5 Things I Learnt in 5 Years That Stabilised My Relationship

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“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. 

6 Responses to 5 Things I Learnt in 5 Years That Stabilised My Relationship

  1. xiaoel April 17, 2015 at 12:02 am #

    liked your post! it reminded me a lot of what I think about too! I’m dating someone from China although I am from India and that brings even more questions into the relationship!

    • Carrie April 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

      Thank you! 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed reading this piece.

      At the end of the day, it’s really about intention and commitment. All the best to you and your significant other!

  2. Dannie April 29, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    This is absolutely true. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 God bless you and your relationship.

    • Carrie June 2, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

      Thank you Dannie! God bless you as well! <3

  3. Jess June 3, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    I really like your post. But I have a question regarding my situation and hope you can give me some suggestions. My boyfriend told me he cared me as a person and didn’t know much love for me anymore after 4 years relationship. He said it wouldn’t work out because he maybe changing and maybe he wanted to be alone and to have a freedom not in a relationship anymore. Also, we hurt each other throughout in our relationship and he lost trust from me. I just can’t understand the way he thinks. But then he said he would try to work out for another 6-month to see how we are doing and he wants to try to understand how he feels(I feel like he’s very selfish because all he thinks is himself). I don’t know if it’s worth to keep trying. we already struggled for 6-month trying out but he didn’t really open himself to be honest with me and put in an effort. On the other hand, I have still been in love with him. I don’t know what to do? Thank you!

    • Carrie June 5, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

      Hi Jess, thank you for taking the time to read this post and reach out. Before I share anything further, I would like to say that I empathise with you even if I do not know you personally or understand what exactly has happened in your relationship. It is very easy for an “outsider” like myself to come to you with advice that may be ill-advised because I simply am not you and your boyfriend. In a relationship, what anyone thinks is less important than how you and your boyfriend decide to move forward. Life is just that incredible and there are just too many variables that make things the way they are in relationships and friendships.

      But just to lend you some context on how I got here to this point with my boyfriend, I’m happy to share some reflections from what happened in my past relationships.

      I realise that a lot of the time, it was not just my other half being insensitive and selfish, but I was more intent on protecting myself from being hurt. It’s difficult to put into words, but looking back, I think the main reason I never had the level of trust in my exes as I do now with my boyfriend, is because I was too worried about whether I was “good enough” and I projected this onto my exes. While they did things that I felt hurt me, it only was made worse by the nagging feeling that they would one day leave me because they would find me “unsuitable”, “not pretty enough”, “not open minded enough”, “too boring”, “too serious”… The list can go on. The worst thought I had was that there were these other women out there and I worried incessantly about when they would leave me. (In short, I was kinda saying to myself that I wasn’t good enough either.)

      The problem here was that I had such a strong belief that I had to fulfil a certain criteria to deserve love and even after fulfilling a criteria, that love had to be shown in the exact way I wanted in order for it to be “love”. (E.g. He should spend more time with me than his friends. He should be responsible enough to let me know where he is. He should not be talking to girls asking them for their numbers – even if its for a friend. The list goes on. If he doesn’t, it means he doesn’t love me… enough. Wow, see what I did to myself and my exes there. Me not being good enough got projected onto them as them never loving me enough.)

      With all that said, I was clearly not in the best state to be in a relationship anyway and I was not even aware of my own feelings enough to work things out responsibly and calmly or to make a good decision for myself. Eventually, my exes would initiate a break up because I was not courageous enough to accept that perhaps things had run its course and it was time for me to grow. I am a person who insists on “staying”, but stubbornly staying without a game plan and just hoping things fix themselves with time is practically just waiting for things to fall apart.

      As you can tell, I am avoiding mentioning what my exes did “wrong” that led to the eventual demise of each relationship because that is really besides the point. I realise now that when I doubt that I am worthy of being loved and respected, it is more important to find out why this is so than to hold onto a relationship that isn’t working for me. How come?

      I did many things to “find myself” as cliche as it sounds – find new hobbies, date different people (I always joke that I learnt better than to date the same “type” of person), meet new friends, be spontaneous, surround myself with friends I love, but I accept was a process of me finding my own footing and sense of self. Eventually as I grew with confidence, I accepted that I was worth being loved just because I am me, that there are wonderful qualities I have that make me “enough” and even the flaws, that I will work on, all of me is always “enough”.

      Today, a common joke I have with my boyfriend is, “You don’t like this? Okay, then you are free to find the perfect person and if you do, I’m happy to let you both be together, because who am I to stop you from finding that person if she exists!”

      The only reason this is a joke and not a threat is because we both agree and accept that the best we can ever have is right in front of us and it’s much more effective to work on what we have. Also, because I now have the confidence in myself as a woman, partner and friend, that I am worth the effort it takes to maintain our relationship, there are less “opportunities” for friction. Of course, I do have to keep my insecurities in check but I will never, never be afraid to call my other half out when I am unhappy. I know that we WILL work it out and I CAN do that – in a firm but kind way, so long as I always have OUR best interest at heart and not just my own security. I believe he also feels my intention and he too calls me out in a firm but kind way in order to better our relationship. It has not always been this way, but we have grown together in the past few years. I stop myself if I ever have thoughts that he is only doing what he is doing for his own benefit and not mine. I believe in him and in us that we have OUR best interests always at heart.

      All I can say is, the foundation and mutual understanding between two parties is so so important, but before I found The F Man (my boyfriend), I had already found my footing as “Carrie” and that set the tone when I committed to being with him.

      I KNEW what I needed and what I wanted in a relationship and I was sure to date people, to see if they would be a fit, but I only seriously committed to the person I felt could handle the pressure of STAYING committed in a long-term relationship. Most people would think I “got lucky”. I like to think that I also had a hand to play in making sure that when “luck” opened doors, I made sure I walked through the RIGHT one for me. 🙂

      Oh! One last thing. You always have a choice, Jess. You have a choice to stay or to go. You have a choice to ask questions. You have a choice to stay quiet. Every action, decision and reaction, those are choices you hold the power to make. No one, not even circumstance can force you into making a decision. Even not making one, is a decision in itself if you think about it. We always make what we FEEL are the BEST decisions. Whether the outcome is what we HOPED for… Well, that’s a different story. You are a powerful, loving and confident woman. Even if you can’t connect with her right now and I do hope that whatever happens next, you’ll find her within you in every decision.

      I don’t know if this helped, but please feel free to email me at contact@carriesim.com. I’ll be happy to chat a bit more if you ever need a listening ear… and a dose of realism (I am unfortunately quite the party pooper and realist).

      All the best and with love and light,
      Carrie

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