31 Love Lessons I Learned The Hard Way (So You Don't Have To)

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love lessons i learned the hard way

I’ve dedicated my life to helping people better understand what love is, and to create amazing relationships in their lives. And it all started with me realizing that I wanted to know how to do those things, too.

After all, nobody wants to be mediocre when it comes to love. But I didn't know if I could do any better.

So, to avoid that terrifying fate, I decided to travel across the country and interview couples who are experts at creating legendary, epic love, and figure out what they do differently than everyone else. 

After three years, I've learned a lot of lessons in love. Some of them were not so easy, including going through my own devastating breakup after calling off my engagement. But I know there's hope. I've seen it!

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Here are 31 love lessons that make for for successful, happy relationships with others, as well as yourself.

1. Love is a choice you make every day.

You don’t just choose to love someone on your wedding day, and then you’re set for life. 

Consciously making the same choice to love your partner every single day is incredibly powerful. Nothing has the ability take away your power to choose love.

2. Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.

Most people never get to experience the love they dream of because they are scared to take the risk to be the one who loves the most.

It’s easy to play it safe and comfortable. It’s natural to surrender what you want in the long-term for what is so easily accessible now. It’s hard to risk hurting yourself or someone else for the chance of creating something incredible.

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3. Love isn’t fair, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.

Sometimes, we are just lucky enough to find a person who will stick by our side and love us even when we think we don’t deserve it. If you find someone like that, hold on to them.

4. Love is not happiness. 

If you’re looking for an unlimited, constant supply of happiness, love is not for you.

Love is, however, purifying, inspiring, motivating, and an incredible source for personal growth and improvement. Happiness in love is created as a result of the progress we make as individuals and as couples.

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5. Love does not keep score.

When you keep score in a relationship, it takes the joy out of loving and being loved. Suddenly, something beautiful and selfless becomes a source of resentment, guilt and frustration.

6. Love is learned.

Just like a language or a musical instrument, we learn love from the society and culture we’re raised in, from our teachers and role models, and from our families.

Most people have average love because they had mediocre teachers (who, more often than not, didn’t even realize they were the teachers, or that they were average).

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7. The most simple act of love is making and keeping a promise.

Promises are the gateway to everything beautiful about love. They are the foundation for trust and commitment. Keep the small promises you make and you’ll never have to worry about the big ones being broken.

8. You have an unlimited supply of love.

Love doesn’t have a quota or a cap. What determines how much you give or receive is you.

9. To love others, you must first love yourself. 

Allowing your self-worth and value as a human to be determined by how other people feel about you is selfish, and a short road to disappointment, sadness, and never reaching your full potential.

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10. Loneliness is never a good reason to be in a relationship.

It's better to be alone and single rather than miserable and taken.

11. It’s not what you fight about that kills your relationship, it’s how you fight about it.

Some couples divorce over the correct way to squeeze the toothpaste tube. Some couples grow closer together after working through infidelity. You can’t blame the point of conflict for the hurt it causes. Blame yourself for how it’s handled.

12. You can turn any moment into a romantic moment.

Romance is more often a choice than an effect of chemistry or serendipity.

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13. Love is not a feeling. 

Love inspires action. Love is a verb. Love doesn’t wait. Love doesn’t think. Love doesn’t feel. As Bob Goff says, “Love does.”

14. When you love someone, you don’t seek to change them.

You love all of them. You wouldn’t buy a cat and then ask it to fetch and bark and wag its tail like a dog. Don’t choose a person and ask them to be something other than what they are. That is not love.

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15. Love is more about being complementary than it is about being compatible.

If you wanted to marry yourself, you’d be happy being single.

It’s okay to look for someone different than you. Celebrate the differences. They will make you a better version of yourself.

16. The best relationships require boundaries.

Just like football, without rules of conduct, goals, out-of-bounds, and referees, people get hurt and the game descends into chaos. It wouldn’t be fun to play.

It’s important to set rules in your relationship that make you feel safe, and that encourage fair play. More often than not, these rules even make the game more enjoyable.

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17. Love requires vulnerability.

Sometimes the hardest thing to say is, “You hurt me,” or, “I screwed up and I need your forgiveness.” Nobody will ever be able to fully accept and love you (faults and all) unless you first accept yourself enough to share your entire self with them.

They can’t accept and love a side of you they don’t even know exists. Being fully seen requires true courage.

18. There's no magic recipe or formula for true love.

There are as many versions of true love as there are people who claim to have it, and you get to make up your own rules. Don’t play by someone else’s.

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19. Never hold back a compliment, and always think twice before criticizing.

Appreciation and gratitude are rocket fuel for a relationship. Criticism is a cancer to love.

The most successful marriages have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Next time you feel the need to say something negative, ask yourself if you’ve said 5 positive things since the last negative one.

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20. Forgive people quickly and often.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean the hurt goes away. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened. It just means you stop punishing the other person for what they did. Let go. Move on. Give others the space and freedom to change.

21. It’s the hardest times that make the best memories and create the deepest, longest-lasting bonds.

If you're suffering, suffer together. One day the suffering will end and you’ll be glad you fought for each other instead of against each other.

22. There are few shortcuts to happiness — dancing is one of them.

Rough day? Throw a dance party in the kitchen. Have a disagreement? Work it out while in each others arms.

Don’t know how to dance? Learning something new together is one of the best ways to bond.

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23. Love knows no race, gender, age or religion.

Love is the thing that unites us. We all want it. It is our common bond as human beings.

Always remember: the person you hate has someone in their life that loves them dearly.

24. Sex is not love.

Sex alone will not provide you lasting happiness. But sex is an incredible complement to a loving, romantic relationship.

The earlier sex is introduced to a relationship, the less likely they are to endure the test of time. Passion does not typically make for a very stable and enduring foundation for a long-term relationship.

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25. Finding love is more about being the right person than finding the right person.

If you’re not prepared for the love you want, it’s unlikely you’ll be prepared to recognize the person who can give it to you.

26. Love has nothing to do with wealth, beauty, affluence, or prestige.

There are plenty of rich, beautiful, and powerful people in the world who are lonely, sad, and loveless. And there are plenty of poor, homely, relatively invisible people who have a love greater than you could imagine.

27. One of love’s greatest enemies is busyness.

Show me what a man spends his time doing and I’ll show you what he loves. If the way you spend your time doesn’t reflect what you believe you value, it’s time to either change the way you spend your time, or change what you claim to value.

RELATED: Couples Who Share These 8 Core Values Have The Happiest, Healthiest Relationships

28. One of the best ways to have an incredible relationship is to surround yourself with other couples whose relationships you admire.

Having a good mentor, coach, or example will keep you in check, and give you something to aspire to. You truly are the average of the 5 people (or couples) you spend the most time with.

29. Always have something to look forward to.

It will keep you looking forward and not wishing for, or analyzing the past. Whether it’s a vacation, a date, or a class you want to take together, always have something positive on your radar in the not-too-distant future.

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30. True love requires a generous helping of empathetic, judgement-free listening.

If your parter has something difficult to tell you, and you react poorly (with anger or hostility), they will avoid telling you the hard truth in the future and opt instead for an easy lie.

Lies undermine trust, which obliterates commitment, which destroys love. The way you listen and respond to the truth will reflect the long-term health and quality of your relationship.

31. Love is the absolute greatest thing we get to experience in this life.

It’s better than money or travel or pizza. It’s more powerful than wars and hatred. It’s more exhilarating than any roller coaster and will teach you more about yourself than any university.

Love will stretch you and break you and put you back together as the most beautiful version of yourself. Love is what gives life meaning and gives us purpose.

Please choose to love more.

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Nate Bagley is a marriage researcher, educator, husband, and new dad. He is the founder of the Growth Marriage Community and podcast and his mission is to rid the world of mediocre love.

This article was originally published at Growth Marriage. Reprinted with permission from the author.