I’ve knowingly embarked on relationships riddled with red flags more times than I care to admit. In retrospect, I always ask myself the same question:How could I have let it get so bad? As the founder of a dating site for people who take care of their minds, bodies, and spirits, I’ve dedicated my life to helping others find love through a mindful approach. Shouldn’t I know better?

So, after much soul-searching, last year I finally committed to only starting a relationship in which I felt confident both people were open to and capable of creating an open-hearted, conscious dynamic. Then I waited. I waited for more than a year.

I focused on myself. I focused on my business. I nurtured my friendships. I told myself that when someone special came along, his presence in my life would be additive, rather than competitive with my other priorities.

I got really clear. I let the universe know that I was open to a constructive relationship, and I committed daily to not being distracted by anyone or anything that did not serve this purpose. I didn’t give up. And then, one day, I met Joe.

From the moment we started dating, it felt different. And I knew that was because both of us were approaching the relationship the same way. It felt additive, equal, deep, vulnerable, and accepting. From the beginning, our choices were made with the intention of leading somewhere. It quickly dawned on me that this could be the kind of relationship I’d been waiting for.

With that in mind, we both worked even harder to create a conscious relationship. Here’s what worked for us:

1. Be clear about what you want early on.

On our first date, before our entrées had even arrived at the table, Joe and I had discussed what we really wanted out of our relationship. We got super-clear on what we were looking for. In that way, we knew we were aligned from the very beginning. We even talked about our dream wedding. I actually said to him, “I want to get married in the next two to three years and have kids in the next four to five years.” And yes, it was terrifying. But guess what? He told me he wanted the same thing, which left no room for uncertainty about our compatibility in terms of desired outcomes.

2. Share your most out-there dreams and desires.

Do you want to build a tiny home and live off the grid? Take a year off to travel before starting a family? Write a book? Early on, we started to share these intimate details. Finding out quickly whether or not your goals compliment someone else’s will save you time and heartbreak. It’s incredibly difficult to build a life with someone whose dreams are not compatible with yours.

3. Practice vulnerable sexual exploration.

Tell each other your fantasies. Be honest about your hang-ups. Laugh and get silly in bed. Don’t worry about impressing each other or working toward an end goal of orgasm as quickly as possible. If you end up together, you’ll be exploring each other for decades, so enjoy the process.

4. Have wide-open communication (even when it’s uncomfortable).

I’ve been in relationships where if something was bothering me, I held it inside for fear of what might happen if I brought it up. Not this time. We are quick to address issues and have calm, compassionate conversations to see both perspectives. It’s such a breath of fresh air to know we both have a deep desire to work together to resolve anything before it becomes a big issue. It’s not about being right or wrong — it’s about both people being comfortable and confident in the partnership.

5. Embrace every facet of yourself.

Being a powerful, alpha female does not make you any less feminine. You should be able to transition from CEO to sex goddess with your partner comfortably. It might take some effort, but you are a constellation of contradictions. You should embrace every facet of yourself and know that your partner will too.

6. Celebrate big occasions, but be flexible about the outcomes.

On September 17, as Saturn entered Sagittarius for the next 30 years, we marked the occasion by sharing intentions and attempting to release fears we were dealing with. While it was sweet, it ended up a total disaster. We unknowingly started to live through those fears in the days that followed.

The way we worked through it, however, blew my mind. We went back to that list of fears and dug a little deeper, sharing with each other the root cause of the negativity we’d brought into our relationship. Understanding the “why” behind each fear allowed us to truly understand where the other person was coming from, cultivating compassion rather than defensive behavior. That was the first time that I felt proud of us as a couple, not of myself or him, but of us as a collective unit.

7. Support each other’s careers.

In the past, I’ve been criticized by partners for being too focused on my company. Joe not only understands firsthand what it’s like to work hard on building a company you love, he supports me and finds it sexy to watch me succeed.

This is the first time I’ve ever felt like I could unapologetically be my badass, entrepreneurial self without intimidating my partner. He sees my light and does whatever he can to help it shine brighter. Likewise, I fully understand and support when he needs to focus on his work, even if it means canceling weekend travel plans to close on a big real estate deal.

8. Explore personal growth work together.

I recently started listening to The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte and couldn’t stop talking about it to Joe. He asked if we could listen to it together so he could do the Desire Map Process himself. That led us to create “core desired feelings” for our relationship, which have become our metaphorical North Stars. From personal growth books to tantra workshops, seeing Joe’s vulnerability and openness in exploring himself and our relationship makes me feel so grateful.

9. Learn to deal with each other’s stress patterns.

Stress will never go away — it’s how we handle it that matters. When I’m upset or stressed, Joe “holds the bucket” for me to vent. He doesn’t try to fix it; instead, he holds space and says the most supportive, compassionate things in response. I immediately feel better, and we both move forward feeling lighter.

10. Express gratitude often.

Whether your style is to express gratitude in the moment or wait until a designated time (or both), it’s essential to your mental health and the health of your relationships to express what you’re thankful for.

We have a shared gratitude practice that we do at night, taking turns sharing three things we’re grateful for. Usually it’s a mix of both general life and our personal relationship. I’ve found that this is a beautiful thing to do together right before going to sleep, affecting both our sleep state and how we wake up.

11. Talk about the big things.

From moving in together to building a home, from kids to finances and family vacations, we talk about it all. For the first time, these things actually feel real and achievable. We’re actively manifesting the life we want to build together. I’ve seen people shy away from this type of discussion for fear that their partner will want something drastically different. Realize this: The earlier you determine whether someone is a good fit for you, the more time you can devote to finding that person if they aren’t.

12. Embrace meals together.

Humans have always connected over shared meals. So be intentional about it! Put on some Sinatra, trade your work clothes for something more comfortable, light a few candles, and relish the ritual. Luckily for me, Joe is an incredible cook with similar tastes, so we often share the kitchen to create beautiful meals.

13. Be present.

You know that feeling after a long day where you meet up with your partner and can’t seem to “land” together? Well, I can’t stand that. Our time together is precious, especially during the week. So we’ve found ways to reconnect after a long day. We lie on the couch or bed and just hold each other, debrief each other on the day, and look into each other’s eyes. This helps our bodies sync and our minds to truly land. It may seem corny, but this is my favorite ritual we’ve created together because of the immediate effect it has on the quality of time we spend together.

14. Work toward being a better partner.

If you’re anything like me (or most people), you have things you wish you did better in relationships. For example, even though I know that my primary love language is receiving words of affirmation, that’s not necessarily how my partner receives love. So I’m working on being more thoughtful (I’m not the only one with a busy schedule), doing sweet things around the house to show my appreciation, and being a better gift giver. The best part? Each time these efforts are noticed and I see how happy they make Joe, I get to do a little happy dance inside.

15. Allow your relationship to be a mirror.

Ok, this is a challenging one — but well worth it! I truly believe that relationships are the fastest path for our own personal evolution. What other opportunity do we have to face our shadows so often? If approached consciously, we begin to realize that all our stories, our shadows, and our past experiences can be worked through in relationship. So embrace the journey! It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

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