Relationships are hard work. This we know. Dyadic relationships come with their challenges and we often spend a great deal of our energy figuring out how to make them run smoothly – well at least most of the time. But how much do we really think about or focus on our relationship with ourselves? Each one of us is also in constant relationship with our internal world: our thoughts, feelings, ambitions, desires, and disappointments. Our minds are kept quite busy with an internal dialogue, which is sometimes conscious and sometimes not. So if we’re spending so much of the time talking to and relating to ourselves, why is it that it is one of the relationships we most neglect?

If you’ve ever been in love, you will be familiar with that feeling – that preoccupation with the other that absorbs your attention and intrudes in on your thoughts. This involuntary behaviour can be annoyingly time-consuming and yet is cunningly addictive. And it serves a purpose. It primes our attachment systems and gets us ‘ready’ to form a union with the other (the evolutionary perspective would suggest this is for the purpose of procreation I suspect). The danger with this preoccupation, however, is that your efforts are all directed towards enticing and connecting with this other person at the risk of your own well-being and sense of yourself. I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the kind of girl who shifts and changes according to the guy she’s with (you may even be this person). And to a large degree we all do this – like not admitting that you in fact HATE that song he loves or having a sneaky ciggy before a date because you told him you quit smoking and can’t face up to the fact that you caved after the first week. We spend so much of our energy contorting ourselves to make our relationships work, we end up like psychological pretzels , twisted into other versions of ourselves.

The fact is that most relationships don’t last and eventually the breakup hits, leaving us alone with ourselves again. We despair and long for that feeling of connection and resonance with the other.  We think back to what went down and dissect every conversation, every argument, every twist and turn. Again, the impetus is to analyse and alter one’s own part in the relationship. Could I have done something different? Was I not good enough? And all the while you’re still manipulating your features to fit in with his, even after he’s gone. But who has been forgotten and denigrated – yourself! Not every person suffers from this affliction and I am sure there are some of you who do not relate to this post-breakup void but for the majority it is a familiar feeling and one which I hope to overcome more often.

The magic elixir that soothes these self-denouncing woes is very simple. Start building a relationship with yourself – a strong, committed, loving and kind one at that. This applies to those in relationships as well. There is no one who cannot benefit from a healthy dose of self-love. In fact, we make better lovers, friends, girlfriends and wives if we are truly happy in our relationship with ourselves. Marianne Williamson’s famous poem states, “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same” and such it is with self-love. By engaging meaningfully in a relationship with ourselves we will model to our partners how they should treat us, how they should relate to us and if you’re doing it right it will inspire love, kindness and nurturance.

So now we know we need to work on our relationships with ourselves but it isn’t that simple. Some of you may feel at a loss for how to think about or even attempt to do this. That’s okay, just like every other relationship there is unfortunately no rulebook, no how-to guide. Each of us needs to attempt this from our unique vantage point. The truth is you know yourself and if you don’t then the place to start is by getting to know yourself.  Here are a few ideas.

Take yourself out on a date

We are social animals and often get caught up in the bustle of social interaction. Some of us may even be afraid to be seen sitting alone in public or may feel uncomfortable taking ourselves to see a movie alone. To this end, we make sure to surround ourselves with other beings in order to not feel alone. While this may be beneficial to our social lives and our relationships with our friends, it does nothing for building our relationship with ourselves. By avoiding being alone we miss out on establishing an intimate connection with our own minds. Don’t be afraid to be alone, it’s the best way of getting to know yourself.

Write down what you want for this relationship

Are you comfortable with expressing your needs? Do you know how to ask for what you want or do you feel anxious around expressing your discontent? Start by writing down everything you want and need from a relationship and then focus it down to the specific things you can provide yourself with. Make another list of the things you cannot provide yourself with. That list is going to remind you that you are not perfect and it is going to help you accept that there are certain needs you cannot meet in yourself. A key thing to remember in all your relationships is that it is pointless going up to a lemon tree and expecting to get peaches. If we ask of ourselves and others only that which we know we can expect then it lessens our disappointment and improves our sense of satisfaction.

Self-love doesn’t always mean self-improvement

Some of us are guilty of doing this in our relationships. We meet someone, fall in love and then slowly start trying to change them into the people we think we want them to be. The problem with this is we end up pushing people away because however admirable our intentions, they are communicated via our behaviour, which is most likely to be construed as controlling and dominating the other. This is really the opposite of love. The best way to get comfortable with yourself is to map out all those things you like and dislike about yourself. Look long and hard at the dislike column and instead of wishing it away, try to focus your energy on loving and accepting those parts of yourself. This does not mean that you should not take action and try and rectify your ‘faults’ or struggles. If you, for example, struggle with your weight – by all means do not hesitate to put into action a diet and exercise plan. What is important though, is the words you use with yourself and the feelings you have towards yourself. Be kind, be generous and forgive yourself for being the imperfect human being that you are. You are worthy of love and acceptance – both of which you are capable of providing for yourself.