On many occasions I am met with people who comment on the love that I share with my boyfriend. Even after being together for two years we seem to have that newlywed mentality. Prior to Covid, if we were seen out at bars or restaurants, we were often asked what our secret was. At first, I wasn’t sure but in hindsight there are a great many things that have led to where I am now – in a healthy happy relationship with someone I love and respect.
The need for reassurance
I love hearing people talk about how happy we look, it can be surprising. I often think that I am not doing enough in our relationship and feel like I am the cause of a great many problems. I can say, however, that our love is strong. I think back on how my views on relationships have changed and how it affects where I am at now.
Historically, my relationships haven’t been the best. For the sake of this article I will call them learning opportunities. Many of my past experiences seem to come from a place of needing others to validate who I am and my self-worth. To feel like I mean something to myself and others.
I think many of us can relate to that.
If you are in a relationship, it is because the person finds you attractive and what they want in a person. In return it gives you a sense of purpose and need. We feel that we need that person to express how much we mean to them so that we feel needed.
Every one of those relationships were hard. Mainly because I was always left wondering if I was good enough for that person. I would blame others for the faults of the relationship without taking blame for how I handled it. We all have a need to feel loved and wanted and we think that a relationship will give us what we desire. The simple truth is that if we don’t love and respect ourselves, we cannot expect others to do so. “Thank you RuPaul!”
My last long term, serious relationship ended 18 years ago and when it did, I never thought there would be another. In fact, after that I only dated one other person for any length of time and it was one of the most unhealthy relationships I have had. When that ended, I pretty much had given up on dating and men. Or so I thought.
I saw the sign
Meeting Karl was a different experience, you can find the specifics of it in How I Met My Boyfried. When we first started talking, I was amazed at the similarities we had in common but I wanted to be cautious. That mindset lasted only until the night came to a close. I like to remember it as a light illuminating him as a sign saying “don’t let this one get away,” The truth is, I realized he was different from anyone I had met previously. That intrigued me.
We were both honest with one another. We both stated we weren’t really looking for anything serious. We wanted to cultivate a friendship first and we were always honest about things with one another. Little did I know we were actually laying the groundwork for great communication. That little effort of foundation would be the glue that keeps us together, no matter what we face.
We both seemed to be oblivious of the path we were heading down. We spent more time together, talking about our past, sharing things we liked, and our experiences. We were becoming close with all that we shared with one another. We just fell into a relationship, before we realized it. To be honest, it was a friend of Karl’s that pointed out that we were already in a relationship, whether we chose to label it or not.
What makes it work
I think the biggest piece of advice I have is this, communication is key. I know every advice column in the world has doled out that little tidbit of info, but it is true. We both have understood there will be arguments and we will be upset with one another. That is a given in any relationship. What makes the difference is in how you handle it. Having the freedom to say what you feel, take time to decompress, and look at it again, after we have cooled down, it allows us to look at those challenges in unique ways.
We do not expect the other person to be perfect, instead we only ask for them to be the best person they can be. It takes teamwork to make a relationship, of any kind, last. (You were waiting for me to say ‘Make the dream work’.” We cook together, shop together, and talk constantly. Sure we both get frustrated and angry at one another, but we sit down and talk about it instead of running away from it. That was a hard lesson for me to start to learn. I have always been the one that ran when the relationship got hard.
Karl has taught me relationship building exercises and I TRY to do them. We do crafting together, put puzzles together (attempted rather), and play games together. This reinforces our bond and allows us to see how well we do work together. His favorite is out of nowhere asking me questions about something from my past, or what I would love to do that I have not done, and various other random questions.
Being a better partner
The first thing you have to remember is to change your mindset about love and relationships. These are things that have to be worked for, they don’t just come easily. You start a relationship because you want to be with the person you are attracted to. As you learn more about the person and share your experiences, you start to learn a deeper love than that of just pure attraction. It takes honesty and commitment. This can make you become a better partner.
What do I mean by a better partner? Well, in terms it seems simple but in practice is something you have to work on everyday. You have to listen and interact with your partner. You have to want to understand their needs and make them important to you. You have to learn to set aside things to work for the common goal. This doesn’t mean giving up who you are or what you want, that can lead down the path to resentment.
If you were to ask him, he would say that I still need to work on this. Truth is, we all need to work on it constantly. It isn’t something that you accomplish and move on from.
I realize that this makes us sound like some storybook romance, in many ways that may be true but it’s not 100%. Like every other relationship, we have our moments of realness.
You are two separate and distinct people sharing your lives, it is perfectly normal to have hiccups along the way. What is the most important part is how you deal with those moments.
Our first argument was massive, in my eyes. It escalated quickly and once it happened I went into preservation mode. I just knew it would be the end of our relationship, before we even got started. I cried for hours over it. My blood pressure was all over the place and every instance I could imagine played out in my head. Most every relationship I had ended badly, usually by me. I would rather run away than deal with the issues. Either way, I always seemed to end up alone.. So I was prepared for Karl to tell me to go fuck off. It never came.
After a day, my emotions cooled a little, as did his, and we talked. The amazing thing is we worked out our issues. And we were stronger for it. What I didn’t realize is that this was a learning lesson in how we would handle things for the future, I just didn’t see it at the time.
That all changed when I found an article that talked about how to handle the challenges that relationships can have. The gist of the article talks about how a couple would make a list of things that bothered them and schedule to talk about them at a later date. This gives you and your partner time to cool off from when the situation happened. Then you can rate how those instances made you feel and decide if they need discussing. Once that meeting date arrives you talk about those issues that are the most important.
I come from a family that is passionate, not only that but my mother taught us to work out our issues in the moment while they are still fresh. Never go to bed angry, she said. That can work for some things, but what I have realized in my years is that I am a reactionist and may not see the bigger picture at the time of my feelings being hurt. I either want the other person to feel my pain or prove that I am right. Neither of those are conducive to a healthy relationship or conversation.
Using the article above and talking to my therapist, I realized that it is better to distance myself from the situation. Not avoid it but take some time. It seemed contrary to being taught not to bottle up feelings. I had to unlearn that and instead teach myself to not react in the moment, unless it was critical.
Let’s say that I am having a conversation with Karl and something was said or done that upsets me, normally I would react in the moment to it. That can cause a misunderstanding, so it is better to take note of how I feel in the moment and what is being said. From there, I tell him that I need some time to process. I then reevaluate those feelings after a cooling off period. If I still feel the importance of them, we plan a time to sit down and talk about those feelings without the heated emotions of the moment. This ends up allowing us to talk about them while being removed from the situation and able to discuss our feelings more rationally.
This process requires you to listen to the other person and their feelings. You don’t have the need to prove you are right or shut down what they are feeling. It allows you to express what you see as a problem, even if the other person may not see it. To know that the other person’s feelings are as valid as yours. You both can see where faults lie and deal with them in a productive manner. This is not an immediate thing, we are still working on it. I can say that it has changed our dynamic, a lot. It is a bit weird to get used to, you worry that you may not address how you feel or if it will be relevant later – that is the reason for it. Removing your immediate emotions allows you to see if this is something that requires an action or just a new perspective on matter.
Tying it all together
This is only a few of the things that we both work on in our relationships. You have to be open and want to make things better. You have to remember that relationships do not come easy, there will be rough times you have to endure. It is how you endure them that can make or break your relationship. The desire to be with a person who values you and you want to be with far outweighs the rough patches that may come along.