Whether you're fresh out of a relationship or have been single for a long time, working on yourself is the name of the game. To prepare for new love, there is literally "homework" that you can do from the comfort of your own home to improve your self-image and raise your confidence. Think of it as pre-gaming for a healthy relationship.
"Relationships often serve as a mirror for our own self-image," says marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin, "reflecting back some of our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and what we deserve." In other words, if you're not loving on yourself, there's a fat chance someone else is going to champing at the bit to love on you. Relationships will never save you; rather, a good relationship is there to complement your already awesome life.
I asked relationship expert Boykin to reveal just what to do in order to get healthy enough to attract the kind of person you really want to date. Here are five tips and five homework assignments to become more emotionally fit for your next relationship — think of these ideas and exercises as emotional push ups. As Boykin says, "Be the lover you wish to have." Truth.
1. Reflect On What You Didn't Like In Past Relationships
Look at what went wrong, says Boykin: "Ask yourself questions, like — how did I contribute to our problems? What behaviors did I accept that ultimately led to an unhealthy relationship? What did/do I believe about myself that made that relationship OK? By exploring your part of what was wrong about past relationships, you can begin to see yourself through clearer eyes and have the insight you need to change what doesn't work and recognize red flags in the next relationship."
2. Build The Life You Want
"Often singles have a long list of what they want in a relationship or new partner, but haven't thought through what it takes to have that," Boykin says. "You have to build a life that is set up for the kind of relationship you are dreaming of. If you want a romance that is full of new adventures with someone who likes to travel or try new foods, then you need to start traveling and make reservations at the newest restaurant in town."
3. Find A Way To Be Happy Alone
A relationship is not going to save anyone — you have to feel complete just the way you are. "No other person is going to come along and completely transform your life," Boykin says. "A healthy relationship is when two people come together to compliment each other's lives, so start living a lifestyle that reflects the things you long to share with another person. Go out and have fun and enjoy your life, because if you can't find joy alone, you won't be able to find it with another person.
4. Be The Lover You Wish To Be
"One of my favorite exercises for singles (and couples who are unhappy in their relationship) is to make a list or collage of all the things that make up the ideal partner for them," Boykin says. "Once you have a clear picture of that person — who they are, how they live, what they believe in, how they treat the people they love — make a list of the traits of the person that ideal man or woman would actually want to date. How many of those traits do you have? The point of the exercise is to help people see that if you want a 10, you have to be a 10. Someone who is successful and kind and loving is not interested in spending time with someone who is angry or bitter or unmotivated. Ghandi said, 'Be the change you wish to see.' I say be the lover you wish to have."
5. Roll Up Your Sleeves
Consider therapy, Boykin says. "It is a great place to explore who you are and what you have learned about relationships. We underestimate the impact that our relationship with our parents and our first loves has on how we approach future romantic connections. We each go into relationships with an unconscious set of rules and expectations and therapy gives you the space and the expert guidance to discover those things and figure out how they help and hurt your love life. If you want your next relationship to be better than anything you've had before, you have to be willing to do some work on yourself."
6. Homework Assignment: Start A Self-Care Journal
Write about what you're doing to take care of yourself on a daily basis, and get your feelings down on paper. "It can be easy to get so wrapped up in 'finding the one' that we forget to take care of ourselves. The best way to find a great relationship is to have one with yourself first," says Boykin.
7. Homework Assignment: Date Yourself
"Make a list of five things that you and your ideal partner would do together — and then go do them yourself," suggests Boykin. "Take a class, find a Meetup, take a friend — whatever you need to do to make it happen, but go out and live the life you dream of now! Bonus: It's a good way to meet someone who actually does the things you are attracted to."
8. Homework Assignment: Reach Out
"Email three to five of your past romantic partners (if it ended on good terms) or close friends and ask them to list four of your best qualities and two things you could work on in relationships. Gain self-awareness of what you bring to the table and where you can improve," Boykin says.
9. Homework Assignment: Write A Love Letter To Yourself
"Finding love always starts with loving ourselves. Remember what is beautiful, sexy and fun about who you are," says Boykin. "It will change your attitude and attract people who see those qualities in you."
10. Homework Assignment: Dress To The Nines
"Appearance isn't everything, but it has a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us. Treat every day like a hot date or important meeting and dress the part," Boykin says.