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How to Learn to Love Yourself While Loving Someone Else

I made all the selfish decisions — I went to the school I wanted to go to and got jobs that took over our together time — but here’s why it made us stronger than ever.

It’s very rare for a couple to stay together through high school, college, and beyond, but my fiancé and I are doing it. After nine years we’re just as strong and happy as ever, planning our wedding in between marathons of Netflix and visits to Chipotle.

Friends will sometimes ask how we managed to stay together. I’ll wink and gesture to my “hot bod” complete with old sweatpants and cheese-stained shirt (when did I even eat cheese?) and I’ll tell them that it’s simple: my fiancé and I have a lot of chemistry, we listen to each other, and we talk often.

But if you, dear reader, really want to know the truth— my special secret, the one magical tactic that has helped me in my relationship, is this: sometimes, I act selfishly.

I know, you’re rolling your eyes and thinking: wow, what great relationship advice. I’m sure all my dates would love to hear that.

But hold on — I’ve been in a relationship for just about nine years, and did the statistically (almost) impossible thing of staying with my high school sweetheart. So I’m practically an expert. (Okay I’m not an expert, but I do have some good advice.) Here’s what I’ve learned.

Growing together while you’re still growing is tough.

jilly pretzel

Throughout your late teens and twenties, you’ll have to make a lot of big choices. And couples that would otherwise be happy together find themselves going to schools across the country and taking jobs in different states.

It’s unfortunate that the age in which people start to get it together, and start to get real opportunities, is about the same time a lot of people start getting serious with their significant other. And sometimes they have to choose between prioritizing an opportunity, or a relationship.

I’m here to tell you that during this time in your life, you should prioritize “you” over the relationship, because in the long run, it just might keep you two together.

Let me explain with our story. It may sound familiar.

My fiancé and I absolutely could have gone to the same college after high school. I applied to a bunch of schools in the area and got into all of them. (I know, I’m kind of a big deal.) Meanwhile, my future-fiancé had only applied to a couple schools and had just happened to decide to go to the one university we’d both got accepted to. I could have gone to that school to be with him, but I didn’t.

There was another school I absolutely loved. I felt at home at the other college and knew it was the place for me, even if it was an hour away from my boyfriend. It wasn’t exactly across the country, but an hour is a long way away for two eighteen-year-olds.

It was stressful at first, wondering if we could make the relationship work. I was busy with classes, the cheer team, and mock trial Monday through Friday, so we saw each other every weekend. And it made our two days a week together extra special. It was hard, but worked out great.

And then I got offered a job at Disneyland.

He knew it was my dream job and that I really wanted to do it, but I knew that working weekends would mean less time with my boyfriend. Still, I took the job. It was tough, I only saw my boyfriend after or before work on the weekends. But we made it work. I loved working at Disney, and I even continued working there after college.

Those were two of the biggest decisions I had to make that I knew would affect my relationship, not to mention other decisions like going on trips with friends and taking extra classes in the summer, sacrificing time with my boyfriend to better myself and improve my friendships.

And it all ended up great. Here’s why.

When you learn to love yourself, you prioritize your development, not just you.

jilly pretzel

First of all, by putting myself first I became a better, smarter, happier person. It’s the old “help yourself to help others” mentality that encouraged me to go to the school where I knew I’d have the most opportunities to grow. And by taking the job at Disneyland, I improved my résumé; I made new friends and learned new skills.

These choices made me a more well-rounded person and a better partner, something my fiancé deserves.

But it also helped us in another way. If I had chosen to spend more time with him, rather than pursue new jobs and schools, I think I would have eventually become resentful. Maybe not soon, but when I got older and started looking back, I might have wished I’d spent more time in my early twenties to find out what I was good at, to make friends, and try new activities.

It’s also a way to practice compromise, fairness, and encouragement — all crucial parts of a relationship.

At the time, it was really hard to make decisions that I knew would take time away from seeing my boyfriend, decisions I knew could cause the relationship to fizzle out. But I forced myself to do things, knowing that if we did stay together, I didn’t want to blame him for missing out on something. I wanted to be able to look back and be proud of my accomplishments as well as our relationship.

And finally, my commitments and busy schedule gave my fiancé an opportunity to show how supportive he could be. He moved things around and accommodated me so that I could pursue my dreams, and it showed me what a great partner he would be in the long run.

Every time he encouraged me to try out for a school play or told me to have fun going out to dinner with friends instead of staying in with him, it made me realize how lucky I was to have someone who genuinely cared about my growth and interests.

The couple that grows together, stays together.

jilly pretzel

Sure, maybe we missed out on opportunities to spend some time together during college, but we made some amazing memories in the time we did have. And maybe I could have passed on some opportunities, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the things I’ve done, and what I’ve learned. And the same is true for my fiancé. In the end, I’m so happy we made time for ourselves when we needed it most, and now we’ll have the rest of our lives to be with each other.

Every relationship is different, but what I learned is that if you focus on improving yourself and doing things that make you happy, you’re sure to make a better partner. And in the end, you might just get a stronger relationship out of it.

If you’re looking for other articles about creating a lasting relationship, check out this story about waiting to get married or this one about communicating about sex.