I have a friend whose relationship differs from mine. I have a complete life without my partner: friends, interests, and pursuits. I don’t want him to be with me all the time. I’ve learned to be comfortable alone. I understand he is in our relationship to swim with me through storms and choppy waters in this thing called life–not as my lifesaver.
Unlike my friend’s relationship.
She has not learned to be comfortable on her own. She has made her boyfriend the only tune of her life. Doing things that make her happy is foreign to her.
I’ve learned to build my relationship in the same way I thrive to achieve any goal in my life. I work at my relationship every day and it’s getting better.
Unlike my friend who believes,
Love is all rainbows, fairies, and bunny kisses.
When something makes me feel my emotions are choking me up, I don’t drink, do drugs or resort to anything that might help escape my emotions.
Unlike my friend.
When my friend was a teenager, she’d wake up her mom and climb into her bed. Later in life, it gave her the license to wake up whoever she was with. Now, she sits in the corner and waits for someone to fold her emotions.
Even at the risk of upsetting someone I love, I try not to avoid difficult conversations. For example, my partner has broken his ankle while he was jogging. For the past two weeks, my mother-in-law has been calling me in the morning and afternoon, every day to check up on him. Even at the risk of upsetting him, I tell him his mother’s call is making me hurl my phone across our living room.
Unlike my friend.
My friend knows her boyfriend parties harder than he should have. She knows he skips sleep-hours. She ignores this. She thinks that is love. She has never told him how his smoking bothers her. She does not even frown when he spends money foolishly.
That is what love does, she says.
I’ve learned there is a charm in losing to the one you love. When one person gets cranky and mindless, the other takes the hits. And stitches the wounds. I’ve learned to set my ego aside. I don’t always wait for him to say, “Sorry”. I say, “Sorry” first. He doesn’t have to forgive me all the time. I can play my part.
Unlike my friend’s relationship.
“We never fight! Not ever!” she tells all her friends. And yet, I’ve seen them delivering low blows and being intentionally hurtful to each other. Both of them are hell-bent on holding grudges. They fight to have the last word. To win an argument, come hell or high water.
In my four-year relationship, I’ve learned these 5 ways to behave like an adult in my relationship. I hope they help you.
1. Learn to stand on your own two feet, which makes any relationship you create healthy, light, strong, independent, instead of heavy, loaded, grasping, needy, suffocating.
Last week, I was walking along an empty road and looked up to see an insane bright double rainbow. I stood there, slack-jawed. I called my boyfriend, “Look! Fill your eyes with that!” I was so happy I had someone to share that rainbow with. But I would have been perfectly ok gawking at it alone, but being able to share my happiness made it extra special.
In my relationship, I’ve learned to do things that make me happy. I do things for myself that I would do for someone I love. Fun things like getting myself the first edition of Dale Carnegie’s book or getting me those shoes I’ve been dying to have and wear. And harder things like standing up for myself or following through on my promises.
My friend’s relationship is different.
She clings. She has made her boyfriend the only tune of her life. She suffocates him by merging her desire into his. She has not learned to be comfortable on her own. She wants her boyfriend to be with her all the time. She places conditions on her relationship for it to work. She’s saying to someone she loves, “You must make me happy.”
That’s unhealthy and unfair.
Healthy love is not co-dependent. It’s never, “the two of us are one.”
In healthy love, you are individuals, independent. There is no “need”. You each have whole lives without the other: friends, interests, and pursuits. You love not because you need someone to complete you. Not because the other person might someday prove useful. You love because love is awesome. Because in the company of the right person, there is no telling what you can become.
In mature love, if life throws a storm your way and you are thrown overboard, you don’t expect your partner to save you from drowning. You don’t wait for him to keep fighting current to stay above water. You swim on your own. You understand he is there to navigate life with you — as a partner (not as a lifesaver).
You don’t need another person to complete you.
You already are complete. I’m not saying romantic partners are not wonderful (because they are) or that they are not worth your time (yes, they are). I’m saying no one is worth giving up you. Whether you’re in a relationship or not does not define your self-worth, fulfillment, and fundamental wholeness. Our romantic partners can be our friends, companions, confidants, lovers, and so much more. But they do not complete us.
Your joy will be doubled when you meet your beloved — not out of quiet desperation — but of the sheer delight of sharing your life with another.
2. Work at your relationship when there are no more grasslands. No green pastures. No streamlined rivers. No rainbows.
My friend believes in the most ridiculous idea about love,
Love is all rainbows, fairies, and bunny kisses.
She was shocked when she found out he was fallible and prone to mistakes. She thought he was a superman and she believed he was god-like. So when the tiniest of slides came up, she could not bear the shock. What?? Sami, you could lie? What? I thought you could never be dishonest!
When everything is alright, love trumps. Love shows you grasslands. Green pastures. Streamlined rivers. Rainbows. Happy greetings. Hugs. Hot coffee in rain. Electrified nights. Passionate love-making. Consistent blushing. Honey. Sugar. Sweet.
When the storm strikes. When things go south. When disaster barges in. When disagreements escalate. When insecurity ingresses.
Here is where your salt is tested. Are you made of fire or fantasy?
One thing that plants its feet and stands rooted in our relationship is commitment. I will respect. I will care. I will love him through the good and the bad days. I will be worth my salt.
In a mature relationship, you love consistently. You love not because you want to be in love. Not because you like the idea of being in love. But because you choose to work at bonding and blending for both the good days as well as the bad days. You build your relationship in a stable, day-to-day place. From the outside, it looks boring. It’s a low budget. Low drama.
You create your love every single day. You might not feel the attraction you felt when you met your love now, but you choose to not let your eyes and hormones take control. You choose to get to know the person who’s changing in front of your eyes.
Love is not all sunshine and rainbows. Love is work. You build your love in the same way you thrive to achieve any goal in your life.
“Love is a choice, not an emotion. Love is an action, not a feeling. Love is deliberate, not passive. Love is not something that happens “to you”. Love is something you do.” –Kris Gage
3. When your emotions are shoving you down, do what children do.
Last night, my friend called and vented out her frustration.She has always run to her boyfriend instead of dealing with her emotions. She has never learned to sit with what she feels. This dangerous pattern is making her crazy these days. Her boyfriend is abroad on a job for a few months and she feels stranded, abandoned, and unable to live with herself. She realizes with horror no one is there in her apartment to soothe her but herself.
She does not realize her emotions are hers to deal with.
My friend’s refusal to deal with her emotions scares me.
I’ve learned hiding or diminishing what I feel is temporary. My emotions are right there, waiting for me, and typically get stronger while I’m hiding from them or diminishing them. Also, if my emotions are shoving me down, trying to yank my heart into not feeling what it’s feeling is the equivalent of not listening to myself.
So I deal with my emotions in my relationship. I do not sit in the corner and wait for my partner to take care of my emotions. Whenever emotions hit my heart, I do not look at my devices or my phone (except to write). I mope. I sulk. I cry (crying feels both horrible and amazing). I sit with what I feel (which, I won’t lie to you, is uncomfortable as hell.)
It takes me a while to process whatever is making me feel down, but when I get out on the other side, I feel much stronger than when all I have been trying to do is evade myself.
This is what children do.
I wish my friend learns from them.
Children do not hide their emotions or diminish them. They express them — however they want. They do not fear the emotional intensity of someone seeing them crying, losing control, and appearing helpless. When they have emotions that need to be expressed — they express them however they want and for however long they want.
You can do the same.
Instead of hiding or diminishing what you feel, allow yourself to deal with your emotions without judging. You will be a more emotionally engaged human being in your relationship, ready to lend your heart to someone you love, ready to face and take on the intensity of love and the whole glorious gamut of human emotions in between.
When you step up and take ownership of dealing with your emotions, you are taking responsibility for your emotions.
And that’s the most adult thing you can do in your relationship.
4. Instead of appearing nice, polite, and accommodating to someone you love, tell the truth.
Mature couples do not avoid “difficult” or “awkward” conversations.
I learned this the hard way. I never told my ex I did not like the way he was close to a female coworker. I wanted to appear nice, polite, and accommodating. I wanted to avoid difficult conversations. It turned out he was cheating on me with that woman behind my back.
“How do I tell him his smoking bothers me?” my friend asks me all the time. She hates it when he stays late with his buddies. If she brings up a difficult conversation, she’s terrified he would walk out of their door and never come back.
Do we have to fear bringing up difficult conversations?
We should be able to tell someone we love what we like and what we loathe. We should be able to tell someone we love the truth. We might think we will hurt them if we do, but it’s better to be honest than avoid difficult conversations.
We are adults who can have difficult conversations.
As long as I respect my partner, I want to be able to have a difficult conversation with him. We can have difficult conversations without fearing someone we love would storm out of our lives when they hear what we have to say.
That’s how we grow as a couple.
5. Learn how to fight fair.
Like my friend, anybody in a relationship who says, “We never fight! Not ever!” lies. That’s unrealistic. If we don’t fight, the solidity of our relationship is not put to the test. Behind her closed doors, my friend is dredging up the past 20 arguments. When no one is watching them, they are being intentionally hurtful.
They have not learned to fight fair.
My partner and I fight. But we fight fair. In the due course of the arguments and the relentless exchange of words, one of us accepts the other. We listen to understand.
Maybe he is right. I’ve never been in his shoes. I guess I’m being judgmental. I should stop being selfish and ego-centric. Let me stop. Let me listen and not react. Let him say whatever he wants. He is, after all, my love.
When one person gets cranky and mindless, the other takes the hits. And stitches the wounds.
Wait, a minute. Who am I fighting? She is my partner. Are we not in the same boat? Hell, I know, when the dust settles, she will seek my face. Let her win this time.
In a mature relationship, you fight fair. You don’t fight to win or maim.You don’t say “all” or “never” or “always”. You are not intentionally hurtful — there are no low blows. You are specific, “you hurt my feelings when you interrupted me,” instead of the dramatically sweeping, “you have no respect for who I am!”
You fight to understand. Two people can have different opinions even conflicting ones and both can be right. People can disagree with each other about things even important things and still like each other.
This is something my friend does not realize.
My friend and her partner are stubborn. They are both quirky, headstrong, and set in their ways. The harder she tries to prove a point, the more stubborn she becomes, often whoever is wrong, even if it is her, will never admit it. Setting out to prove a point escalates tempers and creates hard feelings in their relationship.
Winning is short-sighted in a relationship, my friends.
If you get into every argument by trying to win, you might win the argument but you lose your relationship. So put love above winning, to create a space for the possibility that your point might be wrong, to restore warm feelings, to avoid building a case against your loved one, to strengthen your relationship, to fight less, and get angry less.
There is a charm in losing to the one you love.
Mature couples acknowledge that “being an adult” is fleeting, and they recognize and forgive themselves when they act like a four-year-old. They evolve with each argument. With each flaw. They square their wings and fly above.