“How do you survive a relationship?”
At the beginning of this week I put out a call for experiences, thoughts and opinions on what it takes to survive a relationship, or what is involved in maintaining a successful one. The responses I got were fantastic, so first things first thank you to everyone who took the time and energy to contact me. I’ve posted all of the responses in their entirety (for the most part, minus some requested editing and the like) at the bottom where the appendix usually is.
I will give you my thoughts, translated from my own lexicon of experiences and philosophies, and they’re now kind of influenced and merged with many of the sentiments expressed below. If you have any suggestions, counterpoints, cautions or comments by all means drop them in as you think of them and if there’s much interest I’ll update the Appendix section to include everyone’s input.
I’m going to take the tack of talking about what I think makes a successful relationship, as opposed to how you survive one, because I think it’s basically talking to the same thing and it feels more natural to me since I’ve never considered myself a survivor while in a relationship. Maybe afterwards, but that’s to be expected.
To understand my philosophies I think you also need to understand who I am … and if you don’t have that grasp from reading this week’s posts alone, then hopefully this will help. I’m 33 years old, I’m single (which makes it seem somewhat ridiculous that I might be talking about this), and I’ve been trying to make sense of dating and relationships for about 16 years now. Before that I had crushes but nothing that existed outside the fantasies within my mind. I grew up watching black and white movies with my Mom and my sister. They were both big fans of romantic comedies too, so of course I watched more than my fair share of those as well. I don’t think they portray an obtainable reality, but … one’s beliefs and sentiments are formed by one’s upbringing and this definitely played a role.
My parents have been together almost 40 years now. My grandparents were together for 65-70 years. No one in my family has had a divorce, which as I type that is a realization of note I think. All I have are models of functional relationships. Whether they’re the living end or not isn’t for me to say as an outsider, but they stayed together against all odds and that’s worth something.
This is who I am and what my background is, and as you learned on Tuesday, I believe it’s all worth the trouble and that a successful relationship is possible. Much of this is going to be idealistic to some extent, and I’ll grant you that nothing is perfect … no relationship is without its flaws or challenges. So take the ideals and apply them as you see fit with your own views.
What makes it possible?
The trifecta of open communication, trust and respect.
Open communication about absolutely everything. Does this mean that people who are terrible communicators or who are closed off will be incapable of having a successful relationship? No, but it will make things difficult for whoever they’re with and consequently for themselves. If you can’t communicate what you’re feeling or express yourself in an effective way how do you expect anyone to be able to understand you?
What clear communication does that’s extremely important is it prevents worries, concerns or discontent from festering and turning into something destructive and irreversible. It is paramount in all interactions if for no other reason than it allows you to be properly understood. Without understanding you can’t accomplish anything. Open communication relies heavily on trust though. Trust that it is safe to be open, safe to let your guard down, safe to be true to yourself and know that your Significant Other (SO) will respect you for it and hear what you have to say.
In the most generic sense Trust means that you don’t need to worry about your SO straying or having an affair. Along with that, it means that there’s no place for jealousy. I’ve heard and seen many people say that jealousy is attractive, that it makes them feel wanted or desirable. I’m not sure that’s entirely healthy, in my world view, and I think it’s a dangerous road to go down.
If I’m jealous of my SO’s interactions with another man, what does that say about my respect and trust in her? Not much I don’t think. If there’s a reason for concern there are other issues that could be related to her not feeling desirable or wanted and needing this instigated jealousy to get her there. Neglect on my part, a disconnect between us, restlessness on her part. It’s hard to say. If it’s not on her, then it speaks directly to my own insecurities and potential inability to trust her, or more broadly my inability to trust anyone. In short, I don’t think there’s any place for jealousy in a healthy relationship, especially one that has and regularly exercises open communication.
Trust and respect can also speak to a feeling of security that the relationship is imbued with. That security comes from the comforting knowledge that you can be yourself, that the other person knows you and has accepted you for who you are right down to the quirks and foibles that you’re self-conscious or insecure about. They already know and they love you not only in spite of those things, but probably in part because of them. You are both complex and flawed individuals. That complex imperfection is what they love. Nobody loves perfection.
These sentiments of trust and respect imply support and a unified front against a world filled with detractors and nattering nabobs of negativity. You both have ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams, both fantastical and realistic, intimate and deeply personal, that are important and integral to who you are. Your beliefs and philosophies should be embraced and supported by your SO, if not shared then at very least understood and accepted. This takes us back to open communication. You need to express yourself, share the important aspects of your character and the things that are significant to you and in a healthy relationship your SO will then be able to process and digest that. This gives them a chance to know you better, have a discussion with you about it and the two of you can jointly figure out how to weave that thread into the complex braid of your relationship.
This isn’t to say that you need to always agree on everything. That’s both unrealistic and foolish to hope for. What you can hope for though is open communication and respect such that disagreements or differences of opinion can occur without it being a catastrophic event. It should not be an aggressive battle over who is right or wrong. It’s perfectly acceptable to just disagree and leave it at that. Sometimes there will be a winner and a loser, and with a healthy amount of respect and maturity both of you can realize that no matter who wins or loses the foundation of your relationship is still stable. You still love each other. You still trust and respect each other. The world has not ended, nor has it changed noticeably in any way. Life goes on and so too shall both of you.
Sometimes sacrifices, concessions or compromises need to be made in order for an increased chance of survival. This trade off ideally shouldn’t be one sided. As with any pairing, sometimes there will be conflicts and for there to be peace someone must give ground. It may be something as benign as the fact that I like bike riding, and you don’t like it or dislike it … but because we both want to do more together, you take up bike riding as a hobby. Maybe to meet you halfway I come to your art and wine festivals. There are some functional relationships and situations where the sacrifices are made almost entirely by one person, but those should be considered as the exception rather than the rule.
People change and grow. Over the course of your lives, who you both are as individuals will be in a constant state of flux. The only way to maintain a relationship through these changes is to acknowledge the change and work together to overcome whatever obstacles arise as a result. Ten years from now you will not be the person they fell in love with, and they will not be the same person either. I can’t tell you how to navigate those changes successfully but I can only assume that by acknowledging your own part in things, continuing to communicate with each other as your values shift, and making sure that distance doesn’t grow between you, your relationship will thrive and possibly become far more than it was originally.
In order to maintain a tight connection with your partner it’s also important to “keep it fresh”. How do you do that? I don’t honestly know so most of this is conjecture. Don’t ever let the routines overtake the wonder and excitement of having someone in your life. One of the things I enjoy the most about being with someone is learning about them and all of their interests, seeing the world through their eyes and showing them what it looks like through mine. Setting date nights is one way where you can try something new, form a new routine perhaps, or act like teenagers again. You’re limited only by the depth of your imagination. Keeping it fresh could range from taking walks together at night, to swinging on swing-sets, or building a fort out of sheets and pillows.
Often when people think of “keeping it fresh” they think of the sexual nature of relationships. The common suggestions include introducing toys or role playing, watching pornography together or experimenting with any of the various ways to spice things up in the bedroom. Physical intimacy is also an integral part of the relationship that hinges on open communication. Maintaining a healthy sexual relationship is just as involved and complicated as the other more emotional and psychological aspects. Everything works together syngergistically. Yep. Syngergistically.
Every relationship has its challenges. For some it’s distance, as we discussed yesterday, for others it’s the Big Three. My parents told me when I was growing up that they had to agree on three things before they decided to get married: How to handle their money as a couple, how religion would be handled in the family, and how children would be raised. Once they were in agreement on those, the rest could be worked out along the way, and 40 years later that’s proven to be an effective strategy.
So in closing, relationships aren’t easy but through a constantly shifting mixture of open communication, trust and respect, with yourselves personally and with each other, you can navigate and weather whatever storms may pass through your lives.
In the comments below I would love to hear your thoughts on what I have laid out here. What’s more, and most importantly, read through the following submissions and add your thoughts to theirs. How do you relate to the topic? What are your philosophies? How do you survive a relationship?
When you asked the question I started thinking about it and as I walked home yesterday I kept getting stuck on “Someone who sees me.” A successful relationship requires both parties to REALLY see each other; for who they are, could be, (in some cases SHOULD be) and can be. And to make the journey easier to get to that point. So many relationships that I have been in and been around have failed because one or the other person stopped seeing the person they were with.
And that’s different than just “getting comfortable.” I think the getting comfortable phase of a relationship is lovely. Anticipating each others movements, having that familiarity that makes you feel like you’re an essential part of someone else’s existence (I mean, who is going to make the side dish while you cook the main dish for dinner? Who is going to fold the laundry once you wash it?)
So often people withdraw into themselves, and give up, and don’t give their partner a chance to defend themselves or their place in your life. They stop SEEING you. So I think a successful relationship entails knowing what you’re getting into, and if what you get into is different than what you thought – see that situation for what it is an adjust it accordingly. Don’t tell yourself it will work itself out. Nothing about love will ever work itself out unless you work AT it.
To me it all boils down to respect. With out that you can’t have a relationship with any real meaning. Love (or lust) with wax and wain over time, but if you really respect someone, you can have a much deeper comitted relationship, but only if they have the same respect for you. And I don’t mean respect for what they do, if they are attractive, or if they make money, I mean respect for who they are inside, their belief’s and ideas, how they treat others, how they treat animals, what truely makes them the person they are. Then I think you will want to be with that person for the long haul. At least I think I would.
Relationships are tricky and each one is so different. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all formula. Having said that, I do believe that you do have to like and respect each other. Of course love and physical attraction are super important, but truly enjoying the company of the other person; agree and respect their stance on the topics that are most important to YOU. Respecting the other person, and be respected back are important qualities to me. Being able to laugh together.
When I was single (after a long marriage and agonizing divorce) and would go out on first/blind date, I would ask myself the following two questions to decide if I would want to go on a second date: 1. Would I want to kiss (and more) this person? 2. Would I introduce this person to my children in the future? (teens at the time). For someone without kids, the second question could be if you would introduce this person to your friends and family. Would he/she fit in with your life?
And it takes hard work from both people to sustain a happy relationship. Keep it fun and fresh. Help each other through bad times. Don’t take it for granted. And say “I love you” as many times as feels right to both of you. Don’t ever stop surprising each other. Keep revealing new things to each other (childhood experiences, fun facts). Don’t sweat the small stuff – pick your battles, we are all just human.
This is my short answer – I will follow up when I come up with more
And P.S. I have now been married for 2 years to the most wonderful man. We are very happy together and act like two giddy teenagers in love. Our relationship is everything I wrote about in my earlier comment – it’s an easy-going relationship. No drama, no fighting, no power struggles, no judging – just a whole lotta love and fun times.
We met online, so it can happen to you! “Don’t stop believing” and never give up on finding happiness. The romantic in me believes there is someone special for everyone. ♥
Relationships are fucking hard. That’s as simple as it gets. It doesn’t have to be constant pain & suffering or any other dramatic scenario you can think of, it’s just life.My basic answer is the relationship can’t just be about one person. One person can’t do all the compromising. One person can’t get their way all the time. The relationship can’t have a dictator.I guess it boils down to the cliche stuff – mutual respect, compromise, trust, love. A relationship can’t be successful if it is two individuals (not a couple) working at their own agenda instead of a shared agenda or goal. Two people in a relationship can be individuals but only when it’s something they’ve agreed upon and work together for. Sounds contradictory I know.You can lose yourself in a relationship but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Are you more concerned for the other person or yourself? Neither is right. If you’re more concerned for yourself you need to quit being a selfish asshole. If you’re more concerned for the other person, you need to worry about yourself more. Both people in the relationship have to work the same way. Your personalities can be complete opposites but as long as you have the same goal, it will even out.There are those couples who follow the whole “man is the leader” crap and that’s great for them provided that’s the relationship they’ve established. It can’t happen because out of no where one of you feels that’s how it should go.
I’ve always thought if you’re honest and true to your partner life is grand in a relationship. But an open line of communication is key. You have to know where eachother stands. But how would I know I’m currently about to start divorce proceedings..so………..
Communicate openlyLaugh oftenMake time for the relationshipBe patient … Practice give and takeHave mutual trust and respect for each otherSet rules/boundariesDon’t try to change a person ~ embrace the flaws …. Or get out!Be willing to share the good times and badLearn to compromiseAccept their values and beliefsSometimes you have to be willing to take risks ~Risk is sometimes what makes a relationship worth having and pursuingBe willing to sacrificeBe honest about your goals especially if distance is involved ~ you don’t want to waste your or their timeTalk about how you would integrate your preset with your futureTogether that is lolKeep the romance alive ~ little things matterNever stop “dating”Take advantage of distance …In a long distance relationship, you have the unique opportunity to really listen and get to know your partner without any of the physical distractions and outside opinions that often challenge more traditional relationshipsDream together
From Christene D’Anca - http://www.confessionsfromthecrib.blogspot.com/Mutuality. I don’t mean the give and take of everyday life, and compromises that every relationship demands. Although those would be nice. I mean mutuality in the sense that when two people get into a relationship, if they are not equals, everything becomes distorted. People need to meet mentally and physically. Honestly I think mentally is far more important, as that often leads to the physical, it is important to not underestimate the importance of a physical connection as well (not to mention physical compatibility).
What I mean by mutuality is an equality not only already there, but progressive as well. If a certain part of your life is important to you, you should find a partner that shares it with you.
While it is important to have shared interests (the ones which are most important to you), it is just as important that your partner is willing to learn. Unwillingness to learn will destroy a relationship.
If you are passionate about something, anything, if your partner tries to stifle it, you will only be able to take that for so long before you snap.
As for the physical equality… that should be self explanatory.
This equality can be expounded to all sorts of matters. Politics, money, views on politics and/or money, and basically most ideologies. Now I am not saying two people need to be exactly the same… because that would be just as boring. Difference is good, and should exist, because that is where you learn from each other. Basically the larger beliefs is where the mutuality needs to exist. For example, whether I like to read Ibsen and you don’t, not a big deal (as long as you like reading in general). But whether I am a democrat and you are a republican. HUGE deal.
And to answer the last part of your question, these things need to be known from the beginning. People don’t change their entire lives over night. Nor should you want them to.
Actually, my best example… Tina Dico – Stranger listen to it on YouTube.