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They say that mistakes help us to mature and improve. Following that logic, I should be an expert in relationships by now. Lashing out at a boyfriend after a bad day at work? Having an important conversation via text instead of in person? Catering to whatever a guy wants to do and forgetting that I’m one half of the relationship, too? Check. Check. Check.

Have I made mistakes? Sure. But regrets? I can’t say I have many at all. Each time something goes wrong with a man I’m dating, I make a point of thinking about it. Taking the time to reflect on what went wrong and why has saved me from letting history repeat itself. Some experts say that keeping a journal can help you locate patterns and prevent you from repeating them, and some people learn to locate their own mistakes by witnessing the same blunders in the lives of others. Whatever your mode of reflection, it’s best not to plow through relationship after relationship getting all scraped up along the way.

I’ve found that there are five things that can really be crucial to the success of a relationship. If you’re lucky, reading this will prevent you from making some of the same mistakes as me. If, on the other hand, you’re reading this thinking, “Yep, Ive been there,” then know that you aren’t alone. But it’s time for us all to change our ways, and keep things moving in the right direction!

01. Don’t just say, ‘I’m fine.’

I’m convinced these are two of the most dangerous words a woman can utter. Saying “I’m fine” when you’re really not will destroy your relationship. I used to do it so much that it became my default response. I had to learn the hard way that a successful relationship means sharing how you are really feeling. This applies to friendships as well as dating. A person who truly cares about you wants the truth, and your relationship deserves honest communication. Be willing to get real, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it will become.

02. Keep a close counsel.

It’s important to have a trusted friend or two whom you can go to for good relationship advice, but pooling feedback from too many friends can be unhelpful. Does it really matter what all my friends think about a guy I’m going on one date with? Too often advice from friends can be a little biased and perhaps too freely given.

I recently dated someone who shared mutual friends with me. Naturally I turned to them to ask what they thought of him after we met. One friend told me she didn’t think I should date him. But I thought he was cute, smart, and a gentleman, so I trusted my own intuition and went on a date with him—and then a few more. Did we end up together? No. I enjoyed my time with him, though, and I don’t regret giving him a chance. Sometimes the only person who really knows what’s best is you.

03. Stay open-minded.

A boyfriend once called me out for being defensive. I was shocked and of course only became more defensive. But looking back, he was right. I’m stubborn and hate criticism. I know now that he wasn’t trying to point out flaws to prove he was somehow better than me; he was offering gentle criticism because he loved me and wanted to help me become a better person.

I’ve learned to be open to other perspectives and opinions in dating. Look for a man who challenges you (and is open to being challenged) because that’s how you both can grow.

04. Hold back—sometimes.

I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule about when I’ll kiss a man I’m dating. What I can tell you is that I’ve previously gotten too physical too fast. Seeing the err of my ways, I’ve learned to foster mental, emotional, and spiritual connections before the physical one.

Physical intimacy and attraction are important parts of a relationship. Just remember: Once intimacy comes into the mix, there’s no going back. Dating relationships that start as friendships often turn out to be the strongest, so take the time to develop your bond intellectually and emotionally first.

05. Be up-front.

This is probably my biggest mistake. I cannot stress just how crucial it is to set clear intentions from the very beginning. You don’t have to talk about marriage on the first date. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it. But if marriage is something you ultimately desire, make sure that you have a conversation about it before you commit to a relationship. Protect your heart. In the same vein, if you’re interested in a fun fling, but the guy you’re dating is more serious, then let him go. He doesn’t deserve to have his heart broken either.

If you’re ever questioning whether you’re on the same page as someone you’re dating, talk about it. Letting things linger in a gray area usually doesn’t bode well.

No relationship is perfect, and we are all bound to make mistakes. But we’re lucky to have the opportunity and privilege to move forward and learn from them. The more we learn from the last one, the better and more likely to succeed the next will be.

Photo Credit: Brittni Willie Photography