Later this month, I will celebrate seven years with the love of my life. If feels like just last month I was nervously chatting with him on the phone for the first time. As with life in general, our time together has been filled with challenges, shared victories, and everything in between. What has remained consistent is that we approach everything as a team. We are committed to ourselves independently, and as a couple.
Two years ago, I published a post on the five most valuable lessons learned in my five-year relationship, which has consistently been the most viewed item on this blog. Love and interpersonal relationships in general can be tricky so, in celebration of our partnership, I’m pleased to share seven additional lesson I’ve learned about love and companionship. I hope that at least one lesson resonates with you and helps you step up your dating game or rekindle your existing relationship!
7 Lessons From My 7-Year Relationship
1) Look for the Green Flags
Early in relationships, people often warn us to look out of the red flags. They question whether your partner is rude, selfish, controlling, or a bit unhinged. While those are important things to consider, it is able worth considering the stellar qualities that set your significant other apart or would make your grandmother proud. Are they kind to others, even when it is of no benefit them? Are they even-tempered and understanding, even under stress?
Trust your gut, in a good way. On our first date, I felt a deep conviction that he was The One, even though I was far from a romantic idealist. Being with him felt right, and I trusted that feeling even though it scared me a bit. Sometimes we need to loosen the reigns, release our desire to control outcomes, and simply trust our intuition. I choose to open up more deeply and more quickly with him that with anyone else I had known previously because it simply felt right. In retrospect, having my radar preset to identify my most highly desirable traits helped me identify a perfect-for-me partner quickly and easily, and then feel confident in my decision.
2) Communicate to Comprehend
So much relationship advice comes back to communication, but what does that actually mean? It is one thing to hear what the other person is saying, but it requires another level of practice and skill to perceive what is is, exactly, your partner is trying to communicate. Sometimes, especially early on, people feel shy, insecure and overwhelmed and aren’t sure exactly how to convey what’s on their mind. Pay attention to body language, tone of voice and the words left unsaid. Learn how to communicate in ways that satisfy both you and your partner. This may include recognizing when the other person needs some space, incorporating humor into difficult conversations or backing up suggestions with studies.
Each person has their own unique communication preferences and each relationship requires the development of its own unique strategy and dynamic when it comes to interpersonal interactions. It may take some time and effort, but ultimately leads to a strong relationship when both individuals feel heard and understood.
3) View Problems as a Mutual Enemy
All too often, we fall into the habit of approaching an argument with the mindset that we are right and we need to convince our counterpart of such. Disagreements don’t need to be a “me versus you” situation, but should instead be viewed as “us versus the problem.” My problem becomes your problem when I unburden myself on you, and vice versa. It is then my responsibility to consider your perspective and suggestions when seeking a resolution.
On a similar note, consider giving the problem a fitting name and ridiculous persona. I’ve found that one of the best salves for irritating issues is humor. It’s a way to bring attention to an issue or invite conversation in a non-threatening way. Of course, it helps if you and your partner have a similar sense of humor, so as not to offend anyone.
4) Accept that it won’t always be 50/50
I have learned that a relationship is rarely 50/50. Sometimes I can only give 10% and my boyfriend will pick up the other 90%. Sometimes it’s the other way around. When I was dealing with debilitating fatigue, he picked up my share of the housework and was my emotional support. Conversely, I have been juggling working from home with laundry and dishes during the day, so that he can relax after a long day out of the house. If, at any point in the relationship, either of us had insisted on a clear division of physical or emotional contributions, things would not have worked out.
View the relationship as a partnership. Over the course of each week, there are a number of household chores, emotional needs and work obligations that need to be checked off. Recognize and accept that your capacity may vary from week-to-week, but that what matters is that each item is checked off the weekly list and no one is resentful about what they did or did not personally accomplish. Love is a team sport.
5) Check if you’re on the same page
It astonishes me how many friends I know who has been with their partner for months or years and are afraid to ask their significant other about their goals and dreams. Do they want six kids, a pair, or none? What are their fears and hangups around relationships? What are their priorities and where do they choose to spend their money? There are dozens of questions that, I personally believe, should be addressed as early on in the relationship as possible. Some areas allow for compromise, but it’s important to look long and hard at the areas in which you may be incompatible, especially before making any big commitments.
I believe it is true that we become more similar to our partner over time, but I don’t believe anyone should enter a relationship with the goal of changing their significant other. If you ask the hard questions early, you can avoid arguing over the importance of a big wedding or having children three years in, when you have already invested so much into the relationship. If you choose to spend time with someone who is as committed as you are to to financial security, health, education, nifty gadgets, sustainability or fine food, you can avoid conflict and will not need to defend your habitual choices.
6) Patience Pays Off
I remember seeing a tacky Venn diagram in my teens. The overlapping circles were populated with the words, kind, attractive, smart, and funny, with the portion where the four overlapped labeled, “the perfect man.” The title stated, “pick two,” insinuating that no single person can meet all the criteria on your list. Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous. I’m glad that I figured early that I don’t need to concede, settle for less, or lower the bar.
I just so happened to meet someone who meet of my essential requirements and most of my desired qualities. To reach that point, I had to say “no” and walk away from several mediocre opportunities. Determine what you want in a partner and then practice patience. In my option, it is far better to be single than to be with someone who does not enhance your life and help you to become a better person.
7) Milestones Don’t Matter
After seven years together, we are used to strangers assuming we’re married. Everyone we know has given up asking when we plan to tie the knot. There is no set timeline when it comes to saying “I love you,” moving in together, getting married, buying a home, or starting a family. Following communication around shared goals and relationship expectations, you and your partner can set your own milestones or simply choose to play it by ear. Relationships often become strained when one person is watching the clock, counting down the days until their expected proposal, while the other is enjoying the experience day-by-day.
If you like spending time with your significant other, it does not matter what anyone around you thinks or has to say about the relationship. Take you time, get to know your sweetheart, share in their victories, and grieve alongside them in times of loss. You can accomplish all of these things without a shiny stone, expensive ceremony, and shared mortgage payment. Love should look like whatever it is that you and your partner decide is right for you, not what Instagram or your future mother-in-law deems to be normal.