At the risk of being called a cold-hearted love hater, I’m going to say some things I believe to be true about love. Love is a chemical cocktail. There are many things more important in a relationship than love. There will be times when you don’t love your partner with everything you have. And no matter how much you love them, there are just some people you shouldn’t be with. I know.
Before you get mad at me, you should know that I’m a total romantic. I eat sappy love poems for breakfast and I still tear up a little when my wife brings me flowers (or pizza), which is still all the time. But I’ve also seen some things and done some things that gave me a much more realistic (and less exciting) view on love. I worked in a women’s shelter as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and at Planned Parenthood, as a Family Planning Assistant and Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator. Working with love and relationships and couples were my life. And every time someone said, “but I love them” as the sole reason why they should be together, my life got a whole lot more complicated. Hear me out, and I think you’ll get on my team. If not, get off my lawn. Just kidding. You’re welcome on my lawn.
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I don’t care if the person your with makes you so lovesick that you can’t breathe without them. If you can’t trust them, you can’t be in a relationship with them. Trust is essential to healthy relationships. Without trust, you live a life of worry and hurt. Do you want to spend your days with the gut-twisting worry that comes with a shady partner? It’s no way to live. Trust can be a goal. It can be something you work on and get better at over time. So sometimes a lack of trust (especially in the beginning) doesn’t mean you have to end things. But you have to get there at some point — regardless of how much you love them.
Have you ever had or witnessed this conversation? “They’re such a jerk.” “Why do you stay with them?” “Because I love them.” I have. Most of the time, it was in the context of unhealthy behaviors. I don’t want to shame people who feel like love is the most important thing (because it is absolutely important), but I do want to let people know that love is not a justification for abuse or disrespect. You can love people who are bad for you, and who can’t be in your life.
Are you safe in your relationship? If the answer is “no,” then it doesn’t matter even a little bit how much you love the person. The love may make it harder to leave, and harder to stay away, and that’s a real struggle. But love itself won’t make a partner who is abusing you stop. Love won’t save you from injury or death. No amount of love is worth your life. And FYI, abuse is never your fault, and if you need someone to talk to or to help you make an escape plan, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Everyone wants to be happy, and I think happiness is really important. And to, be fair, you won’t be happy all the time. In fact, it’s normal to go long periods of time when you’re unhappy, especially if you’re dealing with a crisis. But when you add up the total of happy times versus unhappy times, happy times should come out on top. Otherwise you’re just mucking through a relationship that isn’t satisfying. And I don’t mean you should be feeling joy all the time necessarily, but you should be content. You deserve contentedness. Not all people who love each other can be happy together. It’s sad, but it’s OK. You can find happiness and you can survive a hard breakup. Especially if it makes room for something great.
5. Liking Each Other
If you’re like “what?” right now, I totally hear you. But it’s more common than you think for people to stay in relationships with people they don’t actually like because they love them. If you can’t wrap your brain around it, think about that family member who is always judges you. They’re family. You love them, probably — maybe a lot. But you don’t really like them. You don’t have to stay in a relationship with someone who doesn’t get you, who you don’t have fun with, and who doesn’t make you randomly smile.
6. Your Sense Of Self
You were a “you” before you were a “we,” and you should continue to be a “you” when you get in a relationship. There’s no amount of love that’s worth giving up the essence of who you are. If you get into a relationship and you ultimately lose yourself, you forget your own interests, you give up on your goals, and you just aren’t the you that you want to be, that’s a problem. You can work with your partner to get back to yourself. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker. But, again, no amount of love is worth giving up the fundamental truths of who you are.
7. Your Independence
You have to be free. Being free to do the things you want to do, to be yourself, to go places, to have your own thoughts and feelings, and to have a say in how your life goes, is not just important in a relationship. It’s essential. You have to have it. You can (and often should) include your partner in your decisions, but you should still feel free to decide. Is love really worth it if you feel like you have to ask ask permission to be yourself, or if your partner won’t let you do you?
There’s nothing better than being with someone who is a true partner in crime. You’re meant to be partners. You may play these roles occasionally, but on the whole, you’re not a parent, babysitter, secretary, maid, or nurse. You’re a whole person who needs to be dating another whole person. And you both need to come together as a team. If you’re not a team and you don’t have equality, it can make you unhappy enough to spoil the relationship, whether there’s great love or not.
OK, hear me out on this one. First of all, I wholeheartedly believe that you can have a great, happy relationship with little to no sex, if that’s what you both want, or if you’ve found a way to make it work. But if sex is something that’s really important to you, and no matter what you do, you can’t get on the same sexual page, you’re going to have some unhappy times. This takes us back to the idea that your happiness is more important than love. You can work on your sexual compatibility, of course, but if you’ve tried everything and you’re tired of trying, it doesn’t matter how much you love your partner. It will continue to be an issue. No amount of love is worth your unhappiness if you’re the kind of unhappy that can’t be fixed.
Communication is the gasoline in love’s engine. I don’t really think there can be real, lasting love without good communication. You need communication in a relationship to set boundaries, express your love, fix problems, express your needs, and even to have good sex. Communication is basically everything. So if you’re with someone you can’t communicate with, or don’t communicate well with, you have to be able to fix that, or no amount of love will give you a happy, healthy relationship.
11. Wanting To Be Together
Sometimes the heart is totally complicated. You can love someone, but not want to be with them, or not want to be with them right now. You might have other goals, you might feel emotionally unstable, or you might just not be ready to make a commitment. Timing is important, here, too. You have to want to be in a relationship. And you’re allowed to want anything you want. Even if that includes not being in a relationship with the person you love.
All relationships are different, and a lot of problems are solvabe. But love isn’t the only ingredient, or even (arguably) the most important ingredient, in a healthy relationship.