Since it’s the month of love, I was inspired to explore what makes a relationship good and what can tank a relationship faster than Cupid can reload his bow.
What makes me an expert?
But I have been fortunate enough to witness some amazing, long lasting relationships in my life. My grandparents have been married over 60 years and my parents have been married over 30.
I wanted what they have, so I paid attention. I took all of their advice to heart, although, I updated some of it for the 21st century. I’ve also paid attention to the people who didn’t make it. I saw what actions resulted in crumbling trust and ended up tearing them apart.
Now, I’m married to an amazing human who I have been with almost 7 years. There have been good times and bad, but we’ve created a strong relationship that can weather anything.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Drop False Expectations
Rom coms have done us all SO dirty!
At times, I’ve been guilty of believing relationships should be all rose petals and carriage rides, and that any transgressions should be balanced by grand gestures. And of course, have a sappy pop song swelling in the background to punctuate the intensity of the moment.
But then I came to my senses.
Sadly, I’ve witnessed some people try to bring some of this rom com magic into the real world through social media. They gush about their partner, trying to make the world believe they are #relationshipgoals.
Not every moment of your relationship can be fit for the big screen or even the small screen in your hand. Real relationships include fights, mundane conversations about logistics and finances, witnessing the other person puke their guts out with the flu, sharing embarrassing moments, and long silences.
Both of you have flaws and will make mistakes, sometimes big ones. Getting through it all requires patience and empathy.
If you think any person on this planet can be your dream girl or guy, reality is going to slap you in the face real quick.
2. Talk About the Hard Stuff
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a natural born talker. I feel like a giant exposed nerve when I have to talk about my feelings. I’d rather journal everything in a book that no one will ever see.
Thankfully, when I shut down, my husband reminds me of the importance of talking our problems out. We’ve built up an incredible trust over the years, and I know I can talk to him about anything.
Telling him about my mental health problems that had reached an apex the year before we got together was damn hard. But he understood better than I could have imagined. He has proven over and over that I should always give him the benefit of the doubt with information that makes me uncomfortable.
I hope I live up to this for him too.
Since the beginning, we’ve gotten through family problems, horrible miscommunications, and bumps in our relationship that had me scared for our future together. But each time, we sat down and worked out how we could make it better.
When you feel yourself getting serious with someone, bring up the hard stuff like whether you want kids, or want to get married, or dream of moving across the world.
Sometimes the other person will surprise you in the best way, and sometimes you’ll learn that you’re not as compatible as you thought. Either way, it’s important to figure it out as early as you can…if you plan to get serious. If you don’t want something serious, you should talk about that too.
3. Don’t Fight Dirty
I’m a younger sibling by 3.5 years. And as such, there were times growing up when I couldn’t physically defend myself against my sister. So instead, I learned to fight with words. I learned to assess people’s insecurities and how to exploit them.
I’ve spent my adult life unlearning this habit, but there are times when I slip up. The few times I’ve gone into defense mode with my husband are some of the biggest regrets I have.
When you hurt, logic goes out the window. You just want to make the other person hurt in any way possible. But when you feel it coming on, explain that you need a break. Walk away, catch your breath, and let your faculties return before you keep going.
If you get into the habit of fighting dirty in your relationship, I promise it won’t survive. My sister is stuck to me by blood, but a partner can leave whenever they want.
4. Keep Private Stuff Private
The people trying to make you believe their relationship is perfect aren’t the only ones making waves on social media. There are also a whole bunch of people who WAY overshare.
They’ll tell you about every little transgression their partner makes.
I think they do this for a few subconscious reasons:
- They feel in control of the narrative if they’re the one to spread it (i.e. can paint the other person as the bad guy and themselves as the victim).
- They use public shaming as a means of controlling their partner’s future actions.
- They think of social media as their private space to vent rather than the very public forum it is.
If you’re the kind of person who does this, think very carefully about whether any of these reasons rings true for you and WORK ON IT. There is no excuse for this kind of behaviour. It dissolves trust faster than about anything I can think of other than cheating.
Similarly, don’t confide in close family and friends about what your partner does wrong. I made this mistake early on and it tainted the image my family had of my now husband.
They ended up making unfair assumptions that were very hard to shake, and it caused unnecessary fights between us.
Whatever your issue, take it up with your partner and your partner alone. (See tip 2).
5. Set Boundaries, But Let Go of Control
At the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I had a few long talks about what we were comfortable with the other person doing and what we weren’t.
For instance, neither of us is particularly comfortable with PDA, so neither of us will force the other into this uncomfortable situation. Other people love it, but it’s just not us.
As a result of hammering out our boundaries early on, we have an incredibly strong level of trust. I know what he’s all about, so I’ve never had an urge to check his phone or validate his story in some way.
However, be careful that setting boundaries doesn’t bleed into one person trying to control the other.
No word of a lie, I knew a girl who used tracking software to make sure her boyfriend’s story was always truthful…he had no idea.
Neither of us would tell the other person where they could go, who they could see, or what they could do with their own body. That would just cross way too many lines.
If there was an issue with one of these things, we would talk it out.
6. Be Your Own Person
A really unfortunate (but all to common) idea that I’ve been guilty of believing in the past is that finding the right person can solve your problems and make you happy. This is unbelievably damaging and dangerous.
No one can complete you or make you feel happy if you’re not.
I found the love of my life, and guess what, none of the problems or insecurities I had before we met mystically disappeared. I was the same miserable person, but in love.
It’s taken a lot of self reflection and hard work to find the combination of things that make me feel fulfilled. And sure, my husband is part of that, cause he’s my best friend, but he’s not the structure that props me up as a person.
Don’t be afraid to explore your friendships and interests outside of the relationship. Spend time apart. Find people who share some of your hobbies that your partner doesn’t.
Work at being a developed person with strong opinions who happens to love another person.
7. Make Sure You Share Values
Doing your own thing and being your own person is amazing. In fact, my husband and I share very few interests, so catching the other up on what we’ve been doing gives us something fun to talk about and helps keep things fresh.
But what’s even more important is the stuff that you share. Not the surface-level ‘love of Game of Thrones’ type stuff, but the values that make you who you are.
My husband and I both deeply value family, our close friendships, hard work, living with humour, mutual respect, being adventurous…
It doesn’t matter what your core values are. No judgement. It just matters that whatever they are they match up with the person you decide to work on a long-term relationship with.
There is no compromising what makes you who you are, and trying to force someone who doesn’t believe what you hold sacred into the mold that fits you will never work.
8. Know You Are Just as Valuable On Your Own
Before I met my husband, I was single for a long time. A LONG time.
Sure, I went on dates here and there, but I never found anyone I really meshed with. And I started to think I never would.
Sometimes I was ok with this, but there were times I felt desperate or unlovable. I started to imagine what it would be like to spend the rest of my life alone. I’m allergic to cats, so I didn’t even have that to look forward to.
And you know what, all of the questioning and self deprecation was a huge flippin’ waste of my time!
There is nothing wrong with being single. It doesn’t say anything about the kind of person you are or how much you’re worth. Love is messy, and complicated, and damn unpredictable.
You may meet the right person tomorrow or when you’re 65. There’s no telling. And because of this, there’s no point in putting your life on hold until you find them.
Travel if you want. Take up the hobby you want. Go to parties, host parties, and find out what makes you love life.
There is a certain freedom in singledom that you should spend time enjoying before you find the person you want to settle down with. So loosen up and go get it!
There were a few other things I wanted to include in this blog, but it was getting LOOOOOOONG. So let’s take the discussion into the comments. Let me know your #1 relationship rule!
See you next week, but until then, good luck choosing to make life a little better!