A sex ed blog with more
This is a post about healthy relationships, and it will be the last post of 2013 so happy holidays, everyone!
I interviewed a number of people in various stages and kinds of relationships to learn about some struggles and what makes these relationships work. I figure that while every relationship is different, there are similarities between them. And really, almost everyone wants to have better relationships, be they platonic or romantic. So, I sent 5 questions to 8 people, and these are some of the responses I got. Most of these are long-term hetero couples, though you will see some poly answers as well. Oh, and sorry for the weird spacing – computer issues are abound!
1. How long have you been together?
a) 16 years unofficially.
4.5 years officially.
We have been next door neighbours (3 doors apart actually) at the cottage since we were kids. 5 years ago we took the leap and exchanged our neighbourly flirtatious eyes for a full on relationship.
b) 10 years, 3 months
c) Almost 4 years, married for 15 months.
d) 8 years as of July 2013
e) J and I have been dating for about two months. And D and I have been together for somewhere between 8 months and a year.
f) Married 11 years!
2. Do you live together? Why or why not?
a) We do not. Here is why. There are 2 marriage philosophies I have learned over the years. A) You can get married and then grow up or B) You can grow up and then get married. That is obviously not a SCIENCE, though we both know we are committed to do an extra dose of self-growth before we move in and eventually get married. I am in the early years of my own business and she is at the midpoint of a program to become a Naturopathic Doctor. We still want to lay some individual foundations before we move in and lay one together – was that too much of an innuendo? The anticipation to share a roof is mounting, yet we are not in a hurry. We will live together for 60ish years, so we want to set ourselves up as individuals for another year or two before becoming a full on megazord (rent-paying duo).
b) Yes. We decided to move in together 3 years ago, and have loved every minute. We were both excited to move out of our parent’s places and start a home and life together. We believe it’s helpful to learn to live together before marriage, and having done so has prepared us for all that is to come once we’ve tied the knot.
c) Yes, because that is a part of being married that we quite like.
d) We just started living together after being long distance for 4 years. For us, it was the natural next step and about damn time ;).
e) I live with neither of them as I’m still finishing school. I live with my parents because I’m very cool, and for money reasons, and because I’ll be out of the country for most of next year. So, moving out at this point would be completely impractical.
f) We moved in together when we got married; it’s a cultural thing, and it was certainly an adjustment. We were married for 6 years before we had children because we struggled to conceive. Most people actually have fertility issues but they never talk about it! It’s amazing how many people have these issues but don’t talk about it.
3. What do your disagreements look like? How do you argue?
a) They look like the scene in The Notebook (when they are beside the pick up truck, towards the end of the movie) minus the slapping and the loud screaming. I go a bit mute and become a slacker communicator. She does minor huffing and puffing out of frustration (and asthma) and sometimes gets tears on her (beautiful) eyes … because NOT seeing eye to eye makes her eyes wet. Why does it always work out in the end and lead to huge laughs and embraces? Humour. We each look for a crack in the argument to poke a little fun at one another and bring us back to reality. She might chirp me for going quiet and I might chirp her for not dating me back when she was 9. Jokes like that always bring us back.
b) It really depends on the argument. Most of the time they end really quickly. They are focused, quick and to the point. We certainly raise our voices at times. We’ve been fortunate enough to both have training in conflict resolution and mediation so we try to implement those skills into our personal arguments. For example, when we disagree, we don’t allow it to escalate to yelling, name calling, or other forms of intimidation or belittling because that’s not helpful.
When we have a conflict that needs to be addressed, we address it in person if at all possible, mostly because it’s unpleasant to be in the middle of your work day and then suddenly receive a scathing e-mail from your significant other.
We avoid phrases like, “You always” or “You never” because usually, such absolute statements aren’t true and even if they are, it’s not constructive language to use. We’ve been trained to replace those statements with “It has such and such an impact on me when you do/don’t do this”.
Also, engaging in conflict shouldn’t be about trying to win. If you are trying to manipulate your partner, your arguing is probably taking an unhealthy turn. Healthy conflict should be about both parties honestly trying to see the other person’s perspective on something and then working together to come up with something that works for both of you.
c) We often disagree because we’re bad at sharing our needs with each other. He’s more logical and reserved and I often spend too much time taking care of everything and everyone else until I get too bitter and tired to function. When we do argue, it’s often me (over) sharing and him doing his best to listen without trying to fix things right away.
d) I’d say I don’t really argue with my partners as much as we discuss a whole lot about everything which can still be highly emotional, just usually not angry emotional. Having everyone in the loop about what’s going on and how everyone is feeling is a great argument prevention tool.
e) J and I haven’t had a huge amount of time to disagree, but we’re figuring out how to communicate together particularly because we’re still getting to know each other. Usually it comes down to someone feeling uncomfortable and not feeling like they’re justified in talking about it or seeking reassurance. So, if he says something he didn’t know would make me uncomfortable, I want him to know so he hopefully won’t say it again and can understand how I felt. If he feels bad or worried because he made me uncomfortable then I want him to tell me too. I can let him know where I’m at so then he knows I’m not angry with him. Really, I think everyone wants to know that their partner will listen to their feelings particularly if the partner caused those feelings, however unintentional. When I feel heard, I feel respected and I also want him to feel heard and respected. From my experience, if you don’t talk about those small uncomfortable feelings, they tend to fester and keep bothering you and grow into something big.
D and I know that we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of stuff. She’s in a completely different part of her life than I am so we respect each other for the places we’re in and the different perspectives we have. When we disagree because of this difference in perspective, the best way forward is listening as much as possible and ensuring that in the future we can account for that difference in perspective.
f) It’s tough to say. In the beginning, we had issues: often, I would try to resolve it by apologizing when I thought I was in the wrong, but then she would angry and I would apologize for making her angry. Then I realized that it’s not fair that she never apologized for anything. So here’s what we should do:
a) Acknowledge my points
b) Meet me halfway or at least give me something, be it 10 or 20%
I like to hash it out, but she needs time to get over things and that can be tricky. We have lots of things that we have to do so we need to move on. Before kids, our arguments would last way longer. But now, the longest it lasts is half a day. It seems like the original intent for both of us is to talk about things when we’re calmer. Luckily, we’re both very logical and intellectual. The difference: she uses logic to define how she does something, but logic doesn’t always work in terms of how to be nice and how to be loving; and I’m more practical in terms of “how do we resolve this?” She makes really good points sometimes and I hate it haha
4. What makes your relationship work?
a) LACTOSE ALERT (this will seem cheesy, but it is all true because I am a cheesy guy): She is downright perfect to me, so that’s why it works.
I surround myself with photos of her because I love having her on my mind. On a more Buddhist Monk level, I reflect and read affirmations about her each morning. Weird? Perhaps. It is about one full page of handwritten notes that set me up as a patient and present partner each day. In a nutshell, it also lets me be grateful for her each day. I still can’t believe she agreed to date me and I cannot ever take her for granted.
b) We’re both really good listeners and are 100% on each others’ side when it comes to providing support in anything. We respect and admire one another.
We also just really like each other. We love being in the same room, and we could spend hours together doing absolutely nothing. We have great conversations and we laugh a lot.
c) From the day we first met, we’ve always had a deep respect for each others’ perspectives. Something that was strangely helpful was that about 10 days into our relationship, my analytical partner discovered Myers-Briggs. Using this website: http://www.personalitypage.com/high-level.html we figured out each others’ personality types and from that we could immediately see the differences in the way that we saw the world and interacted with it. Being able to see and accept these differences from the get go has really helped us maintain respect for each other and our differences throughout our relationship.
We also recognize that people need community, which means we understand that we need other people in our lives besides each other. We encourage each other to have and maintain other relationships.
We avoid complaining about each other to other people, which helps us feel like we are always on the same team.
We have built enough trust between us that we feel completely free to be naked in front of each other, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. When we’re alone, we have our own world of silliness, inside jokes, and mutual understandings of each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
Lastly, I think it’s important for couples to have projects that they work on together. Since we got married, we’ve renovated our apartment together, and we regularly cook together and volunteer together.
d) Making each other a priority and learning to respect how the other person deals with stress. While I may love him, I sometimes hate the way he shuts down emotionally, but I also have to remember that that’s what (at times) works for him. We’ve learned to ask first and not make assumptions, ever.
e) They’re both DIY! D and I have re-made our relationship more times than I can count. Those changes happened because we were at different spots than before and want different things. If we’re not feeling like something fits for us anymore then we have a snuggle and talk about it and how it could be different. We then take some time to think and change things if we think it’ll work better another way.
With J, I was already with D when my relationship with him started so the start of that relationship was a negotiation process to be sure he was cool with my relationship with D. Since J and I have different long term plans we’ve structured our relationship accordingly. Just because what we want long term probably isn’t going to come from each other doesn’t mean that we can’t date and have a great time now. And it doesn’t mean we can’t keep our eyes open for someone we may be interested in for the long term, and then re-negotiate!
My relationships with both of them work because we don’t feel trapped in relationships we think we’re supposed to have, and again, go-go-Gadget Open Communication!!
f) 1) We share the same values
2) Lots of communication, in terms of how we live our lives, raise the kids, keep our home; we also book time together
3) Appreciation that love and parenting are not just states of being but they are also actions, or verbs. What am I doing to act on love? What am I doing to act on parenting?
We also read “The Five Love Languages.” I strongly recommend it for everyone because it has helped us out so much.
5. What is some advice you have for how to sustain a healthy relationship?
a) COURTSHIP CALENDAR!!!!! Courtship typically happens in the early stages of a relationship. The chase. The passion. The fluttering heart. The gifts. The heroic gestures to woo them. You name it. Create a calendar to plan for these actions and DO NOT TELL THEM WHEN YOU HAVE THE ACTIONS IN MIND. To them, you remain a thoughtful, spontaneous partner – always.
b) Talk a lot. Touch a lot. Provide consistent and genuine compliments about all aspects of your partner. You can’t say ‘I love you’ too much. Do cool stuff together. Always be planning an awesome shared experience.
c) It’s important to communicate, and to always communicate with love and respect.
If you want to have a long-term relationship, have at least one more experienced mentor couple that you respect and talk to frankly about your relationship.
I think it’s really important for a couple to exist for the greater benefit of the community, rather than just themselves. Thus, we try to make the world a better place through our relationship through volunteering together, keeping each other accountable to making more socially and environmentally sustainable choices, and allowing and helping each other maintain or create healthy relationships outside of each other. When I’m being unreasonable in a relationship with someone else, Chris helps me see this, rather than just taking my side all the time. This has been immensely helpful for us.
d) We jokingly talk about how the long distance did wonders for our relationship but, in actuality, distance actually does help. While I’m not exactly an advocate for 4 years of living apart, creating your own life and your own ‘space’ (physical or otherwise) helps you bring so much more into the relationship and also gives you other coping mechanisms so you don’t rely totally on your partner. It’s a fine balancing act for sure but growing yourself first helps immensely in growing together.
e) Haha, I’m still figuring this stuff out too… I guess that’s it. Try and always feel like you’re figuring it out and learning. Learning about your partner, learning how to communicate together, learning what makes them feel safe and loved, and what makes you safe and loved, and learning what kind of relationship works the best for you.
f) If you start a relationship with someone, it shouldn’t be based on culture or activities, it’s gotta be about your values – extrinsic, intrinsic and lifestyle. Think about how those values will evolve over time. If you share your lives, thoughts, and feelings while you grow, you will grow together. For long term, always find time to do things that are new and different both together and apart. For example, take a salsa class, or go for a walk to a new part of town.
In case this is helpful, one last thought. I know that the majority of people disagree with the cliché love story, because they say that stuff fades. I also know a lot of people get lazy after the butterflies disappear from love. Love is not lazy. Love works. I am excited to work at this love. Always.
Work hard. Love harder.
And check out this great article about focusing too much on a partner rather than on ourselves within the relationship. And the one down below is a great summary!