“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

I was talking to a buddy of mine who is in an unfulfilling relationship recently. Actually, it’s pretty terrible. There’s simply no other way to put it. He’s a great guy, but the woman who he has consciously decided to couple up with is pretty much one of the most toxic individuals I’ve ever met.

He knows this.

Anyway, he let me know his girlfriend has a huge problem with our friendship, his best female friend of more than 10 years, and basically any woman he talks to and is friends with. Mind you, he and I have been cool for a few years now and there is definitely nothing shaking other than our heads at each other when we say something silly.

His woman’s very baseless accusations – because that’s what they are – come as no surprise, despite us only talking maybe two or three times per week and seeing each other at a much lower frequency. Our friendship is just one “problem” on her long list of issues with my friend, like “being too close to a female,” not reminding her to pay her bills, and his lack of “complaining” about their relationship because in her mind, complaining shows that you’re “in love.” In short, everything is his fault.

Needless to say, my friend stays because he “loves her,” “ain’t getting any younger” and feels that he may end up “with someone worse” – you know, for all of the wrong reasons.

And his dysfunction, for lack of a better word, is justifying his immobility.

No matter how good of a man or woman we are, we each have at least one or two psychological flaws that affect our love life. A dysfunction is often disguised as a form of protection, but it feeds the chaotic parts of our beings and plays on our fears. It is that need for chaos – even the smallest bit of pettiness and drama – that we’ve been conditioned to “require” to validate someone’s feelings for us.

And it can vary in seriousness depending on our childhood and past experiences.

An example of a dysfunction would be jealously and possessiveness. If some form of it isn’t displayed, many people believe their partner doesn’t really care about them. And if someone isn’t going bats***t crazy over them, they falsely believe their partner is not invested in the relationship.

But that isn’t love; it’s ownership.

Like many of us (yes I’ve been there too), my friend is confusing his girlfriend’s actions with love, when in actuality it’s control, insecurity and manipulation. And he is feeding his dysfunction instead of his heart.

If you are concerned about finding love, you must first recognize what it really is. Love isn’t abuse of any kind. It is not selfishness and it doesn’t rely on mind games, guilt tripping or any other tactic of manipulation for survival. But one will never know that until they work to discover their flaws.

In order to willingly expose yourself to true love, you must figure out why you are drawn to actions, thoughts, words, deeds and people who represent the total opposite. Why do you put up with and/or engage in constant arguing/verbal abuse? What is it that makes you attract needy, dependent people? What makes you settle for people who can only half love you? Taking time to not only recognize your dysfunction, but also starve it, will put you on the correct path to attaining real love and keeping it.

After you figure out your challenges, the next step is to access how deep your dysfunction is, and whether or not you can eliminate it on your own, or with professional help. Often, negative patterns have had years to develop, so there’s no need to be ashamed if you cannot do it alone.

It’s hard to look at yourself wholeheartedly. Even those who admit that they are “jacked up” do so without a desire for correction. “Love me how I am.” “This is me.” “It is what it is.” We constantly make excuses for our shortcomings instead of taking ownership, and as a result, we do not improve. I’m not suggesting that you aim for perfection, but an attitude of defeat, arrogance or narcissism will not serve you well either.

When you finally decide to exercise the practice of self-awareness, it will be uncomfortable, dirty and downright scary. After all, change always comes with a level of anxiety and uncertainty. But you won’t get much by remaining the same. There is nothing beautiful about initially confronting the ugly parts of yourself, but the reward is worth it. And trust me, your heart and future mate will thank you for it.