When London-based Jennifer Castro started working with a life coach in her late 20s, she began to see how much her past affected her current romantic life.
“Coaching really opened my eyes to how my childhood experiences and trauma played a massive role in my life, but especially in the romantic partners I was pursuing,” says Castro.
Castro also learned that being ready for a relationship—including understanding what kind of a relationship she wanted and whether she was willing to put herself out there—is a process that takes time.
Now she can sense an unhealthy attachment and stop it from forming. “I’ve come to a point where I no longer attach myself to the outcome or project my expectations onto people I meet [or] date because I know that these unhealthy attachments only cause unnecessary heartache,” she shares.
Like Castro, many of us have to ask ourselves, “Am I ready for a relationship?” before jumping in too soon. Doing so can ensure we’re in a healthy spot and capable of forming a solid connection. We need to consider many aspects of our lives mindfully before pursuing another person romantically.
But what signs do we need to be mindful of? Here are some expert suggestions.
Sign #1: You’re suddenly interested in someone after time has passed.
Maybe this potential new partner you’re eyeing is a long-time friend. Maybe you met them previously, but never thought of them in “that way.” But then, you suddenly feel attracted to this person and want to pursue them.
“Have you ever met someone dozens of times, and suddenly you are interested in them? That may be a sign that you are ready for a relationship,” said Susan Silver, LCPC, a Gottman Institute-trained couples psychotherapist from Wellington Counseling Group.
You probably liked that person before, but you didn’t feel you were in the best place to be giving yourself to someone else (more on that later).
Sign #2: You’ve worked through (or at least started to work through) any past trauma.
Unhealthy relationships and other forms of trauma can affect our self-esteem and exacerbate relationship anxiety. For example, if you felt neglected in childhood, you may now have an anxious attachment style. This can cause you to worry future partners will hate you or leave you, even if they haven’t given any indication of doing so.
The key is to be mindful of where you are in the healing process and keep taking care of yourself. When you take time to work through the aftermath, it won’t present as big a problem in future relationships.
Akua K. Boateng, Ph.D., LPC, a licensed psychotherapist, recommends asking yourself this question: “Have I processed and healed areas of concern that would limit my capacity to connect with others?” After doing so, you’ll have a better understanding of your capacity to pursue the best possible relationship.
Sign #3: You don’t compare a new potential partner to your exes.
Relationship readiness often means shelving that invisible measuring stick and refraining from holding new partners to unfair standards. “People generally compare new relationships to their past loves,” Silver says. “When you stop doing that, you are ready for a romantic relationship.”
The ability to move past comparison can be a great indicator of whether you’ve moved on and can focus exclusively on your new partner. When you’re ready for a romantic relationship, you want to focus on the one you have. Pay attention to any thoughts you may have about your ex, especially when you meet others you’re interested in.
Sign #4: You’re ready to give of yourself to the other person.
Committed relationships are more than just dates and sex. To be fulfilling, they need compassion, honesty, compromise, and so much more. Consider where you are in being able to give those things and how your emotional maturity. “Relationships are about give-and-take [and whether you’re] ready to offer vulnerability, trust, affection, and care,” advises Boateng.
Sign #5: You’re happy with yourself and your life.
Your level of general satisfaction can also affect your readiness for a relationship. After all, a romantic relationship can’t replace all the other important aspects of life, like friendships, career contentment, and self-esteem. You have to be happy as a single person first.
“When you are content in your own life and feel you are in a good place, that means that you are more open to a substantive [and deeper] relationship,” Silver explains.
Sign #6: You know your needs and can set boundaries.
Staying mindful of your needs and sticking to those boundaries are vital to any healthy relationship. What do you need from your partner emotionally? What are you not comfortable with sexually? It’s helpful to be in touch with those needs and communicate them effectively.
“We all desire to have our needs met,” says Boateng. “Relationships give us the space to have this, but we need to have a clear way of speaking our needs to make sure they happen…Boundaries keep us safe and help us to know where we are going.”
Sign #7: You’re interdependent and willing to compromise.
While you don’t need to compromise on your boundaries, you will likely need to compromise in other areas of a relationship. Silver poses a question that can help you ascertain your willingness to do so: “Have you moved from an immature mindset where you always want your own way to one where you are open to compromise?”
And within that, are you an interdependent person (i.e. able to be mutually dependent) who can also accept your partner’s interdependence?
Moreover, do you feel ready to embrace your partner’s interests and other relationships without feeling jealous or possessive? Silver encourages considering this key piece.
Sign #8: You’re ready to explore.
Lastly, think about whether you’re ready to handle all the new situations that come with a new relationship. “When you have the emotional freedom to explore new things with another person, you may be ready for a relationship,” Boateng says.
Are you ready to support this person and receive support from them? Can you handle all the ups and downs involved with being in a relationship? Further, does the thought of being in a relationship excite you, and do you feel confident about the prospect?
Mindful ways to enter a new relationship
Taking an honest inventory of whether you meet the above criteria can help you answer the question, “Am I ready for a relationship?” in a mindful manner. Once you’ve completed that assessment, Silver and Boateng offer a few additional suggestions for staying mindful as you start to enter a new relationship.
Silver emphasizes the importance of positive self-talk, as well as regular self check-ins. “Check in with yourself regularly to assess how partnering makes you feel and how you can support yourself through this process,” she advises.
Boateng recommends getting clear on your expectations and sharing them with your partner to make sure you’re on the same page. “The next step is to make sure these expectations align,” she adds.
All of these mindfulness-based practices can ensure you’re ready for a great relationship. Happy dating — if you’re ready for it, of course!