• Sometimes, it’s hard to determine whether you’re in love with your partner or still working at it.
  • While this can be unnerving, it’s more beneficial to prioritize a healthy relationship than it is to focus on whether you are in love or like.
  • You can prioritize your relationship by spending quality, fun time together: come up with new date ideas, instead of just running through the motions.
  • Also, listen and communicate well: rather than using “you” statements, you should utilize “I” statements and practice other effective communication techniques.
  • Finally, be affirming: it’s okay if you don’t say, “I love you” yet. Just be honest about how you do feel and make sure your partner feels your love and/or appreciation.

A previous relationship of mine lasted for 6 years. He and I had an undeniable connection; we knew each other inside and out—favorite foods, pet peeves, deepest fears, wildest dreams. And before I could think twice about it, we were suddenly saying, “I love you,” at the end of every phone call and date. “Cool,” I thought, “the natural progression of a relationship.” I mean, you’re supposed to profess your love after a year or so of dating. Right?

Sure, if you actually love them. Okay, that makes it sound all too simple. In reality, it isn’t that simply. Unfortunately, there is no list to consult that, when all checked off, guarantees you are indeed in love. Instead, it takes some soul-searching to better understand your feelings and whether you are in love or like.

Don’t Force It—Prioritize It

Upon further thought, I realized that I didn’t love my boyfriend. I cared for him, but I was only saying, “I love you,” because I felt forced to—and, well, he said it first. My boyfriend eventually became my ex-boyfriend… but not because I didn’t love him. I hadn’t fallen in love (yet), but I liked him a lot and I wanted to be with him.

So, we continued to build on the foundation of our relationship, and a couple years later we were both able to confidently express our love. The trick was shifting our focus—instead of forcing love to happen, we started prioritizing our relationship. Because quite frankly, it wasn’t pertinent to love each other right away. It was important, however, to foster a happy and healthy relationship: a breeding ground for love.

Prioritizing a Healthy Relationship: 5 Professional Tips

Instead of focusing on and worrying about whether you’re in love or like, I challenge you to prioritize making your relationship a healthy one. In due time, your love and your feelings will become clear. Follow Licensed Psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher’s 5 tips for cultivating a happy, healthy relationship:

  1. Spend quality time together.

“In order to keep a relationship happy, you must spend regular quality time with the person,” Dr. Fisher explains. Schedule regular date nights with your significant other and don’t be afraid to spice things up. Instead of going out for dinner and a movie every time, take a less traditional route: go rollerblading downtown, invite another couple over for game night, check out the new trampoline park. The world is your oyster, and you need not let it go to waste.

  1. Have fun with each other.

Dr. Fisher says it’s also important you don’t take each other too seriously. “Another essential ingredient is to have fun with the person. When we are having fun, our positive feelings spill over to those we are with.” Sure, it’s important to address any issues or concerns you two have, but it’s just as important that you enjoy each other’s company. Don’t turn everything into a serious conversation—be silly, laugh, and have fun together. 

  1. Listen well.

Now, when it is time for those serious conversations, listen well. “Become a good listener by providing your undivided attention, and be supportive/empathetic with whatever challenges they discuss,” Dr. Fisher explains. A key to happy, healthy relationships is effective communication, which cannot be accomplished unless both partners are willing to really listen to the other.

  1. Be affirming.

It’s also important you assert your feelings about your significant other. Maybe you aren’t sure if you love them yet, but you do know that you care about them and everything they do for you—tell them that. And continually show your appreciation for them, as recommended by Dr. Fisher. “Be sure to tell the person the things you appreciate about them. We tend to like those who like us,” he says.

  1. Be gentle in conflicts.

And finally, “when tension arises in the relationship, work through it gently,” says Dr. Fisher. Instead of allowing those negative feelings to take over and dominate the conversation, take a deep breath and then approach the conflict softly. Fisher recommends avoiding “you” statements, and instead focusing on expressing, “your tender underbelly feelings, such as sad, hurt, lonely, scared,” and so on. This strategy will prove to strengthen your relationship and prevent these conflicts from spiraling out of control.