“I can’t believe you’ve been with your boyfriend for five years!” I get that quite often from friends and family and even I find it surprising sometimes that I’ve managed to stay in a committed and stable relationship with a partner I can trust, communicate with and love in my own way for half a decade. This is even with our different backgrounds, upbringing, “stage in life” and even to some degree value systems (this is a big shocker to most), how have we stayed together for this amount of time?
Didn’t I have my doubts? How did I know if I should continue to stay with him? I still have these questions (I am only human), the only difference is, I try not to let the “question marks” direct my life. I ponder the answers to these questions very often, but I go back to my core about why I am in a relationship anyway: I am here because I chose to be. My decision, not circumstantial.
Seeing that many people often ask me how have we kept things together during this time, I thought I would share 5 things I have learnt in the past 5 years of my relationship that really helped stabilise it. I cannot prophesize and I surely can’t tell the future, so I won’t know if these are things that keep a relationship strong and stable in say 10 years or 20. I can’t vouch that these 5 things I learnt will see me married and that it will keep me married. What I have learnt has helped us stay together as a couple living together and seeing each other on a daily basis. That is it. Take what you can from what I’ve learnt. I imagine there’s more to just these 5, but these were the ones I found most impactful.
1. Understanding that Change Happens Constantly
Will you be the same person two years from now? The chances are, the answer will be “no”.
It’s not about how different we become that separates us, but how we perceive those changes.
Whoever ends a relationship because “my partner changed” or “we became different people” isn’t just leaving because their partner has transformed into a completely different person under their noses.
One thing I’ve realised is that I may not be comfortable with change, but I can acknowledge it is happening and does happen. Then I can decide how I deal with it. People don’t “change” overnight. People don’t wake up suddenly one day and become this stranger in your bed. What makes it feel like such a crazy difference? Denial.
If I acknowledge every single day that my partner is never going to stay the exact same person I knew when I first met him, I can learn to embrace him each tiny step of the way. I also will be able to keep my expectations (unrealistic or not) in check. I can learn to communicate with him about my discomfort and I can also be responsible for my reaction towards those changes. If I acknowledge, I take a different route from sweeping things under the carpet. I give my relationship I shot at growing along with those changes. If I keep telling myself, “it’s nothing”, “it doesn’t matter”, it is no wonder I may wake up one day and find myself lost and alone in a relationship. And how is it going to work for your partner if denial becomes a central theme in the relationship?
I can still love someone as they grow and move in their life. They can still love me as they discover that I have a new way of looking at things or form new habits. Some things I may like, other things I may not but first things first though, before acceptance comes into the picture, am I aware of the changes and am I acknowledging them?
How do you know where you can go from here if you first don’t honestly look at where you’re at? This applies in my professional life and it most definitely does as well in my personal life.
2. Realising that Adding Value to my Other Half adds Value to Mine
We never fully understand the beauty and joy of giving until we do it wholeheartedly.
A relationship is built on many things, but I am sure we can agree, nothing can be built if we focus only on what benefits ourselves most and not our partner.
The ability to add value to my other half’s life makes an imprint on mine. I discovered time and again that when I let go of my fear of rejection, when I say, I am doing this because I believe in us, I am going to support him because I know it’s going to make him so much better, time and again, no matter if the initial gesture was rejected or accepted, if I kept strong to this, we created a relationship that was open to change and most importantly, open to loving.
There are times when the goodwill may be rejected, or the way I communicate my support may sound condescending and that may be construed differently from what I intended. If the outcome wasn’t what I wanted, I had to take a step back and really think of a new way to convey that without letting hurt from the rejection mar any further communication efforts. Continue on, but choose differently. At the end of the day, taking the time to connect with why it is important to me to have said what I did and give the advice I did, helps me work on the relationship from a different angle. If it was all for the benefit of my partner, being able to remember this as much as possible helps me move on and gain the trust from my other half.
It is not going to be easy to always add value without expectations. This means not expecting that he thank me, not expecting that he appreciates it at first go, not expecting that he WILL take that and change the way he does what he does, but really continuously being a pillar of support in whatever way possible. (There is anyway, not just one way.)
3. Remembering this: “Don’t Give Me The Problem, Give Me a Solution.”
Outcome has everything to do with intention.
Repeat this mantra when falling into “accusation” mode.
If there is one thing I learnt and am constantly being reminded of in my relationship, it is to work on a solution instead of harping on a problem. This links to the previous point.
I often shift into “Oh my god, why did you do that?” mode now and then instead of “Okay, let’s find you a way out of this jam.” whenever The F Man comes to me for advice. The natural instinct for me is to wonder why the mistake was made and thats alright. I’m not saying that it’s like wrong and I need to be perfect and constantly be nothing but a solution machine. Its okay to go into the “Oh my God” first, but I should also note if I am stuck there and if it’s time to go on and provide the support by looking together for a solution.
No one wants to be faced with a problem after all and have nothing but “finger pointing” and “I told you so” in their face. I definitely wouldn’t want that either when I make a mistake.
We both remind each other of when we go into “accusation” mode and then we make our next steps from there.
4. Accepting that a Relationship Doesn’t have to Fulfill My Every Need
“Better” is just subjective and a matter of perspective.
I may want “Mr Perfect” who loves writing, exploring the world (every part, not just the parts he likes), be physically fit and join me for runs, and the list goes on, but come on now, a relationship isn’t made to fulfill my every need. Similarly, he may dream of a “Girlfriend Charming” who has a face like Alba and body like Upton, speaks with him on the same intellectual level and likes gaming, but that is just wishful thinking.
Relationships are not about finding someone who fulfills our own needs. A relationship is just “a state of being connected” (Got this definition from the Oxford Dictionary online, so it’s not just a figure of speech, FYI). Can you be connected to someone even if they are not perfect?
Could there be better out there? Yes.
But could there be perfection? No.
This is something we are clear with, but we never go further to ask ourselves when will we be content with what exists if we are always on the lookout for something better? What will be enough?
Relationship graveyards are really filled with broken relationships filled with unrealistic expectations… We are living in a new world. We now realise how “small” the world is and how much choice we now have. It is a real test to say, I have chosen this and I will stick with this, no matter what it takes. It is a big challenge now to know how great the world is and admitting to ourselves that the best that we can have is really what we already have and how it gets from good to great is how we choose to experience it.
5. Having Standards and a Line That We Chose Not To Cross
I can’t be manipulated when I am confident and trusting enough to say no.
I had a pretty deep conversation (as my joker boyfriend would say, “so deep you can even find gold”) just a few weeks ago on a conflict I experienced. My boyfriend surprised me with these words of wisdom:
“How come you’re allowing yourself to be manipulated? Have you ever thought about why I can’t manipulate you even if I tried? How come you can say no to me, but not to someone else?”
I was flabbergasted and for the first time in this relationship, I was honestly stumped and couldn’t answer, but he really went on to further amaze me with his maturity.
“It’s because in our relationship, we have standards. There’s a line that we can choose not to cross and we don’t.”
We clearly know we can manipulate each other if we want to, but we trust each other not to and we don’t. We can say no when we really feel it is time to say no and we mutually respect each other enough to accept it. We live each day with each other remembering we want the best we can for each other and the relationship.
I mean, think about it. Why do people choose to manipulate someone else? At the end of the day, it is usually for leverage, to elevate their position and strength in a relationship. It’s really political if you think about it. If someone comes up on top, someone has to be at the bottom. In a loving relationship with two equals, is there a need to be (or appear to be) the “better” half?
A relationship is so humbling for me because no matter how “smart” I think I am, my partner and this relationship never fails to teach me something new about myself and others. It is an amazing teacher. So many times, my boyfriend was the one who lent me clarity in times of crisis and I too have done the same for him. I can only imagine for now what marriage and in turn having children will be like. I’m sure those experiences will bring lessons and even more opportunities to learn if I so please to be taught.