Love is overpowering and intense–a seemingly mystical mix of emotions and physical sensations that authors and poets have compared to madness. If you’ve ever been in love, you know the feelings: lightheadedness, shortness of breath, excitement, and elation.

The problem is that love seems to cause people to really lose their minds. The phrase “love is blind” is true; the all-consuming sensory experience of falling in love tends to block our critical thinking. It can become almost impossible to objectively look at ourselves–and the person we’re dating–from the outside in.

Simply put, feelings of love can’t tell us anything about whether our relationships are healthy. And they can’t paint a clear picture of the genuine closeness that lifelong marriages require in order to succeed.

What we really need to practice is a principle we call “smart love”–a way to stay on your toes and experience emotions as you get to know the person you’re dating. Smart love is still thrilling, but it’s also infused with wisdom and awareness. In order to fall in love in a wiser way, dating couples need to:

  • Consider the facts of the relationship
  • Make intelligent decisions
  • Consider the kinds of things you want in a dating relationship
  • Be aware of the qualities, traits, skills, and abilities you look for in another person

Practicing smart love means keeping your wits about you–in other words, falling in love without losing your mind. Here are three ways you can practice smart love in your dating relationship.

1. DON’T TRY TO CHANGE YOUR DATE (OR YOURSELF)

You’re headed for trouble if you think you can change the person you’re dating–either now, or after you’ve walked down the aisle. We’ve counseled countless people who thought they could “fix” their date. In other words, they were so desperate to be in a relationship that they fooled themselves into thinking they could love or persuade the flaws right out of that person.

Here’s the thing: Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” That flaw you see in your date? What you see is what you get. If that person is going to make a change, that’s up to them. Your chances of changing it are incredibly small.

On the flipside, if you begin making tweaks and changes to yourself in order to please (or keep) the person you’re dating, it’s time to put on the brakes. Let’s say your date loves jazz music–do you do a little “homework” on the jazz greats, then throw in a few little white lies to back up your feigned interest? While there’s nothing wrong with learning a little bit about the things your date is interested in, you cross into dangerous territory when you become dishonest about your level of interest.

You’re also in hot water if the person you’re dating is pressuring you to make changes to yourself. Whether the pressure to change in order to keep a relationship is internal or external, changing yourself for someone else–or trying to change someone else–is always a recipe for disaster. If both of you can’t be your true selves in the relationship, it’ll never work out.

2. DON’T PLAY MIND GAMES

Movies, magazines, and TV shows depict plenty of men and women who play mind games with their dates. But dating isn’t a game–and smart love knows this. Games are for luring, snaring, and manipulating others.

People in dating relationships often use mind games to fool their dates into seeing them as someone they’re not. This inevitably results in concealing their true selves, which damages trust and eventually leads to loss of the relationship. Any benefit you get from these games–sympathy, attention, admiration, pining–will be short-lived.

If you and/or your date play games, your relationship can’t last. Games cause too much hurt, and they always lead to the profound loneliness you’re trying to avoid by playing them. Be true to yourself, and you’ll find the person you’re meant to be with.

3. DON’T RUN FROM CONFLICT

Couples who practice smart love know that the occasional fight won’t break their relationship. Fighting is inevitable, and it can be scary–you might feel devastated or worried that you’ve lost the person you’ve come to care about. And that can tempt you to avoid conflict at all costs.

Instead of running fast and far at the first sign of a fight, use the hurt feelings and harsh words to gain a better understanding of one another. Fighting can shed light on where your relationship stands…even though it hurts. If you two are in it for the long haul, buckle up–conflict will come, whether you want it to or not.

When you weather conflict together, you become closer to one another. Your love and understanding deepen, rather than wither. And if you’re practicing smart love, you know that the two of you can actually leverage conflict to your advantage. Lifelong love demands the resilience that comes with facing hard times together, and overcoming them each time.

How do you keep your wits about you in the dating game? Share your strategies with us in the comments section below.

Navigating today’s dating culture?
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