In the fall I will have known my partner for 24 years. This year we will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Before we began dating we had been friends for four years. Then we dated for another four before we made it official. There are moments when I look at him and am surprised that we have been together for this long.
On one hand, it seems like just yesterday we were being introduced. On another it’s like I have never walked with anyone else.
Expectations of Childhood Dreams
It’s a surprise to me particularly because my parents divorced when I was eight years old. Because of the experience I used to think I wouldn’t marry. The examples I saw involved two individuals being selfish, ugly and I painted marriage as a power struggle with one person always coming out on top.
The other couples I did observe were cloaked in secrecy, at least that is how it seemed to me, because no one ever discussed what was going well or the challenges. When there was trouble brewing I was kept in the dark since I was one of the younger ones in the family. So I did not learn how couples resolved problems.
Instead, I had unrealistic expectations of love and thought that there was such a thing as the perfect marriage because what I learned about relationships was based on TV or books. I also believed that arguments could be resolved in short periods of time.
After almost 16 years of marriage what I have learned is that each of us has good days and bad. Neither of us is perfect and we make lots of mistakes. Communication is ongoing work for the both of us and emotions get the better of one or the other at different instances. Sometimes we go to bed mad at each other.
We have had great moments, stressful moments and there have been instances where I was ready to call it quits and I imagine that he also felt the same way.
I also know that my partner is my best friend. He is the first person that I want to call when something good or bad happens.
I have recognized that although we are both individuals, we have to work together in honor of our relationship. We are focusing on what we want to create in our marriage and the life that we desire. It's more than just combining separate needs.
It sounds trite but when I am asked what makes us work or stay in love with each other, I share that there is no magic pill. In my opinion falling in love is easy. Staying together is the hard part.
What We Are Creating Together
I am grateful for my significant other. There are several things that I have learned from being with him for so many years.
- Be willing to change for the sake of the relationship. Recognize that you are now a team. Yes, it is important to have your individual goals and dreams. It is also important to remember you said yes to create a life with another person. That means it’s not just about you or that other person. You have to grow in service of each other. It’s about what you are creating together—the relationship.
- There is no 50-50 in love and your roles will change. At different times each of you will pick up the slack, either in the relationship, home life, love life, emotions, etc. It’s a constant give and take. When you start tracking it, you are asking for trouble.
- Remember why you fell in love with your partner. Besides the physical, you were attracted to your partner for different reasons. In my husband’s case, I fell in love with his confidence, generosity, and quiet strength, as well as his intelligence. Although how he embodies those elements has changed some, these are qualities that are still core to him. Truth be told, at moments that I have been the most upset or I am trying to get over being mad with him I remind myself of what I find appealing about him. When I bring to the forefront the good things, these outweigh the crap that’s mudding the waters. Remind yourself of what attracted you to this person in the first place.
- Identify your shared values. Different stages in our lives have pushed us to come together and identify what is important-changing jobs, what we want in a home, the number of children we will have, how we will raise them, our spiritual life, my business, etc. We have discovered the values that are key for us. These will guide you when you are unsure.
- Be yourself. Yes, it is good to consider doing things a different way, but do not change who you are at core to please someone else.
- Accept that you can only change yourself. Many instances I wanted or demanded that my partner be the one to change. In truth, I can only change myself. How can you expect your partner to change if you are not wiling to do it?
- Remember the good moments and the bad. Sure we have lots of great memories as a family. These are the ones that help us get through the bad times. However, it’s the tough moments that remind me that our marriage is worth fighting for and that make our relationship stronger. You sometimes have to experience the ugly moments together to identify what is really important to the both of you.
- Learn to share the TV remote or to tolerate each other’s TV shows. Said another way, take interest in some of things that your partner likes. Before dating him, I did not know the first thing about Star Trek. Because of my husband, at one point I knew more about Deep Space Nine than him. In return, I introduced him to the finer points of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.
Your Turn: What has helped you to have a positive long-term relationship?
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