Romantic relationships can be some of the most rewarding and fulfilling things we ever experience, and they can also be some of the most painful, stressful, gut-wrenching experiences we ever endure. Human beings are terribly complex, with all of our hangups and emotional responses, our needs and wants, our selfishness…

There’s an awful lot going with every last one of us.

This stuff gets even muddier when we try to mix two people together. Suddenly, all of those shortcomings and personality traits have to coexist with another person – who is just as full of individuality as you are.

So how can you possibly make it work?

It’s simple really: if you want to be in a happy relationship, you have to be happy with YOU first.

Part of coming together and sharing yourself with another person is about what you can do to mutually improve each other’s lives. It’s about growing together and creating a sum that is greater than the parts. But if one (or both) of the people involved are unhappy with themselves, their station in life, their notion of self-worth, then the opposite is likely to happen, and people will drag each other down.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with an unhappy person you know this is true. Unhappy people (though it isn’t necessarily their fault) probably won’t want to seek out new experiences to share, or be supportive when you need it most, or even be able to enjoy your company because of the shroud they live beneath.

To be able to contribute the happiness of another person, you first have to be able to own your own happiness. If you aren’t happy with your body or personality, how will you feel about another person being attracted to it? Will you even be able to believe the compliments they give you?

I’m not suggesting that you have to be perfect, or that you need to exorcise all of your demons before you even think about a relationship. I’m saying that if you want to find joy with another person, you first have to know how to find joy on your own – or at least be on the lookout.

Positivity tends to breed positivity, and vice versa. A person with an optimistic worldview is going to help others, support others, and look to the world with open arms. People struggling with unhappiness, however, tend to close themselves off, to feel distrusting of the world, to find the bad in everything. Which seems like a more capable partner?

Happiness doesn’t come from other people. It has to start within first, and only when that inner happiness begins to grow, can we effectively share it with someone else.

Even if you’re already in a relationship, look to build your own happiness first. The happier you are as an individual, the greater your contributions will be to the relationship. Problems are easier to solve, setbacks are less stressful, and you’ll both be able to lift each other up, not drag each other down.