5 Key Ways to Protect Your Heart in a Relationship

Girl Looking Away

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When it comes to dating, it's important to take risks and make yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability is an important part of being human. The more we open up to our partners, the greater our relationships develop. But it's often difficult for people to feel emotionally exposed in fear of being rejected or judged. That said, vulnerability brings people closer together and makes relationships stronger overtime. Licensed clinical psychologist Dianne Grande Ph.D. says, "A decade ago, no one spoke much about emotional vulnerability. Being vulnerable emotionally was generally compared to being weak, or at least easily hurt or frightened. Maybe it was never discussed much, because it is a natural, daily, unavoidable part of our existence as human beings, and frankly, it feels bad. If you’ve ever felt the unease of being the first to say ”I love you” or of asking for a raise at work, you know the feeling. You may be more familiar with the uncertainty of waiting for a phone call with test results from a doctor or reaching out to a friend who just lost a loved one. It is uncomfortable, unsettling, and anxiety-provoking. It’s about as welcome a subject as death or getting taxes filed. So why talk about it? Because allowing ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable is also a tremendous source of strength, and the only way we can truly connect in our most personal relationships." There are simple ways to ease into opening up to our loved ones for deeper connections and more profound romances.

Follow the five steps below to help you protect your heart the next time you fall in love.

1. Take Things Slowly

One main reason people end up hurt is they rush things. For example, if you're physically intimate with someone before you truly get to know that person, it can lead to heartache if the feelings aren't mutual. Taking things slowly also means spending quality time with someone before hitting major relationship milestones. While you may want to introduce this person to your friends and family, go on a trip together instead. Even making up names for the children you'd like to have one day can be premature. Enjoy the present so that you can protect your heart if the person you're with isn't in the same place you are. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP, says, "Falling head over heels in love means, to many couples, having sex as soon as possible. The rush of infatuation leads people to take the next steps in their relationship without looking objectively at the odds of the relationship succeeding. Before they know it, they’re making plans to move in together. Unfortunately, many of these hurried unions lead to disappointment as the relationship falls apart before it’s even had time to take shape. The breakup takes its emotional, if not financial, toll on both partners."

2. Find Someone Who Shares Your Values

Another way to protect your heart is to find a partner who shares your goals and values. For instance, you may end up getting hurt if you can't wait to have children, but your partner doesn't want kids. This is especially true if you're looking for a serious, monogamous connection. If you're into exclusive relationships, avoid dating people who never want to settle down, are only looking for flings, or desire open relationships. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LCPC, LPC, LMHC, NCC, says that research shows "that relationships that are built on shared values are much more likely to endure. Sure, a fantastic lover offers thrills and chills, but someone who shares your core values will be by your side once the early excitement subsides and the goosebumps disappear." If you want to prevent future heartbreak, do your best to select a partner who wants the same things you do.

3. Pay Close Attention to Red Flags

Don't ignore any relationship red flags. If you're with someone who's physically or emotionally abusive, lies, or mistrusts you, these are key signs that you should end the relationship. If you don't pay attention to these warning signs, you're leaving yourself vulnerable to future heartbreak. Abigail Brenner, M.D. says, "A red flag is a good intuitive image to help you process what you’re really feeling. At the end of a difficult relationship, people often say, “He (or she) told me who he (or she) was at the very beginning, but I just didn’t listen.” Learn to trust what you feel. Your hunch is probably right."

4. Do Not Settle

One way to prevent yourself from getting hurt is to be in a relationship with someone for the right reasons. For example, if you're with someone because you're afraid of being alone, this will only lead to future heartache because you're not truly invested in this person. You'll be longing for someone else to meet your needs. Juliana Breines, Ph.D. says, "Given the importance of social connection to our well-being, it is understandable that we seek out intimate relationships, but when fear of being alone drives our romantic decisions, it can lead us to exercise poor judgment and to choose relationships that are unlikely to last, that make us depressed or even leave us vulnerable to abuse." To have a meaningful, long-lasting relationship, you must be comfortable with yourself while believing that you truly deserve happiness.

5. Stop Focusing on the Superficial

It would help if you focused on what truly matters. Concentrate on values, goals, and morals, rather than high-paying jobs and luxury items. If you eliminate people because they don't fit into a certain mold, you may be missing out on a deeper connection. To protect your heart, you should prioritize what truly matters so that you find a relationship that's fulfilling in every way. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LCPC, LPC, LMHC, NCC says, "You may go crazy for someone who makes you forget your name with a single meaningful glance, but what will really make you purr for the long haul is the person who will get up first to make the coffee, let out the dog, or feed the baby on those mornings when you just have to go back to sleep."

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