’t interested in staying stagnant in life.
9. Love is a choice, not a feeling.
Feelings come and go, yet people are in relationships for decades. That’s because love isn’t a feeling; it’s a choice.
You choose to keep loving, even when all of the pretty bits of a relationship fall away. If you think you’ll always ride the highs of a relationship, you’ll be sorely mistaken. When you stop making that choice is when love falls apart.
10. Love isn’t enough to make a relationship work.
Sometimes, two people can be in love and be wrong for each other. If you don’t treat each other well or don’t have mutual trust and respect, you’re bound to be in a relationship that won’t stand the test of time.
A relationship is like a recipe; without all the ingredients, your cake won’t rise. You may have been taught that love is all you need; that love will make a relationship work. But sometimes, we fall in love with the wrong people.
11. Continue dating yourself in the relationship.
To this day, I schedule lots of alone time for myself. I don’t feel like me if I don’t do the things that bring me joy. I even plan alone time from my boyfriend, even though we live together. Doing so helps keep me sane.
When you stop dating yourself and give all your love to your partner is the point at which you stop being the person your partner fell in love with.
12. It’s up to you to ask for what you want in the relationship.
Your needs are your responsibility. You can’t expect your partner to be a mind-reader. No matter how long you’ve been together, no one can possibly anticipate all your needs. You have to speak when something is on your mind.
While your partner should respect what you ask for and be reasonable about meeting you in the middle, they can’t do so if they don’t even know there’s an issue. Staying quiet will only cause you more pain.
13. You don’t need to agree about everything; you need to respect each other.
It’s OK to have different views on things; in fact, having different opinions will keep your relationship interesting. I admire when my boyfriend and I have debates about life and all the various subjects that come up from living it.
But being disrespectful just because your partner disagrees with you will chip away at your relationship. Neither of you should try to control how the other person thinks or feels.
14. A relationship is something you contribute to every day.
A relationship isn’t one thing; it’s a million little things. It doesn’t stop the moment you decide to be exclusive or when you say the words “I do.” It’s like a small child; you have to care for them every day.
Without some TLC, you’ll look at your partner one day and wonder who they even are. Distance can creep up on you if you’re not careful, and it isn’t easy to get rid of once it’s there.
15. Pointing out problems won’t make anything better.
Coming to your relationship with only problems will create more problems. No one wants to hear about what they’re doing wrong without assistance on how to fix things. If you’re going to bring up an issue, make sure to have a solution.
16. When you love someone, you don’t try to change them.
Rather, you aim to understand them. You both should feel comfortable in the relationship, not that you’re not good enough.
If someone’s personality makes you uncomfortable or unhappy to the point that you want to change who they are, then you’re probably with the wrong person. You can only change yourself, not someone else.
17. Every relationship has value, no matter the length.
You might feel like you wasted two years of your life on someone who dumped you, but that’s not true. I’m sure there were happy memories and, at the very least, lessons you learned.
On the same note, don’t let the idea of “failure” keep you in a relationship that’s not working. Some people are only meant to be in your life for now, not forever.
18. You can’t expect your partner to meet all your needs.
Psychotherapist, Esther Perel, talked about how we expect our partners to give us what a community once did. We want security, a best friend, and a lover, as well as a co-parent, intellectual stimulation, and a hobby buddy.
Instead, have people in your life that meet your particular needs. If you love to hike and have friends that do, too, maybe it’s not important if your partner meets that need.
19. Love won’t look like it does in the movies.
I spent too many years thinking love was meant to look like it does in 90’s RomComs but, now that I’m older, I realize that kind of love was unhealthy.
Tears, being mean to each other, and breaking someone you love’s heart might make for a great movie, but it won’t make for a healthy relationship. Don’t get caught up in perfectly scripted plots.
20. Don’t compare your relationship to other people’s.
Put down your phone. Get off social media. Stop thinking that if you had your sister’s relationship, you’d be happier.
Everyone is different. Focus on your own relationship rather than comparing what you don’t have to other people around you.
Rather than guessing how love works, you can look to people who have already learned the lesson. It’s like a mini love-hack for life.
With this knowledge, you can make wiser choices in your love life and hopefully avoid some pain along the way.