The Scoop: To set yourself up for a successful long-term relationship, you have to look within. On her website Love InSight, dating expert and coach Dr. Marie Thouin helps her clients understand their own needs so they can address their partner’s needs. You can’t expect a long-term relationship to thrive if you haven’t done the preliminary self-work. And in the dating world, self-work involves introspection and simple self-care. 

The term “self-work” can bring a daunting image to mind: a frenzied version of yourself huddled over a textbook with the title “How To Fix Yourself 101” on the cover. Maybe you see yourself locked into years of intensive therapy, or dread those sleepless nights spent ruminating over your every decision. Worse yet, it can conjure up a spur-of-the-moment backpacking trip to some remote part of the world in a misguided quest to find yourself.

Thankfully, self-work doesn’t need to involve study sessions or mystical quests (though therapy could be a useful tool). Self-work is all about improving yourself in your own way and in your own time. And in relationships, a little self-improvement can go a long way. 

Love InSight logo
Dr. Marie Thouin’s website, Love InSight, guides clients through the self-improvement process.

Marie Thouin gave us some insight into the importance of self-work. According to the dating coach, self-work can be the difference between a series of unsatisfying flings and a fulfilling long-term relationship. “It’s really important to know what your vision is for your own life before you embark on the adventure of a relationship,” she said. 

Self-work requires you to look at the parts of yourself you may not be proud of — the parts that are selfish, afraid, and insecure. But self-work doesn’t have to be an emotionally draining process. 

You can indulge in self-care to make the process easier and to help you focus on the big picture: Understanding your own needs and patterns sets you up for a happy and healthy long-term relationship.

Common Issues That Can Hinder Long-Term Relationships 

Every relationship is different, but we all face similar challenges. We are, after all, only human, and every human has fought an internal battle against fear, selfishness, and shame. 

Problems arise when our inability to confront these issues bleeds into our romantic relationships. 

Marie named a few common issues people experience in long-term relationships — issues that can lead to irreconcilable differences. 

“Some people tend to get into relationships quite easily,” she pointed out. There’s nothing wrong with this, but remember: Red flags are more difficult to see when you whiz past them. 

Marie Thouin headshot
Marie encourages her clients to be self-aware of their own insecurities.

When you fly into a relationship, you can miss obvious signs you’ve chosen the wrong person. Time is an extremely valuable commodity, and the last thing you want is to waste it on someone you should’ve cut loose early on. 

“[People like this] either pick the wrong people or they are chronically dissatisfied with the relationships that they are in,” Marie explained. 

To be chronically dissatisfied is to be constantly worried that something better is out there. But this worry could be your own insecurities talking. “They start projecting their own stuff on the relationship and then they break up, or their partner breaks up with them,” Marie said. 

Keep an eye out for signs that you’re blaming your insecurities on your partner. 

Maybe you automatically assume that you embarrass your partner in public, or maybe you feel abandoned when they go to work, even though you’ve just spent the weekend together. In both cases, your own insecurities about your personality and loneliness, not your partner, are the root of your discomfort. 

Of course, it’s always easier to blame what we can see versus what we can’t see. “We often keep the same things that made us unhappy when we were single, but then we blame the relationship for the unhappiness,” Marie told us. 

If you have the tendency to race into relationships or to feel chronically dissatisfied, you may have some soul searching to do. This is especially true if you find yourself looking for a better relationship but can’t actually define what “better” is. 

Understand Your Values Before You Start a New Relationship

The reason why you struggle in relationships could be lurking within yourself, not your partner.

“We have to dig to see what the causes are for [being chronically single],” Marie advised. To learn more about whatever it is that prevents you from long-term love, Marie recommends trying a self-work practice she calls deep visioning. 

By imagining your ideal future, you can reveal your own deepest desires. 

“You have to know what your priorities are, what your values are, what your goals are, so that you can know who is actually compatible with you,” Marie explained. The process can help you develop a “clear language around your desires and boundaries,” as she explained on her website. 

Self-work can begin in earnest with Marie’s mindful dating masterclass, which teaches “an inclusive philosophy” that helps people approach the dating world with mindfulness and self-awareness. Part of this philosophy is the practice of deep visioning. 

Knowing what you want makes it easier to get to know someone else, and to decide whether they live up to your vision of the future. “You have to know yourself well enough to know what kind of person might be good at complimenting you. Ask yourself, ‘What kind of life do I want to live?’” Marie suggested. 

6 Pillars of Mindful Dating Masterclass
Mindful dating helps people approach their dating habits with newfound perspective.

Deep-vision reveals our deepest needs and desires as well as what has held us back in the past. We all tend to make the same mistakes over and over. What’s important, Marie told us, is the ability to recognize these patterns and the damage they cause. 

“If you can understand what happened in previous relationships that caused them not to work, then you can keep those things ahead of you,” she said. Otherwise, those patterns could “subconsciously sabotage you again,” Marie warned. 

Holding a mirror up to your bad habits isn’t easy, especially if you’ve been blind to them for years. But as Marie said, “If you don’t do that work before, you’re gonna have to do that work with trial and error.” And if you’re unhappily single in your 30s and 40s, the last thing you want to do is more trial and error in the form of first dates and unfocused relationships. 

Thankfully, listless relationships aren’t always a necessary prerequisite to lasting love. “There’s a lot we can do outside of a relationship that can save us a lot of time,” Marie explained.

Self-Work Begins With Self-Love 

Self-work often reveals a low self-esteem. According to Marie, the secret to overcoming low self-esteem is self-love. But as anyone who has ever felt lonely, heartbroken, or rejected could tell you, self-love is much more complicated than it sounds. 

Marie’s advice is simple, but effective: Treat yourself the way you would a friend. In the absence of a wooer, woo yourself. 

“Buy yourself flowers, run yourself a romantic bath, take yourself on a nice little vacation, do things for yourself that maybe you’re wishing a partner would do for you,” Marie suggested. After all, you deserve a little love and care! “Without a partner, you can still feel like there is that level of love and excitement and magic in your life,” Marie said. 

“Make sure that you’re eating well, that you’re getting some rest, and that you’re going to the doctor when you need to,” she added. This may sound self-explanatory, but these daily necessities can fly out the window when you have low self-esteem.

Marie called this practice “radical self love” — daring to love yourself the way you would your partner. “[It] helps you come to dating with a fuller cup and not from a desperate place,” she said. 

Women hugging wearing sunglasses
Self-work can benefit romantic and platonic relationships alike.

Self-work can begin outside of a romantic relationship. Consider your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers, for example. Marie recommends asking yourself a series of reflective questions: “‘How do I improve these relationships? How do I create more love, more generosity, more understanding, more compassion, more magic in these relationships?’” 

Healing non-romantic relationships is an organic first step to healing all other relationships — including the one you have with yourself. 

And if you make a romantic connection while learning how to practice self-love, you shouldn’t shy away from it.

“You might not have the most happy and love-filled life, but if you’re stable and you have some love to give, you can at least imagine being empathetic and attentive to somebody else’s needs,” Marie explained. 

When you can process and show your love, you can also process a long-term relationship.