It’s a common belief that there’s someone out there just for you, and when you find him or her, you’ll find the person that makes you whole.

I held that belief my entire life, and I searched fruitlessly and desperately for years for someone who loved me as much as I loved them, who would fill that empty spot I felt so keenly in my gut that surely must need to be filled by my “soulmate.” And almost a decade ago, I thought I had found that person—my search was finally over and I could relax and enjoy the feeling of the emptiness being filled. I got married and we were happy, for a while. But as with so many relationships that we intend to last forever, it didn’t, and I was left to pick up the pieces and seriously re-evaluate my outlook on love and life. The mistake I had made was thinking that I needed someone else to “complete” me, when I really needed to be complete all on my own. I realized that if I was going to have a healthy relationship, I had to be comfortable with myself alone first.

So I spent a year relearning myself, becoming acquainted with me minus my plus one. I wanted to understand what made me tick, what I actually loved and not what I allowed myself to love to meet someone else’s expectations. I started doing things I hadn’t done since the early years of my marriage, not because I had ever wanted to stop, but because I didn’t feel like it was necessary for me to have my own interests when they weren’t the interests of my partner. I’m not saying that my marriage was healthy. In fact, I had married at 20 before I had ever experienced life on my own without the constant search for fulfillment through someone else occupying my mind; and I’m sure that can only have had a negative effect on my marriage. Yet this is a common mistake that so many people—often women in particular—make at every age, and they don’t understand why their relationship goes sour and they’re left alone, again.

Trust me, if you’re not confident with yourself solo, you won’t be comfortable with yourself in a relationship. You’ll constantly be worried that you’ll lose your better half, and then where will you be? Half a person, disillusioned and unsure what to do next. Do you decide that the person you just broke up with wasn’t actually your soulmate and continue the tireless search, or wake up and realize that you are your better half (and your worse half, of course) and get to know yourself as you are?

If you feel like you’ve lost yourself in your current relationship, take some time to think about the person you were before you partnered up. Did you have a certain style you changed because your mate didn’t approve? Did you give up doing things you loved to do because your husband/wife/significant other wasn’t encouraging or interested? When you’re completely alone, what do you like to do? What kind of person do you want to be? Make sure you’re being your best self, true to your ideals. Spend more time alone with your thoughts and really analyze the state of your relationship. Don’t stay in one because you’re afraid to be alone. Being alone can really be the most liberating thing you’ve experienced, especially if you’ve spent your life jumping from long-term relationship to long-term relationship.

If you’ve just ended a relationship, or if you’re on the hunt for a new one, you need to be “self-actualized.” You need to know yourself, and well. Don’t give up interests because your partner or potential partner may not approve or be supportive. Don’t allow yourself to not live up to your full potential because you’re wrapped up in trying to make a square peg relationship fit into a round hole. Think carefully before you jump into another relationship after you’ve just ended one. You don’t want to repeat the same mistakes you made in your last unsuccessful one. There is such a thing as a “rebound” relationship, but if you’ve worked on your own issues and recognized what caused your breakup, you can successfully avoid the rebound effect. Be honest with your next partner, talk about what your expectations are for this new relationship and really make sure you’re not just entering a bad rerun of every other one you failed to make last.

It took a lot of dealing with the pain of lost love head on and spending time truly rediscovering myself for me to get to the point where I was comfortable entering another serious relationship. I talked with my current boyfriend about why my marriage ended and how I really wanted to make this relationship healthy. We worked out parameters and boundaries, and agreed that we should always be honest with each other if we’re going to be successful in this partnering. I’m still working on my own issues, making sure I’m not letting myself ignore my own personal growth by immersing myself completely in another person.

The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is your relationship with yourself. Because in the end, you’re really the only one who can make you complete.

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