By Chloe Babauta

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my few years of serial monogamy, it’s the extent to which romantic relationships can either enrich or ruin my quality of life.

A few years ago, I was in a dead-serious, toxic, codependent relationship. We said “I love you” to each other much too quickly, we told each other we wanted to get married very early on because both we desperately needed someone to cling to, and each thought the other person could help fix our individual problems of low self-esteem and loneliness.

We ended up getting engaged after dating for only a year, and within that year, we were jealous and suspicious of each other’s interactions with other people. We were so insecure that we couldn’t trust each other at all because we were so sure that the other person would cheat and leave.

After we broke up, I got into another relationship which was less toxic, but I still had those feelings of jealousy and inadequacy and couldn’t be happy dating someone when I wasn’t happy with myself to begin with. I realized then that I needed to learn to be happy on my own before I could be in a healthy relationship. This took a lot of time and work, but turned out to be an overall rewarding skill that also helps me form better friendships, along with romantic relationships.

I took some time to work on learning to love myself, and now I’m in the best relationship of my life—we fully trust each other because we’re both self-assured people and don’t need to worry about fixing each other’s emotional problems. Now, I don’t worry so much about my partner cheating or leaving me because I know that I’m an awesome person worth keeping around, and I know that even if we broke up, I’d still have myself and that’s enough to keep me happy.

What matters most in forming a healthy relationship is that both of you are whole, independent individuals who don’t actually need each other to function, but choose to have each other in your lives because you bring each other happiness. You’re a lot more likely to form a toxic relationship and get into fights if you’re insecure and have a lot of personal problems that you haven’t worked out yet, just like what happened to me in all my relationships before I made an effort to figure out who I was outside of my partnerships. Learning how to become whole as a person is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to yourself because it will increase your self-worth, and when you’re happy and doing well in life, other people will see this and be attracted to you too.

Here are a few ways you can work on becoming whole as a person, and get closer to forming healthy relationships with others:

  1. Get to know yourself. Figuring out your passions, your key values, and your aspirations are important steps to defining who you are as an individual. Once you figure out what kind of a person you are and what kind of person you want to be, you’ll be much closer to being happy with yourself. You can get to know yourself by doing something as simple as thinking of what makes you really happy and writing it down on a piece of paper. Think about the types of activities or goals you’ve always wanted to do but never thought you were good enough to achieve, and go out and do them! For me, writing a newspaper was something I thought would be cool to do but wasn’t brave enough to try. But when I decided to really try to be whole as a person, I took baby steps, like going to the first meeting for my school’s newspaper. I saw that it wasn’t so scary, and after writing a handful of published articles, I turned an aspiration into an important facet of my personality. Try going outside of your comfort zone, even just a little bit, and it can help a lot to build who you are as an individual.
  2. Do things that make you proud of yourself and make you happy to be you. Doing things that you’re good at or are passionate about will make you feel better about yourself as a person. For example, I feel my self-worth is at its highest when I’m doing things that I really love doing or things that make me feel good about myself, like writing or exercising. I may not be the best writer or the most athletic person, but nothing compares to the feeling of finishing an article I’m proud of, or proving to myself that I can hold a plank position even for 10 seconds longer than I thought I was capable of doing. When you do activities that prove how much you’re capable of, it’s so much easier to fall in love with yourself.
  3. Look at alone time as something positive rather than a source of unhappiness and loneliness. When becoming a whole person, it’s important to learn to be OK when you’re alone instead of needing to be around other people constantly to be happy. It’s likely that you’ll spend more time alone than in the company of others, so if you learn to be your own best friend, you’ll never truly be lonely. When you’re alone, try doing the things you’ve figured out will make you happy and proud of yourself, like how writing helps me. Take yourself out on coffee dates, go watch a sunset by yourself, or even if you’re just at home alone, be content knowing that time alone is just an opportunity to get to know and love yourself more.
  4. Recognize that relationships with others are supposed to enrich your life, but not define you. An important part of becoming whole as a person is knowing that you can be all you need to be happy and survive, and that letting others into your life can be a healthy source of happiness, as long as it’s not your only source of happiness. Once you’ve learned to love yourself and be OK when you’re alone, you won’t have to be codependent on anyone, and can form healthier relationships because you’ll know that even if your partner isn’t in your life anymore, you’re capable of being happy because you’ll still have yourself. One of my favorite quotes states this poignantly: “Falling in love with yourself first doesn’t make you vain or selfish; it makes you indestructible.”