Last week I focused on learning to love yourself. And I truly believe that learning to love yourself is essential in being able to give love back to others. Whether those others are your friends, your family, your boyfriend, spouse, or partner. When we learn to accept ourselves for who we are, it adds positivity to our lives and attracts positive experiences and people.
Relationships are not always easy to maintain. Friends come and go, romantic partners come and go, and sometimes marriages fail. To maintain any relationship, romantic or not, it does take work, dedication, risk at times, sacrifice, and understanding. It can be challenging but also fun. Being able to look back on the growth of a relationship should be something you can see as success.
My husband and I started dating during the summer before my senior year. He graduated three years before me from the same high school, so we knew one another. From the moment he professed his liking of me (all over AOL instant messenger–R.I.P by the way) we were pretty much inseparable. I attended college locally, so we experienced my whole college career together, and eventually made the big step of moving in together my Sophomore year. We were engaged in 2005 and later married in August 2007. It was, still to this day, my favorite wedding ever. Not that I am biased or anything.
The following spring I graduated from college. And later that fall, he went back to school. I look back on this and think “wow, look at everything we did!” I look back on how we planned this wedding on top of my schooling and both of us working, navigating living on our own, and paying for the wedding mostly out of our own pockets. I honestly don’t know how we managed to do it all, but I think taking our time on it and waiting two years to marry also helped keep us from losing our minds.
Working as a team, this is a common theme in our marriage and relationship specifically. He’ll probably tell you that sometimes I’m not always a team player (I admit it, I can be stubborn especially if I’m set on something), but for the most part, I’d say we work together and compliment each other very well. It’s not that we knew how to do that when we first got together, but its something we have learned together, and still learn how to improve upon.
I’m not a relationship expert by ANY means, however when we tell people that we’ve been together for almost 17 years, we get the reaction of “that’s a long time!” and the question of “what’s your advice?”. I mean when I think about it, 17 years, that IS a long time. And married for almost twelve of those years, seems like a victory given the statistics of divorce and our generation. I feel lucky, but in reality luck has nothing to do with it, it’s all about how we work together and conquer the challenges.
My advice comes from my own experience, but I’d like to think it’s good. I’ll let you be the judge as you read my thoughts on keys to a successful relationship.
Learning to trust your partner is probably the number one piece of advice. Now, I’ll admit, I was a clingy girlfriend in the beginning. We probably spent a gross amount of time together. And to my friends who I may neglected in the beginning, I apologize if you felt this. I’ve since been on the receiving end of this from other friends in fresh relationships, but I can’t get mad, because I know for a fact that I displayed some of the same behavior.
That being said, part of wanting to be together all the time is to get to know one another, because you enjoy each other’s company, and because it’s fun! However, I’ve seen my share of relationships where the people become dependent on one another. To the point that they can’t seem to function or make decisions without the other person, or can’t bear to think of the other person doing something without them.
A lack of trust in a relationship, I feel can be extremely damaging. If you can’t trust your partner to be without you or vice versa, then you may need to step back and question why you feel this way. Is it jealously? It is lack of self-confidence on your end? For me, any sense of distrust with anyone, romantic partner or friend, there has to be a reason for this. Being able to find out why there are those feelings, will be very helpful in the long run and can help you have honest conversations with your loved one.
Before we get into the teamwork topic, let’s talk about individuality. You can still be a very strong couple when you also practice individuality. Remember how I was talking about being a clingy girlfriend in the beginning? So, when you focus so much on your relationship and significant other, it can be very easy to only see that person and revolve everything around he/she. There is a healthy dose of this and then there is a not so healthy dose of this behavior. I think it’s common and normal for early relationships to work this way. Where you both kind of lose yourself. It’s fun, you’re exploring the other person’s ways, and figuring out what works for you as a couple.
When this becomes unhealthy behavior, is when you start participating in things that make YOU happy and feeling alive. When you revolve yourself around other people’s lives too much, you can start to lose sight of what truly brings you happiness. Which then can often turn into guilt when you go and do something that you enjoy.
Please, don’t do this. Settling into a cycle of monotony, I think we can all agree, is a very comfortable and easy place to land. But don’t forget to be you still and always remember who you were before. Just because you have met someone new, doesn’t mean you get to completely lose who you were before them.
Teamwork makes the dream work, right? Being an individual is just as important as working as a team. Working as a team means, listening to each other. Letting each other fight fair. Working together to find solutions to matters that you may be disagreeing upon. Being open and honest. And communicating as much as possible.
A strong line of communication will make teamwork successful in any relationship. Yes, sometimes things are hard to bring up and talk about, and it seems easiest to just let them pass. However, if there is an issue that needs to be discussed, it will not likely just go away forever just by ignoring it.
Teamwork also goes well beyond communication. It’s making sure you’re equally taking responsibility for chores, daily tasks, etc. Speaking on behalf of women only (guys, feel free to comment), it’s really easy to take on a lot of the household chores and duties as our own. For me, it’s partially because I want it done a certain way but also because that is how it “should” be. Overall, I’d say we do work well in terms of keeping things fair and have a good system. However, guys and gals, make sure to take a step back sometimes to realize and appreciate what your partner is doing for you, for the household, and for the family. Appreciation goes a long way.
Patience & Understanding
Patience. An ongoing challenge for me. And ongoing challenge I am willing to bet for many people. In a day and age of instant gratification, it can sure be hard to practice being patient. Patience in a relationship is key to growth. You may want your relationship to be at one point but feel stuck at another. In my experience, you just can’t rush things that are not meant to be rushed. Working together and understanding one another will help keep your patience alive and well. Allowing grace in your relationship and partner will help move things in the right direction, at the right time.
Never stop laughing. I think this may be my biggest piece of advice I give out. Jim has always made me laugh. His sense of humor was one (and still is) one of his best qualities and one that attracted me to him most.
Marriage is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are dark times that you will go through together. There may not be room for laughter all the time, but being able to pick back up on the laughter after conquering these tough times together, is extremely important and shows strength in your relationship. We have gone through some hard times in our years together, but we have always gotten back to our happy place. It’s not fun when we are holding grudges or steaming about something but just letting it brew inside of us. We want to be happy and want to keep the laughter alive. Keep the humor, keep the joy. Don’t lose any of this just because life throws you minor setbacks. There will always be those setbacks, so it is crucial to work together to learn how to make the come back from them.
There are probably a ton of other little nugget of advice that I could give. Like I stated, I’m by no means any type of relationship expert. However taking a look at my own marriage and relationship with Jim, I have learned a ton of things throughout almost 17 years. You go through the good, bad and ugly. It’s unavoidable. When you know yourself well enough as an individual, work as a team, and practice patience, understanding, and continue to laugh through life, I feel that there is no doubt happiness to be had for a lifetime.