Today is the 32nd Valentine’s Day that I’ve shared with the same woman. We are often told how rare we are. Folks ask us how we have managed to not only stay together, but to flourish?
I’m a writer and a therapist. I can talk for days about what goes into a great partnership, but I’d sooner quote my wife the accountant, “Relationships are work. Do the work or have a less than satisfying relationship.”
Yeah, it really is that simple, but only if you know what the “work” is.
Simple truth: most of what we understand about how people ought to relate to each other is learned through our family of origin. If you grew up in a healthy family you probably know about boundaries and limit setting. You know about vulnerability and open communication. You know what you need and how to ask for it. You know how to fight fair, resolve conflicts and how to forgive.
Or maybe you’re like I was – a one-way street of codependency with no sense of self.
One of the biggest reasons this is our 32nd Valentines is because my wife did not kill me in the early years of our marriage. I often share with couples the fight we had in our second year in which she became exasperated and yelled, “You are not solely responsible for my happiness!”
I’ve come a long way since then. Codependency for people like me means that we don’t trust others to take care of themselves because past experience has taught us that they won’t. We avoid ourselves and focus on the people we love.
Simple truth: It’s very hard to love someone in any kind of healthy fashion when you don’t know, don’t like, and/or don’t spend time with yourself.
For many years now, I have a life, my wife has a life, and we choose to share a life together. There’s no secret to how we’ve done this so well for so long, but if you need some suggestions, here’s my hit list.
She’s my best friend and I, hers.
No one comes before her.
We’re true partners – that means all responsibilities and work are shared.
We talk. A lot. We listen not to respond, but to understand.
We accept all the things we might have liked to change about each other
We respect differences in values (I do not have dogs. My wife has dogs)
We maintain healthy, supportive, individual friendships with others
We are not each other’s world.
We don’t go through things alone. To this day I tear up thinking of her by my hospital bed. You could not have pried her away with a crow bar.
We raised two amazing children together and they came first.
We take on new challenges, have shared goals and dreams.
We believe in each other, encourage and support one another actively.
We grow together and look forward to becoming old together.
Maybe this Valentine’s finds you in a new and exciting relationship. Maybe you’re wishing you had something/someone better. Wherever you’re at, I hope you’ll take a bit of guidance from someone who is paid to advise couples:
When I’m asked why so many romantic relationships fail, I say it’s most often because two people who don’t like themselves try to love each other.
It’s no one else’s job to complete you. The perfect partner will not give you, “happily ever after.” Relationships are work. Learn about the work and yourself.