7 Myths About Being in A Long-Term Relationship
This weekend, my fiancé and I went on a camping trip together. We took off from work, packed tons of food (too much—we always pack too much!), squeezed into the car with our dog, and headed to the mountains.
Our goal: To have a nice weekend together without working (Joel tends to work a lot; we have been striving to find a comfortable work-life balance in our relationship)—but also to sit and talk about our intentions as a couple and our individual needs within the relationship. Through this conversation, we ended up talking about how we've evolved as a couple.
As many of you know, we've been together since high school, and have gone through a lot together. We have been together for almost eleven years.
Which means... my fiancé and have been through a shitload together. ROCD is one among the shitload of things we've endured.
Together we have experienced immense pleasure, happiness, joy, sadness, grief, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration...all of the wonderful, uncomfortable and comfortable emotions that we experience in this journey of being human.
I can always expect a look of shock and surprise on peoples' faces when we tell them how long we've been together. The revelation is usually followed by questions—things like, "How did you do it?" and "Well, what made you stay?"
We've been asked these questions, and others like them, many times throughout the years.
I'm not going to say the relationship has been easy, because at times... it hasn't been. Like most relationships, we've endured our hardships together, and such difficulties can arise for a number of reasons.
One: Relationships are difficult, as to be expected. They bring up a lot of our wounds—issues stemming from childhood trauma, pain, attachment styles, and anxieties.
Two: My fiancé and I are very different people, both with strong personalities. We come from very different cultural backgrounds, and we each carry our own distinct passions, opinions, sensitivities, and goals.
Despite our differences, my partner and I share an undeniable love, friendship, and care for each other. I believe this sense of commitment is what helps us through the storms of our relationship, allowing us to emerge more strongly each time. (For people reading with ROCD: Yes, this passion, love, and friendship took a different form when I experienced ROCD symptoms—it felt aloof, different, distant, foreign).
Somehow, we have managed to plunge into the storms of our relationship and come out stronger, more committed, and more powerful each time. Which is why I say to my clients: Difficult times aren't inherently bad—they are necessary in order to break through the walls and blockages that prevent us from growing. Looking back, my partner and I have needed every "bad" time, because there was something vital growing from it. We know that growth doesn't happen in comfort—only in uncomfortable, muddy times.
So, how did we become stronger and thrive as a couple?
A lot of understanding, communication, knowledge, respect, compassion, patience, work, and this: A commitment to learning, evolving, and growing together.
Education is a part of it.
Understanding love, entering into deep self-exploration, and understanding your needs—while squashing societal expectations and myths—are also part of this relationship recipe. As humans, we have so many expectations instilled in us. We should be feeling a,b,c,d, while looking, a,b,c,d...and so on. It is overwhelming, feeling like we can't meet certain standards that appear to be met by those around us. We carry many of these expectations with us on a conscious or unconscious level. And as we know all too well: It can be freaking exhausting.
With that, I've compiled a list of societal expectations and have flipped them to reflect my experiences with the benefits of a long-term relationship. This is something that has helped me when I was mired in my own relationship obsessions and compulsions; it is something that I feel will help you if you are struggling with similar questions.
Again, I want to emphasize that each relationship and each individual is different. These specific things are things that have worked for me, and have also worked for many of my clients:
1) YOU NEED TO DATE AROUND BEFORE YOU SETTLE:
I don't necessarily find this one to be true. If you have a stable, loving, healthy relationship with a partner who is growing, then it's almost as if you're dating someone new all the time. And if this works for you, then stick to it! You don't need to date around if you don't want to. Now Joel and I have been together 11 years—but I still feel as though I'm dating someone new each month, each year. We are both constantly evolving, and are completely different people from the ones we were when we first met. "Dating around" is a strongly set standard in our society. But dating can happen within your own relationship, for all spans of time. Why? Because your relationship is constantly changing!
2) LONG TERM RELATIONSHIPS ARE BORING.
It's important to understand that sometimes your relationship will feel dull, boring, and unexciting. Perhaps this is because the relationship hasn't been watered—i.e., there's lack of work from one or both partners. If it feels boring, you can work on the relationship to make it spicy. Talk to your partner, work together, and explore how to jazz things up!
But, before you do all of that, take this very important thing into account:
Are you expecting your partner to take care of your own, personal needs?
Are you bored in your life?
Are you unhappy with your career?
Are you expecting your partner to be your best "girl"friend or best "guy"friend?
Start with yourself before you look to your relationship to bring you excitement and passion.
3) YOU NEED TO FIND YOURSELF BEFORE BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP
I have found myself in the deepest way through my relationship. Spiritual masters have said that a relationship is the portal to a higher awakening. What does this mean? It means that your relationship holds up a mirror to yourself, forcing you to examine your pain and needs in a new light. In this way, a relationship can help you find yourself—often more swiftly, and more profoundly, than you could achieve on your own. Your relationship will also push you to become independent, or else you will experience suffering (we will start becoming codependent). It will push you to fulfill your own ambitions and needs. You can do this more deeply with someone walking next to you, supporting you and caring for you.
4) YOU HAVE TO LOVE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU LOVE ANOTHER
This statement is similar to the previous one, and equally untrue. If you use your relationship as a mirror through which to love yourself, then you can learn to feel that love in new and profound ways. A relationship will always bring up wounds and pain within you. These are great opportunities to do the work of self-love and self care!
5) YOU HAVE TO BE SIMILAR AND LIKE THE SAME THINGS
Let me tell you something. My partner and I are very, very different. He is straightforward, confrontational, extroverted, loud, talkative, and intense. He loves entrepreneurship, business, and going to the gym to work out. I keep more to myself: I'm non-confrontational, very sensitive, emotional, quiet, not talkative if someone is talking, calm, and I love meditation and yoga. Joel is like a ball of fire rolling around; I am still, like a mountain. Yes, we enjoy similar things, but we also like many different things. What's the positive to this? It keeps the relationship interesting. He is always showing me his side of things, and I am always showing him mine. It's a constant adventure in learning, if you're willing to be open ;)
6) THERE ARE NO SURPRISES BECAUSE IT'S THE SAME PARTNER:
The other day, I was having a conversation with my partner, and I said to him: "It's pretty amazing, it's been eleven years, and I'm still constantly surprised by you." Every day is different, every week is different and every month is even more different. If you're changing, then your partner is changing too. Also, adding surprises to the relationship can be fun if you feel stuck in a routine. Remember, relationships take work!
7) YOUR PARTNER SHOULD BE YOUR BEST FRIEND
Your partner doesn't need to be your number one best friend. If you would rather your girlfriends be your best friend—or your dog, your cat, your cousins—then let it be so. You don't have to force it! If you connect better with your sister or your girlfriends, then so be it. It's what works for you!
Now with all of what I've said...
What do I love about being in a long-term relationship?
I love how he knows me so, stinking well. I love that. Because if I am struggling, he can pick up on the habits and patterns that occur before and during that struggle. (Again, if your partner does not know about your ROCD or obsessions about your relationship - that's okay! That is your own personal journey and he doesn't need to know everything about you!) I love that we've gone through a lot together, that we can look back and always say "Remember when?" and see how far we've come by speaking about these memories. I love the trust, respect, compassion, and deep friendship that has emerged from being together for so long. So much of this has resulted from our struggles, and by learning to understand each other. I love that there is always someone I can turn to, someone I can lean on, someone to be comforted by. Someone who will travel with me, someone to come home to. Someone to do new things with me and to always be there for me. This is a rare thing to have, and I recognize that. It's rare to have someone that cares about me so deeply; it's rare to have someone so deeply interested in my life and interested in caring about me. It's rare to have someone so committed and so deeply loving.
I love that my relationship is a mirror to myself. This is my spiritual work: That if my partner and I are struggling, it is an opportunity to see how to expand my heart, to become a more loving individual—not only to my partner, but also to myself—and to transmit this love to the world in turn. Because my partner loves me, I have been forced to reexamine myself, to look at the pieces of myself for which I do not feel love. By looking at those pieces, I have learned to accept and love myself even more. My partner has showed me that those pieces are still lovable. I love that my partner is constantly changing, even in a long-term relationship. Each day I'm learning to love deeper with another human being. Our length of time together has helped me in innumerable ways. The accumulated years allow for a deep sense of safety, comfort, and trust. These qualities are difficult to build in a short-lived relationship.
The security and 11-year span of our relationship have opened my eyes to how to communicate. The relationship has exercised my voice in honesty and openness. It has allowed me to stay true to myself, for all my needs and desires.
In a paragraph, I am not able to speak truly of how much a long-term relationship has changed me, because something so immense and so grand is indescribable. But I will try.