“Love can never possess. Love is giving freedom to the other. Love is an unconditional gift; it is not a bargain.” – Osho

My husband proposed before we even kissed. When we met, we were two Romanians living and working in Asia, within the same company but in two different countries. I was in China; he was in South Korea. Our relationship started as a beautiful, genuine friendship. After three dinners in Shanghai and many long telephone conversations that felt like a deep, soulful connection, he proposed. I will never forget that day. It came like thunder. Totally unexpected. Surreal. A miracle of love.

At the time, I was 35 and very clear on what I wanted from a romantic relationship. My wish was to feel loved, supported, cherished and appreciated. I wanted a companion — a lover and a friend — not to complete me because I was already feeling whole and complete. I wanted to spend my precious time with someone I could share new life experiences with and build a solid foundation together.

I knew people usually spent time getting to know each other before committing to marriage. Despite knowing that, I said yes. It just felt right. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made and, since that day, I have never underestimated the power of my intuition.

It’s been five beautiful years since we became husband and wife, and here’s the most important thing I learned from this experience:

If you are either married or in a relationship, you know that’s an ongoing job. We often get into the trap of expecting our life partners to make us happy. In reality, nobody else can make us truly happy, and happiness is a personal responsibility.

We all have a basic need to be loved and appreciated. As Descartes said, “human is a social animal.” However, the need for love and being needy of someone are two different things. 

If I expect my husband to bring joy into my world, I turn him into my prisoner. I start setting expectations for whom I would want him to be and what I’d want him to do or say, so I can get my needs met. If I expect him to complete me, I am incomplete. When I hold him tight to me and control him so that I wouldn’t lose him to another woman, it’s not him I fear I might lose. That’s the voice of my fear of getting miserable and lose the very source of my happiness.

Many people (and women especially) stay in unhealthy, co-dependent and even toxic relationships out of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of what other people think, financial dependency, or the need to have someone else to confirm and validate their self-worth.

I came to understand that real love builds on a partnership. Two individuals who are already whole and complete have no fears. They get together with the purpose of supporting each other and growing together, not for using each other as an external tool to fulfill their own wants and needs.

In reality, the only person in charge of my happiness is me, and everything else is a bonus. I know this might sound selfish, but it’s not. Self-love in romantic relationships is a necessity. Long-lasting happiness can not come from someone else, but only from ourselves, from the inside out. 

We need to love ourselves enough so that we can love another. When I feed my soul with self-love and keep my cup full, I don’t need other people to fill it up for me. I am free, and this allows my partner to be free, as well.

And now, I would like to hear from you. What is your definition of love?

Sara Fabian is a Women’s Empowerment & Career Coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at www.sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.