Many years ago, when I was a kindergartner, I had an assignment in class to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grow up.

I drew a picture of me, a hubby, and a kid in my hand, in a store. My sentence was “I want a family and to be a storekeeper.” Imagine that: at five years old, I envisioned two things: partnership and entrepreneurship. Being a partner. Being a woman in business. Can a woman be successful and content in those two areas simultaneously? In my book, CEO of My Soul, this is a question I address.

For me, I’ve recently gotten it right.

My business partner of more than three years and I are engaged. I know it’s a cliché, but he really is my best friend and a truly amazing human being. But trust me, my friend, I’ve also gotten it wrong. Like really wrong. A few times. (Read the book for more on that…) So, while I’m always leery of the “Five Keys to a Successful Relationship” and “You CAN Have it All” articles we see all over social media, I have learned many lessons from my failures and successes, and I want to share them with you.

My general thesis would be: “Love God. Love Yourself. Love Others… In That Order.”

When you are out of order, it’s very difficult to have success in relationships, careers, or life, in my humble opinion. I’ll explain.

Love and Trust God. It’s a very simple principle, really. However, maybe I should also add “let God love you.” This is very important—being able to receive and understand what true love should feel like. Unconditional. Nonjudgmental. Compassionate. Not shaming. When you are connected to a higher source of power and love, it creates a wonderful framework for your life. You can understand how to love yourself and by default, how others should love you as well.

Love Yourself. Self-care is your priority and responsibility. I do believe we are conditioned, especially as young girls, to be caretakers. However, we are not encouraged to understand ourselves first. When are we ever taught to be the caretaker of our own minds, hearts, bodies, and souls? In fact, we are often made to feel guilty for prioritizing our well-being over our partner, family, friends, and community. In my case, I believed security and love were external goals—if I could just be nice/smart/good/pretty/etc. enough, I’d find the right man who would love me enough and then I’d be happy. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I was “out of order.” Simply put, I later learned that I was already enough. When I worked on my relationship with God and understood what unconditional love was, it gave me a blueprint for how to treat myself better.

Love Others. Now, we can talk about relationships. Because if you don’t understand yourself and have true unconditional love principles in place for yourself, how can you even begin a healthy relationship with another? When I made relationships a priority over my faith and over my self-love and acceptance, I kept screwing up. I made having a relationship a checklist item, a goal. In the process, I also made my happiness someone else’s responsibility. No Bueno. However, when I reprioritized these things, I found a person who embodies the love that God and I have…for me. Those “love standards” I have for myself, he also possesses.

I created a survey and asked self-identified “happy” partners to share the factors that contribute to their successful relationships. Here were some of the responses:

  • Putting God first
  • Trust and forgiveness
  • Flexibility
  • Be nurturing to one another
  • Ability to listen and change
  • Humor and laughter
  • Communication and respect
  • Commitment and devotion
  • Encourage one another to be the best version of themselves
  • Unconditional love and acceptance

I looked at each of the people who responded to the question. I’ve known some of them since I was a very young girl, while some are colleagues and friends who I’ve met as an adult. All of them, however, have left a loving impression on me that they have healthy relationship with themselves too, and I believe that it contributes to the quality of their marriage and who they ultimately selected to share their lives with.