25 Life-Changing Lessons About Love
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There’s an old Tony Robbins quote that says “success leaves clues.” The idea is that we can learn from people who’ve already gone where we want to go. Not in the sense of copying them, but in that, we can see what worked (and didn’t work) to shorten the time of figuring it out ourselves.
I’ve always believed the same to be true with love. While every relationship is different, we can look to those who’ve been together for a long time for hints of how they made it work.
If you’re familiar with my writing you’re fully aware that the model of love put forth by my parents has always shaped my view of healthy relationships and romance. 40+ years later, and they continue to live that example every single day.
Rachel and I, while just reaching a year of marriage, have been together for almost four years, and the more time that passes, the more true I find these lessons to become.
Below, I’ll share 25 lessons in love that, if learned now, can help you avoid heartbreak down the road.
Some things can only be learned through experience…or, reading about them.
1: You don’t fall in love, you build it.
One of the biggest misconceptions about love is that it’s something you find along the journey. We imagine it as a warm blanket that we just find somewhere, wrap ourselves in it, and stay warm forever.
The truth is that you find the person you choose to build love with. You and that person must then put on consistent daily effort to create the life and love that you’ve both desired. It’s not a pre-made mold, it’s custom built. Bespoke, if you will.
Love is an action — a verb — a choice, and it will be tested many times over the course of your lives.
This, to some, feels daunting and challenging. If that’s the case, take it as a sign. A sign that either you’re not ready to embark on such a journey with another person, or you’re with the wrong person.
Neither of these is something to be ashamed of, however, they’re also not something to be ignored. Being honest with one’s self about what you want and who you want it with is of the utmost importance at every step of the journey.
With the right person at the right time, though, building something that will last a lifetime together is an exciting and invigorating proposition. It makes you want to work at it because you want to live the most beautiful, happiest, fulfilling life possible, and you want to do it together.
With the wrong person, “forever” feels like far too long. With the right person, it doesn’t feel like long enough.
2: You must love someone for who they are, not for who you want them to be.
We’ve all been there before — secretly wishing that the person we’ve chosen had different traits, or qualities, or were more affectionate, or shared more of our interests with us…
It’s a sad and perhaps painful thing to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true. In fact, it makes it more necessary to say out loud, because it keeps us in the wrong relationships for too long as we hold out hope that eventually, they will eventually evolve into the person we’d hoped for them to be, if we just love them enough or in the right ways.
This same tendency is what brings us to people who we want to “fix” or “help.” We feel that we can guide them to the light and change their negative or toxic patterns.
If you’ve been down either of these roads before, you already know how it ends. Spoiler alert — end, is exactly what it does.
We want so much more for them than they want for themselves and think that if we just love them the right way, they’ll realize their potential and start living up to it.
Experience teaches us that for someone to change, they must make the decision to do the work and become the person they’re capable of being. Until that happens, you will be trapped in a negative pattern of disappointment as you find people who you see as projects rather than partners.
3: Time is the most valuable gift.
Time will teach us valuable lessons, but time itself as the vehicle is what we first must learn to appreciate.
We take it for granted too often as each hour, day, week, month, and year passes us by. Suddenly we are celebrating another birthday, or another holiday, or another milestone that once seemed light-years away. Time can pass quickly, which is why staying present and aware is so important.
I’ve learned this in spades as I’ve had children in my life for the first time. Our oldest is 8, while our youngest will soon turn 4.
When I met the youngest, she was only 6 months old.
Then, I blinked, and here we are.
The truth is that you already know this. You already know how fast time passes by, as you’ve witnessed and experienced it in your own life.
It translates to love, though, as it really sinks in how valuable this precious and passing time is. It is, quite literally, life itself.
Therefore it is the greatest gift that we can give to another person, as we are giving a piece of our life that we cannot get back.
That’s why committing your time to another person is the most valuable gift you can give them. And, it’s why we must remain grateful and present when they are giving theirs to us.
4: It is better to stay single than to settle for the wrong person.
In our younger years, it’s much easier to get caught up in the appeal of getting into a relationship just for the sake of being in one. We might feel some external pressure, or internal pressure to do so. We think it’s going to make us feel happier, or more complete, or more accepted.
If we place too much weight on this philosophy, we’ll start to slowly lower our standards of treatment just for the sake of finding someone.
The unfortunate lesson is that the lower those standards become, the less fulfilling the relationships they bring us, are. In fact, we learn that being in the wrong relationship will make us feel more lonely than staying single ever did.
Staying single until the right person comes along takes strength, but this is why setting and maintaining boundaries is so important. It helps for us to build confidence within ourselves that remains solid regardless of our relationship status.
The more that we feel a deep sense of fulfillment and self love, the less we seek it out from external sources. And, when we no longer feel that need, we become empowered to remove people from our lives who don’t meet our standards.
5: You must learn from your past, but not LIVE in it.
One of the hardest things to keep in mind when dating someone new, is that your “next” is NOT your “ex.”
It’s natural and understandable to hold your assumptions about love, relationships, expectations, and what is “healthy” or “normal” within it all, especially if you’ve found yourself repeating the same patterns over and over again.
The truth is, though, history only repeats itself for people who refuse to learn from it.
In order to move forward and accept happiness in our lives, we need to be willing to leave the past behind us.
We should pack up the lessons it taught us in a carry-on and bring them along so we don’t make the same mistakes again, but cut the string on the dead weight. Only hold on to what is a valuable lesson, and let go of the things no longer serving us.
The windshield is larger than the rearview for a reason — it’s good to glance back at where you have been, but if you focus on it you will surely crash.
6: You both need to put in EQUAL effort.
Great relationships are not about give and take — they are about give and give.
This requires unfiltered honesty with one’s self because we have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt early on in a relationship — especially if you’re what you’d consider a “giver.”
In other words, being a naturally selfless and giving person makes it second nature for you to put in a large amount of effort when building a relationship. So much so, that you might not be fully honest with yourself about what you’re receiving in return.
Relationships are not “tit for tat” and giving should never be about what you receive in return. That does not, however, void the reality that you both must be willing to show up for each other on a regular basis.
You will know you’ve found the right partner when they continue to show you how much you mean to them, long after they’ve got you.
7: Nobody is a mind reader, so you must express your needs.
It’s your partner’s responsibility to meet your needs in the relationship, but they can’t meet them if they don’t know what they are.
I believe that many people create stories in their mind about what a person or relationship is going to be like. They write the script out before it even begins, and then as time unfolds, they expect the course of the relationship to follow that narrative.
The problem is…the other person has no idea that this narrative exists, and it’s been created without any real source or rooting in reality.
Therefore, it’s your responsibility to (effectively) communicate your wants, needs, desires — the things you will and won’t accept in the parameters of the relationship.
You can’t get mad at someone for failing to meet a standard that they didn’t even know existed.
If they do know what you need, though, and are unwilling to step up to the plate for you, it’s time to revisit point #6.
8: Some people, unfortunately, just kind of suck.
If you are anything like me, you will always want to see the good in people and search high and low in order to find something great about them.
There will be people you come across who seem to make this task impossible.
It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means they’re not your people.
And, you shouldn’t need to search every nook and cranny of a potential partner to find things you like about them, to make things work, to make them put in effort for you. That is a recipe for disaster down the road.
When you find people like this, accept them for who they are and allow them to go on their merry way without you. Life is too short to allow that negativity into your life.
9: Substance is sexy (and necessary).
Yes, physical attraction is important in any intimate relationship — but experience quickly teaches us that it, alone, cannot maintain a deeper connection through life’s challenges or the normal trials and tribulations of a relationship.
It doesn’t matter how beautiful, handsome, or sexy someone is — if they’re not willing or able to stand by you during the hard times, no amount of staring at them or their photos is going to make you feel cared for and loved.
Substance, depth, integrity, dignity, intelligence, compassion — among other qualities — are what is truly valuable in a partner.
10: Love is NOT all you need.
Everyone is searching for love, thinking that it’s going to be the ultimate solution to their problems, or that it, in itself, is going to be enough to hold a relationship together for the rest of their lives.
The truth is this: Love is not all you need.
You need mutual respect, compromise, sacrifice, understanding, the willingness to work at it and stand by him or her when times get rough. You need to be willing to be by their side not only during the bright days but also during the dark ones. To encourage them to become the best version of themselves, but also to love and accept them as they are today.
11: Two good people might not be good for each other.
This is a difficult one to learn, which is also why it’s so important.
Have you ever had a relationship where the person looked amazing on paper? They were everything that (you thought) you wanted…ambitious, caring, smart, passionate, selfless…
Why, then, did something always feel “off”?
The truth is that above all of these “boxes” you feel the need to check, is compatibility.
If the two of you don’t mesh together like pieces of a puzzle, there’ll always be something out of alignment no matter how good of a person he or she is.
This is important to remember because it reminds us that an ended relationship doesn’t always have to be someone’s “fault.”
It doesn’t have to be a catastrophic event or seen as a failure.
There are simply times in life where two people just don’t mesh well together intimately, and the compatibility simply isn’t there. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can gain clarity around why it didn’t work, and move forward.
12: You cannot rely on someone else to make you happy.
People who search for happiness in a relationship [when they haven’t yet established it in themselves] never seem to find it.
Because you need to get your own life in order first, and then share it with someone. If you are not happy being single, you will not be happy in a relationship.
(Yes, a relationship should bring happiness to your life, but it cannot create happiness within you. This is why so many people who are in love are still unfulfilled or critical of themselves — no amount of external validation can fill a hole that is inside of us).
13: A relationship must be stoked like a fire, every day.
Imagine that you start a fire in a fireplace.
It begins to smolder, and then burn, and then sets itself ablaze.
Anyone who’s ever done this knows that, eventually, the flames begin to shrink as the fuel they have burns away. In order to keep the flames strong, we must add more wood, stoke the fire, and give it air to breathe.
We must do this for as long as we want the fire to burn.
When we stop giving it attention, it will inevitably completely burn out and stop.
The same goes for a relationship: We must stoke the fire of love every single day if we want it to keep burning.
14: You BOTH need to be willing to grow.
Personal growth and development is an integral part of living a happy life. We cannot expect to stay stagnant, and also fulfilled. The two simply can not coexist.
Sometimes, relationships end because only one person was willing to do the work in order to improve.
Inevitably, one partner outgrows the other.
For a relationship to thrive, flourish, and grow — you both need to be willing to put in the work. Not just individually, but as a couple.
This is also why it’s so important to understand where you both see your futures going and what your goals are for the long term. Sometimes it’s not about one partner growing and the other not, but two partners who grow in different directions, causing a separation between them that’s too far to bridge.
15: If it didn’t bring you what you wanted, it taught you what you didn’t want.
Not every relationship is meant to last, but they will teach and prepare you for the one that does.
16: Honesty is always king (or queen).
When we are younger, we all want to have fun and are a little more carefree. But as we mature, we understand the value of just being up front and honest about what we want. We become “too old” (even if we’re still young) to play games and we want someone who comes along and actually expresses what they’re looking for so we don’t waste time trying to figure it out.
“But James, what if the truth is uncomfortable?”
I believe that if we’re all actually honest with ourselves, what we seek is honesty, even if it hurts. It’s far better to learn the truth before too much time goes by, even if it’s painful, than to waste months (or years) operating under false assumptions or believing a lie. That, in the end, will hurt far worse.
17: Relationships take work, but they shouldn’t BE work.
Not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows and little bunnies hopping through fields. There are going to be challenges you face in life and in your relationship.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything is going to be easy and should flow completely naturally for the rest of your life and that you’ll never have an argument. Even the happiest couples on earth will tell you staying that way takes consistent communication, compromise, and understanding.
But, the good should (must) outweigh the bad.
You should feel as though your teammate is enhancing your life, not complicating it. If it feels like it will crumble if you don’t spend every waking moment trying to make it work…then let it crumble. It wasn’t meant for you in the first place.
18: It is IMPERATIVE to maintain your own identity.
This is a BIG one that I hear from private clients on a regular basis.
They dove so far into their relationship for so long, that they forgot who they actually were.
They made every decision based on what their partner wanted, and lost sight of what they wanted.
They had children and gave up their career, or hobbies, or interests, or friends — and once those children grew up, they faced a massive crisis of identity and purpose.
Listen, I understand — It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of someone new during the beginning stages of a relationship.
You might want to be around them constantly, which is great if the feeling is mutual!
But over time as the relationship evolves, it is important for both people to continue pursuing their own passions and interests — especially because this is what drew our partners to us in the first place.
Co-dependence is not the foundation you want to build for a healthy relationship comprised of two happy, fulfilled partners. It only leads to confusion or even resentment in the future as the smoke clears and you’re left wondering whose life you’ve been living — because it’s not the one you envisioned for yourself.
19: You must operate as a team.
One of the most important lessons I’ve taken from watching my parents for 36 years of my life (they’ve been together over 40) is that they approached everything as one cohesive team.
2022 was a behemoth year for Rachel and I.
We moved out of an apartment and into a house, we got engaged and married, we enrolled the kids in private schools, we both bought our dream cars, we traveled, we grew as a couple and as a family, we brought Rachel from working full-time to stay-at-home-motherhood…
All within 1 single year.
We were capable of doing this because we both capitalized on our own strengths and worked together to set and achieve common goals. This increases efficiency and collapses time so we are capable of achieving much more in shorter periods.
It also strengthens our bond as a couple and sets a positive example for the kids who see us working together.
Nobody is perfect and every relationship faces challenges, but they are much easier to overcome when we are standing next to our partner facing the outside world and all of its changing circumstances, than if we are facing inward at each other looking to place the blame.
It’s not “me and me,” it’s “we.”
20: Sex is VERY important, but intimacy is importanter.
(Yes, I know “importanter” isn’t a word).
I think that a lot of people believe sex can solve your problems in a relationship. Makeup sex, angry sex, whatever.
(Honestly, angry sex sounds horrible to me).
The point is this — yes, a healthy and consensual sex life in a relationship is immensely important. It often serves as a barometer for your emotional connection, and clearly suffers when you’re out of alignment with your partner.
Conversely, when the two of you are in a groove and feeling close and connected, you’re more likely to enjoy each other physically.
The physical act of sex, therefore, carries much deeper meaning than just pleasure. It is a reflection of your connection and it strengthens or weakens based on that connection itself.
This is why building intimacy with your partner is the foundation of all other connection.
It requires being honest and open about your wants, needs, and desires.
It requires hearing theirs, without judgment.
It brings you closer in non-sexual ways, too. Holding hands, cuddling on the couch, hugging as you pass by each other in the kitchen.
These are the reflections of true connection. Anyone can have sex, but not anyone can make love.
22: You must be clear on “the boring stuff.”
Here’s what I mean:
Bills, errands, chores, caring for the kids, cooking, cleaning, projects around the house…
Who’s going to be responsible for what? How do you split expenses? Who’s currently making more money and how can you capitalize on that to create more time or freedom to raise a family? Are you going to raise a family? Who’s going to pick up and drop off the kids?
The boring and basic minutia of life plays a larger role in your daily routine that you might think.
If there are piles of laundry or trash laying around and nobody is “responsible” for handling it, letting it linger for too long can spark an argument or frustration.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not actually about the laundry. It’s about what the laundry represents — someone feeling overworked, or underappreciated, or that responsibilities are far out of whack.
I’m not saying you need gender roles or that things should be divided in any specific way, but understanding who is responsible for what in the household can help to create efficiency and harmony.
23: You marry the whole family.
This goes more for younger couples that are just starting out — but it’s important to remember that the person you’re choosing comes with an entire ecosystem that has existed long before they met you.
Everyone has different family dynamics, norms, traditions, and expectations. Maybe they’re from a single parent household, or were raised by guardians, or grew up in the foster system.
Maybe they were raised in a solid and loving family that always had their back and made them feel safe and secure.
The truth is that when you build a life with someone, the perspective they have on the world is formed and shaped by what they experienced growing up. It showed them what “normal” was.
For some, they continue the same patterns they experienced. For others, they’ll vow to do everything in the exact opposite way.
Regardless, though, unless they’re fully removed from the people that raised them, you’re going to be spending some occasions, holidays, and celebrations with “their people,” as they will with yours.
You don’t have to like them all, but you do have to accept them — as they do for you.
24: You need to accept ALL of a person.
We talked earlier about loving someone for who they are today, but there’s a different level of acceptance required when it comes to building a life with them — a full and unfiltered level of acceptance.
You might not like their past, or the decisions they made, or the people they were with before you — but those are the very things that made them who they are today. And, hopefully, they do remain in the past.
For us, Rachel already had her two children from a previous marriage. Her ex husband was abusive and she had the strength to escape while still pregnant with her 2nd child. She did this while running a large business and never missed a step — immense strength if you ask me.
That marriage, of course, shaped her view of what “love” was like. When I came into the picture as a completely opposite person, I needed to show her that I wasn’t just putting on a show and that I really was who I said I was.
Her skepticism was understandable, but it wasn’t going to change how I showed up for her and the girls every day.
I had to accept that this was the reality she’d live in before and accept the responsibility of stepping up to the plate in ways that re-wrote that story for her (and for the girls).
That is what I have done for almost 3 years, and by marrying her, it’s what I’ve pledged to keep doing forever.
Obviously — this full level of acceptance must be mutual.
25: YOU are worthy of love.
Perhaps the most important but most difficult of all to learn — you are an inherently valuable human being who is worthy of the love that you’re willing to give other people.
Truly embracing this self-worth and self-love can be a years-long process than looks different for all of us, but it really is a result of experience and inner work in many areas of life.
Once you truly understand your worth, you’ll stop negotiating it and giving your time to people who don’t deserve you.
The amount of self-love you have directly dictates the quality of love you accept from anyone else.
Develop that first, and anything below that standard will begin to fall away, only leaving room for what is right and good for you.
Life is simply too short to accept anything less.
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Finding success in creating hundreds of viral articles and videos on building limitless confidence and healthier relationships, James has accumulated over 39 million visitors to his website and a collective social media following of over 400,000.
James speaks at live events and in the media across the U.S. and has become a go-to expert with outlets such as CNN, Bravo, The New York Post, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, CNBC, The Boston Globe, CBS, and more.
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