9 Things Therapists Want You To Know If You’ve Only Been In One Serious Relationship

by Laken Howard
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When you go through your first real breakup, it will probably be like nothing you expected. But you may learn something really important: even though it can feel like a "failure" in the moment, having your first serious relationship come to an end can teach you a lot about yourself — and make you acutely aware of how many relationship lessons you still have yet to learn.

"Ideally, [your] first relationship helped you get rid of enough baggage that now you really feel like your own person," psychotherapist Richard Brouillette, LCSW, tells Bustle. "You've learned enough to feel entitled to your emotional needs, and open enough to give your partner what they need. After that first breakup, you will feel more resilient, have a better sense of personal strength, and won't run from emotional pain if it leads to what's best for you."

Going through a breakup — particularly your very first breakup — is never a fun experience, but the one silver lining is that it will have hopefully left you feeling more aware of your needs, and more empowered to find someone who's an even better match for you.

Whether you have just one relationship under your belt or a dozen, here are nine pieces of relationship advice from therapists that can help you build better, healthier relationships in the future.


You Should Have Personal *And* Shared Values As A Couple

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In order to find a partner you're compatible with long-term, it's important to first be aware of your own core values — and then look for a partner whose values align with your own.

"Understanding what your [partner] values, what's important to them, is key in dating and building future relationships," Dr. Laura Louis, Ph.D., psychologist at Atlanta Couple Therapy, tells Bustle. "Couples should have their personal values and then what they value as a couple. So many couples find themselves breaking up because they truly value different things. Understanding what's important to your [partner] will help you navigate the relationship and create a deeper understanding of who they are."


Relationships Are A Never-Ending Learning Process

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Even if you think you have a handle on exactly what you want in your future relationships, the truth is that you're going to constantly learn new things about yourself throughout all your relationships — and you shouldn't let that thought scare you.

"One of the most frequent challenges I find relationship novices face is that they have a lot of theoretical ideas about what makes a healthy relationship," Jean Fitzpatrick, relationship therapist, tells Bustle. "They’ve been watching their friends’ romances, reading articles, maybe drawing conclusions from movies they like. IRL relationships rarely follow a playbook... You need to be willing to learn by experimenting."


Some Conflict In A Relationship Is Healthy

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When you've just had one serious relationship fail, it's natural to be wary of conflict going forward. But so long as it's handled maturely, a little conflict in a relationship can actually be really healthy.

"Conflict isn’t the sign of a bad relationship," Fitzpatrick says. "It’s an opportunity to encounter a different perspective and to creatively enrich your relationship. Conflict is only destructive when we let it spiral out of control, or when we suppress it so thoroughly that the relationship hardens with resentment or goes dead."


It's Crucial To Take Care Of Yourself In Relationships

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Being in a mature relationship means prioritizing your partner and their feelings — but that doesn't mean you should de-prioritize yourself and your own needs just because you're in a relationship.

"If I could only give someone one piece of advice, it would be to take care of yourself in the relationship," Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT, tells Bustle. "Work to maintain good friendships, have time to yourself, keep enjoying the things you have always enjoyed. Loving yourself well, will only make a healthy relationship stronger and if the relationship doesn’t last you will be in a better position to recover."


Always Be Yourself On Dates

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When you're dating again after a bad breakup, you might be focused on putting your best foot forward to impress your dates, but if you want to really find someone you click with, it's important to be authentic... even if that means showing your "flaws."

"Be you — show some of your quirks and shortcomings so you can see how your date reacts," Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, author, licensed psychotherapist, and founder of Love Victory, tells Bustle. "If pleasing your date forces you to hide your true self, limitations, preferences or dislikes, you risk blinding yourself to your date's personality and problems."


Chemistry Isn't Always Immediate

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Although most rom-coms lead us to believe that "real romance" starts off hot and heavy with instant chemistry, in real life, that's not always the case. It can take time to feel comfortable with a new partner, and it's OK if your chemistry takes a little time to develop.

"Forget about chemistry — at least in the beginning," Wish says. "And don't use it as a measure whether you should go out with someone. Chemistry tends to grow after you know someone."


Differences Can Strengthen A Relationship

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If you're worried about the potential of another breakup in the future, you might be tempted to date partners who are exactly like you — but the truth is that having some differences in a relationship can actually be a huge strength.

"No two people in the world are just alike, and, after working with hundreds of couples, I'm convinced opposites often do attract," Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author, tells Bustle. "But, great couples learn to build those differences. They build upon each other's strengths and let each other minimize their weaknesses."


Keep An Open Mind With New Partners

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Particularly if you've only had one long-term partner in the past, it can be tough to not compare your new relationship to your old one. But it's important to keep an open mind, and recognize that even though things might feel different than your past relationship, it's OK.

"Go into your new relationship with an open mind, remind yourself you are entering into something completely different than your previous relationship," Florrie Barron, LSMW-certified staff therapist at New York Institute, Blanton-Peale, tells Bustle. "You may find yourself falling into old negative patterns, but as long as you are able to self-reflect and separate the past from the present, you can allow yourself to stay present in the moment."


Strong Couples Are Always Working On Their Relationship

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The most important lesson you can learn in your early days of dating and building relationships? The strongest, healthiest relationships are made that way through constant effort on the part of both partners.

"Maintaining a bond as a couple is important and it should be noted that it is not always easy," psychotherapist Laura F. Dabney, MD, tells Bustle. "A couple with a strong bond works on their relationship even when, or especially when, things are going well."

Even if you haven't had a ton of relationship experience thus far, that doesn't make you any less likely to meet your match. If you focus on getting to know yourself, you'll eventually learn all you need to know about what you want and need from a partner — then all that's left to do is find them!