Wednesday is my wedding anniversary – 15 years. I find that hard to grasp, maybe because most days I feel about 12.
But also, it’s a long time, right? A long time to be in this intimate, intense situation with the same person.
So I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learned. And because it’s been 15 years, I’ve come up with 15 relationship lessons. Of course.
I’m not saying these observations are true, whatever that means. I’m not saying they apply to everybody. But they’ve helped me navigate the relationship seas in all kinds of weather. And not just marriage, but friendship too.
Let me know what you think…
1. Talking is not always a good idea
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a girl or because I’m analytical or because I love words, but I do like to articulate. I have a theory on pretty much every topic and I like nothing better than to pour some wine and discuss the crap out of everything.
But, shockingly, not everyone does. This revelation has come to me rather late in life, this idea that not everyone loves a good debrief.
And when you’re going through a tough time, talking can make it worse. Not everything has to be said. Sometimes buttoning your lips is good.
2. People show love in different ways
It can take a lot of pressure off if you learn to recognize their way of showing love.
Maybe they do stuff for you, or say nice things, or show affection. It might not be the way you would ideally love to be loved, but seeing it for what it is also feels good.
3. Letting things go is the only way to stay sane
At the start of a relationship we think everything will be perfect. And in one of the infinite, parallel universes out there, it probably is. But not this one.
They aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect. Let things go and hopefully they’ll return the favor. Which means less stress all around.
4. Tears are not your friends when arguing
I know it’s hard not to cry if you’re mid-argument and you’re incredibly frustrated, or hurt, or angry. But tears make it hard to keep the focus on the discussion at hand.
It can become about comforting you. It can be unfair to the other person. It can seem – and I’m not saying this is intentional – manipulative.
As much as you can, keep the focus on the issue and keep it together. You can go cry into a packet of Tim Tams later.
5. Rationality is worth the discipline/effort
Don’t give in to drama, hysterics, or (my personal fave) histrionics.
It may give you the short-term advantage in an argument, but in the long term it may cost you their respect, and your own.
You won’t always succeed, but make the effort to think clearly, speak calmly, and stay mindful of other ways of seeing the situation. Cultivate rationality and it will become a habit. A valuable one.
6. You have to take responsibility for your own happiness
Expecting other people to make you happy is too much pressure for them, and a recipe for disappointment for you.
Taking responsibility for your own experience of life lets you enjoy people without leaning on them so much.
You might have to tell your partner exactly what you want for your birthday instead of expecting them to remember that you obliquely alluded to it three months ago. You may need to go to the theater with a friend rather than haranguing your partner and then rebuking them for nodding off before the curtain is all the way up.
But when you do, you’ll find happiness is much easier when it doesn’t involve hoping and wishing and praying people would do what you wanted them to.
7. Putting all your emotional eggs in one basket can make you a basket case
You need to diversify your love, to spread your emotional capital around a bit.
It helps you get through the inevitable bad patches in your relationship if you’ve made time for other people – friends, family, colleagues. They’ll be there for you (when the rain starts to pour).
And it makes you way more attractive to your partner if you’re not a giant clod of neediness.
8. Sex makes up for a lot
Sex creates intimacy. It gives you secret stuff together. It feels good.
Nike says it best: Just do it. But maybe not while wearing the Nikes.
9. Your battles will pick themselves if you let them
Let little things go. Let medium-sized things go too, if you can.
But if something keeps coming up for you, time after time, or starts leaking out into snide comments or passive-aggressive behaviors, then you probably need to speak up.
Big issues may need big conversations.
Sometimes, though, the conversation just has to be, ‘I’m not asking you to change this, but I need to tell you that [whatever] is bugging the crap out of me.’ Owning it can be empowering.
If you don’t insist they change, they might be happy to. But don’t expect it.
10. If you want the truth, be prepared for it to hurt
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand the truth and then be grossly offended when the answer sucks the big one.
If you ask, ‘Do I look fat in this’, then be prepared to hear ‘Uh, yeah’. You’re a grown-up. You can take it.
If what you really want is reassurance, then take responsibility for yourself and say, ‘I’m feeling fat/unattractive/blah and I want you to please tell me I look great”.
Anything else is unfair.
11. Humor is relationship lubricant
If you can make each other laugh, you’ll oil the hinges of your relationship and reduce friction. With a vocabulary of humor, you can defuse tension with a joke or funny comment.
Being silly together strengthens the bond between you, too. It’s like the five-year-old in you has its own relationship with the five-year-old in them.
When things are good, take every opportunity to laugh together.
12. Friends who always take your side are not the only friends you should have
Yes you want your friends to be your cheerleaders and your support network.
But you also need friends who can give you another perspective about your relationship when needed. Friends who help you see The Other Side of the argument. (The what now? you say. Oh you are funny.)
If your friends are always happy to be the chorus in your ’97 Reasons Why My Partner Sucks’ stage show, then you need a more varied cast.
13. Keeping yourself nice is essential
No matter how secure you feel in the relationship, no matter how much they say they’ll love you regardless of how you look, don’t let yourself go.
Dress well, get a good haircut, work out, be a foxy treat.
No one wants to be loved in spite of the way they look. Make the most of what your mamma gave ya. Feel good about yourself. The less you’re insecure about yourself, the more you’re emotionally available to others.
14. You have to be an individual before you can be part of a (happy) couple
Spend time alone, have your own opinions, read the books you want, watch the movies you like, hang with your own friends.
I’m not suggesting you act deliberately contrary, but don’t force yourself into a couple-shaped package and cut off the bits that don’t fit.
Compromise, show respect, be considerate. But stay you. Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else, as Judy Garland so beautifully put it. You are the only unique thing you have.
15. Marriage is way hard
Not everything challenging is worth having, but many things worth having are annoyingly difficult.
The stuff I value most in life – having great relationships, doing something I find meaningful, running a business, staying fit and healthy – they all take a slightly ridiculous amount of work.
Maybe it’s human nature to take easy things for granted. Maybe we’re wired to need a struggle. Maybe entropy makes us all Sisyphus, eternally pushing our boulders up the hill.
Relationships aren’t always this way: as Stevie Nicks says, sometimes it’s a bitch, sometime it’s a dream. And we need to be prepared that sometimes it really is a total, freakin bitch.
But when it’s not, we can sit back… and enjoy the dream.
Over To You…
Disagree with me? Got more things I’ve missed?
Please tell me about it in the comments!![Image by aussiegall]