Today is our 5 year wedding anniversary. My husband and I have been together for 10 years, but we’ve only been married for 5. I have never been the person who ever thought she could be a part of a successful marriage (see: divorced parents), but when I got married to Brian, I didn’t have a doubt that we’d last. In fact, about a week into our relationship, I was sure we’d be together forever.
I think about what makes our relationship so “easy.” We don’t fight often (probably less than once a year — and usually it’s because I’m hormonal). We like each other’s families and friends. Our friends and families like us.
I feel really blessed. What if we had never found each other? I would probably still be single, or trying to make it work with the wrong person. Or maybe, I would have found someone that I’m compatible with, in a different way. But my life would have turned out completely different.
I’m trying to think back on what makes our relationship work. I’ve made a list, for those who are still trying to make it work, and for those who are struggling to find someone to work with.
1. Know yourself and what you need in life (not just what you want). Know what kind of person you can tolerate, and what kind of person can tolerate you. And then, know what traits you appreciate in other people, not just romantic parters, but friends. Think about why you started to date people, and why you decided to break up. When I was in high school and college, I had a huge crush on Dean Cain. My crush slowly faded when I realized that he was probably a womanizer, and the basis of my crush was mostly because he looked good in glasses and a suit. (Business suit and Superman suit, both.)
There are deal-breakers — know what yours are. You love kids, but your partner doesn’t want any. If you find that faith and religion are a priority but your partner doesn’t, that’s a biggie. Figure out what you want your life path to be, and if your partner’s seems to be going in a whole other direction, that’s a problem. Some things are negotiable or compromise-able (future kids’ names, living in one town over another). Some things are not.
I’m really fortunate to have found someone who looks good in a suit and glasses. But also someone who can tolerate my endless days of reading, my forgetfulness and absentmindedness, and my habit of putting my cold feet under his warm butt.
2. Make reasonable choices and be patient. We made the choice to get married when we did, when we had enough money to live on our own and when we were done with school. We made the choice to have a child when we did, after we had gotten married and when other parts of our lives were otherwise stable.
I am terrible at being patient. When Brian and I first started dating, I wanted to get married right away. But it was a good idea to wait. We had time to get to know each other and find a groove as a couple. When we got married, I wanted to have a child right away, but I also knew that it was a good idea to settle into being a Married Couple.
3. Make each other laugh. Brian and I always find it funny when single people say they are looking for someone with “a sense of humor.” Everyone has a sense of humor; but is your potential partner’s sense compatible with yours? Nothing makes me happier than when I say something clever and Brian laughs uncontrollably. And I think I make him feel the same way when I laugh at him.
Laughter makes life easier.
4. Communicate, and don’t play games. I really think that communication is our best point. Anyone who isn’t willing to be honest with you isn’t in a place to be in a lasting relationship. We are honest about almost everything; now that we’ve been together for 10 years, almost nothing is a surprise. To some people, that might be boring. It’s not, for us. It is a comfort to know what to expect from the person that you’re sharing your life with.
From the beginning, we’ve set ground rules on our relationship, and we’ve even revised them since then. We don’t play games, and we are honest with what we’re feeling. I think this has helped us to understand each other more easily.
Avoid people who don’t call you back (even though they have all the time in the world) or who don’t take your concerns seriously. People who break up to make up. That’s game-playing. This is love and life. Contrary to all those anecdotes, it’s not a game. In love, both people are supposed to win. In fact, everybody is supposed to win.
5. Acknowledge and make peace with your own faults. Acknowledge and make peace with your partner’s. Look, I know I’m not the most organized person in the world. I cry too easily and on most days I’d rather stay at home and read a book than go out. With respect to Brian, I will reveal only one of his faults and that is that he believes he looks really good when he wears his hair in a faux-hawk.
If there is something that annoys you about your partner and it is something that you can’t live with, then maybe this is not the right person for you. Think about all of the energy you will expend trying to “improve” upon this fault; that’s why some relationships are hard — too much time trying to change or modify the other person’s behavior.
On the other hand, I’ve spent the past 10 years trying to improve upon my own faults, especially the ones that get on Brian’s nerves. I have tried to be better at putting things back where they belong. I’m trying to talk things out when I’m angry, rather than running away or clamming up. I am trying to look at him when he’s wearing a faux-hawk, without laughing.
6. If trustworthy people don’t like him, listen to their concerns. In my defense, all of the guys I have dated, my family has liked a lot. But when they spoke to me about their concerns with each guy, I realized later that they were right. Listen to your closest confidantes when they voice their concerns about your partner to you. Take what they have to say into consideration. Sometimes they’re wrong, and they really don’t know your partner — but other times they’re right and you’ll be thankful.
7. Have a positive attitude about your relationship — not just with each other but to everyone else. As much fun as it is to complain about your significant other or to hear the funny stories about other people complaining about theirs, I think it’s important to have a united front when facing the world. If you have grievances to air regarding your relationship, you should air them out with your partner FIRST.
Also, it sucks when you find out from other people what your partner doesn’t like about you. And lots of times, you’ll find out. I wish I could count the number of times people have tattled to me about what Brian has said — but he already told me before.
8. The best person for you is the person who inspires you to be the best version of yourself. When Brian and I first started dating, all the good things that I knew about myself, I wanted to improve upon. I wanted to help everyone; to be a nicer person to people; to be more generous and even to look nicer physically. I wanted to feel good in a way that made other people feel good.
Ignoring family and friends, doing poorly in school or in work, seeking unhealthy and dangerous activities, keeping secrets, or changing your personality — if your partner inspires you to do any of these things, it doesn’t make for a healthy foundation for a relationship.
9. There is a difference between sacrifice and compromise. Sacrifice pretty much means no one wins because you both give up everything. Compromise means working together to achieve a common goal. If a relationship has too much sacrifice, it means you’re working too hard and not being happy. If you’re working hard AND not happy, then why are you there?
10. Have faith. Whether or not you believe in God or a Higher Being, have faith in yourself that you will find the right person, that you will make the right decision, that you are good enough for a healthy, happy relationship. When I first started to seriously pray, it took about 6 months before Brian and I found each other. I think that is actually really fast. (I must have called the hotline to heaven.) I knew the right person was out there for me, and during the time I waited, I was having a great single life. It was probably the best time of my life up to that point.
Although at the time I was grieving for the death of my grandmother, I saw it as an opportunity to find love in my friends and my living family members. Of course there were still low points. But I knew that if I wanted something and made myself emotionally and mentally ready for it, I would have it.
And I did.
I don’t know if these tips will help other people who are in relationships, or who are seeking relationships. I just know that this is what worked for Brian and me. OK, so it’s what worked for ME. Who knows what works for Brian.