The day after my 25th birthday, my first serious relationship ended. As a constant optimist and reflector, I was able to heal my heart slowly but surely. At first, I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but then I began to reflect on all the things I realized throughout my relationship that will help me eventually find that great love.

Many of my lessons learned are metaphors. As a previous teacher, I learned the best way to communicate was not in an attack form, but to come up with metaphors that children can easily understand.

1. A relationship is like a cake.

A relationship is like a cake, meaning that all ingredients are necessary to make a delicious cake. Just because someone may be putting in the sugar while someone is putting in the flour does not mean that one ingredient is more important than the other. Partners don’t need to be putting the same amount or the same ingredients as long as you have the same goals in mind and are contributing to those goals and the final product. In my relationship I would hear, “The golden rule is: whoever has the gold makes the rules.” My ex-boyfriend would believe he was putting in so much more than I was into the relationship because he was putting in more money. He would never see that other components were being put into the relationship. For example, for trips, he would pay more but I would do all the planning. Planning takes time and energy, but his “ingredient” always outweighed whatever I contributed. Don’t be in a relationship with someone who makes you feel that what they are contributing more because if all that was being put in the relationship was the sugar, what sort of delicious cake would you end up with?

2. Weeds will always overtake the flowers.

“Babe, I’m sorry—here are some flowers, I’m going to take you out to dinner.” When I heard this response from my ex-boyfriend the first time we had an argument, I thought it was cute. However, after reflection, I was surprised that someone who had been in a few previous relationships before me had such poor problem-solving techniques. Flowers and dinner will only put a Band-Aid on the problem or cover up those weeds in your “garden of love.” However, the same problems will keep arising if the root of the problems is not addressed. Having to pick weeds for chores as a child, I know that even when you think you got the whole weed, some of them have really deep roots. Sometimes you need two people or outside help to get to the roots of those weeds, but unless they are truly addressed, the weeds will keep overtaking your beautiful garden of flowers.

3. Love is like a tree and if you put too much emphasis on one branch, it will break.

I like to think of love as a tree and each of the branches are ways people can express their love. I am a full supporter of knowing and understanding your partner’s love language; however, I also believe that is important to express love in different ways. People may have one way they feel more loved, but if they emphasize that is the only way, then you may have to wonder what your partner’s tree of love looks like. Everyone has different experiences that have aided them in creating their definition of love, but if someone’s view of love is so shallow or one-dimensional, you may have to wonder if they truly love themselves.

4. Focus on what you can control.

What helped me get over my relationship what me thinking about my locus of control. There are only so many things I have control over in my life—other people is not one of them. You may think your love is strong enough for someone to want to make changes for, but in the end, you don’t have control over the choices other people make or the path they decide to walk down. Instead of wasting time thinking about what could have been or how life could be different if someone changed, focus your energy on the things you have control over, your career, your health and your mindsets. As Charles R. Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you choose to react to it.” What is within your control is your reaction to any life events.

5. Know when to tap out.

As a very cautious gambler, I always set a limit on the amount of money I will spend when I go to the casinos. Whether I’m on a winning streak or am losing and want to regain money, I always know where my limit is. I am very aware that even though I may want to win and put in more money to make that happen, putting in more money will not necessarily result in a win. That is how I view relationships. Many people are scared of being alone or tapping out of a relationship after they have put in so much time and energy into it already. After two years, I was feeling the same way. I have put in so much time and energy into this relationship, I owe it to myself to try to make it work. However, I quickly realized that putting in more time and energy into the pot doesn’t mean you are going to take home the winnings. You can continue putting more and more in and get farther and farther away from your desired outcome. Know what your deal breakers are in a relationship and stick to them. TC mark