Valentine’s Day is upon us. Rather than viewing the holiday as a reminder that you’re uncoupled, view it as an opportunity to commit—or recommit—to creating healthy relationships.
It’s not just a matter of meeting someone who’s a good match, but it’s about making sure that you aren’t sabotaging your chances for building a healthy relationship with your entrenched patterns of behavior.
Here are some tips for enhancing your chances of making a healthy, loving and lasting connection.
How To Make A Happy Connection
1. Make sure that your past relationships aren’t getting in the way of building new relationships.
Here are some signs that you are reacting to your past relationships or experiences:
- You feel an intense rush of negative emotion in reaction to an interaction. You feel the need to protect yourself.
- It’s an old and familiar feeling. The emphasis is on how familiar it feels.
- It’s a recurring feeling (shame, anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.).
- You feel like you are mind reading. You are making assumptions about the person and/or predictions about the situation and the outcome.
- You experience fear of rejection when there is no basis for fear.
2. Stay present with mindfulness.
Dating and meeting new people can be stressful. When we experience stress along with the feelings of vulnerability, it can make for a quick trip back to unpleasant memories or unhelpful predictions about the future.
Mindfulness is a great skill to develop because it can help you break away from your beliefs about yourself, your beliefs about others, and predictions based upon unpleasant past experiences. Mindfulness means being open to new information and new possibilities.
Being present means that you’re allowing yourself to develop a careful and compassionate response to your current experience. As you create distance from your past experiences and your automatic behavioral reactions, the space will open for you to see other options and choose a response that is thoughtful—mindful.
3. Let your guard down.
Communication plays an important role in creating success and happiness in our lives. Effective and healthy communication allows us to connect with others and build lasting and loving relationships. Poor communication, on the other hand, can result in inadequate and unhealthy relationships.
So often, our fear of rejection can drive behaviors that don’t allow others to get to know us. You may have thoughts like:
- “If they get to know the real me, they will reject me.”
- “If I let my guard down, I’ll get hurt.”
- “If I tell him/her about myself, he/she won’t understand me and love me.”
- “If I share the deeper part of myself, he/she will determine that I’m not worthy of their love.”
These thoughts may result in you presenting a superficial or “perfect” version of yourself. Unfortunately, this will limit your relationships and make it difficult for others to connect with you. It doesn’t mean that you reveal everything about yourself on the first date (we’ve all been on the receiving end of an uncomfortable “over share”), but it does mean that you are being your authentic self.
Listening skills are another essential part of healthy communication and are necessary components for building lasting relationships.
Truly feeling heard is a powerful experience. It makes you feel cared for, validated, and important. We are faced with so many distractions in our lives that when someone sits down and really listens, it can make you feel really connected.
Unfortunately, we are all aware that there are barriers to listening that can get in the way of making that connection. Here are some barriers to be aware of:
- Comparing – the listening gets distorted because the recipient is focused on how he/she or his/her experience compares to the other person or situation.
- Mind reading – this block distorts the communication because the listener is focused on figuring out the other person’s “real” thoughts and feelings.
- Rehearsing – communication is distorted because the listener is busy rehearsing what he/she will say in response to the other person.
- Filtering – this block distorts the communication because the listener may stop listening or let his/her mind wander when he/she hears a particular tone or subject that he/she finds unpleasant.
- Judging – when the listener quickly judges what is being communicated, he/she stops listening and misses the full content or meaning, thereby distorting the message.
5. Cultivate self-compassion.
Self-compassion is the act of being kind to yourself, caring for yourself, erasing your suffering, and being with the thoughts and feelings that your inner critic generates without identifying with them or using them to keep unpleasant experiences from your past alive.
Unfortunately, self-compassion can be challenging particularly when we have a loud inner critic. One of the easiest ways to develop self-compassion is to find your inner child.
It’s difficult—almost impossible—to imagine not being drawn to a hurt and vulnerable child and the desire to comfort her and ease her pain. That child is still part of you, and she yearns for some loving kindness. She longs for some relief from the suffering and the unhelpful words of the inner critic.
Practicing self-compassion means softening your heart, as well as distancing yourself from your inner critic and the negative statements that reinforce your fears of rejection, unworthiness and inadequacy.
Related: 5 Reasons To Boost Self-Confidence
A component of self-compassion is common humanity. Recognizing and staying aware of the fact that everyone suffers, everyone experiences pain, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has failures can minimize the degree to which you feel isolated by your vulnerabilities.
Be open to the possibilities that every day brings. Start recommitting to rebuilding your relationships as Valentine’s Day draws near. Create new habits and behaviors that will increase your chances for making the connections that help all of us thrive.
Michelle Skeen, PsyD is a therapist and the author of Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment & Building Lasting, Loving Relationships (New Harbinger, 2014).
Photo by Irving Photography