I have been a romantic for most of my life. I wanted to be the damsel in distress in hopes that one day my knight in shining armor would come rescue me, and we’d live happily ever after. I was 23 at the time and slightly delusional.
While I’ve not jumped from one relationship to another, looking back now, I realized I was trying too hard to be someone I wasn’t. I was chasing after a romanticized dream that could only be true in Hollywood movies and perhaps a handful of couples. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really knew who I was back then.
Until my last breakup.
To be honest, that relationship started off with many red flags, but I stayed for six years because I thought it was as good it was going to get. I’ll admit — I got too comfortable. After the breakup, I took some time off to “find myself”. I went on a total of 4 dates in 3 years and spent the rest of the time on me; going on vacations by myself, working out, doing better at my job, and worked on being a more emotionally independent person. I realized during that time that I was doing the whole relationship thing wrong, and I was happy being on my own for a while.
Then I met my current husband who messed all that up — in a good way. He made me realize what a mutual loving relationship should be like. Not only did he want me the way I am, but he also made me want to do better.
He encouraged me to pursue freelance writing and believed in me whole-heartedly. He celebrated my first paid gig of only $4.00.
It has been a heck of a journey to be where we are today and growing with him has been an experience. I’m sharing my story and some learnings in hopes you’ll find this relatable and will share some of your stories too.
It’s all about playing to our strengths.
We hear so much about women complaining about their husbands being man-children and men complaining that their wives only nag at them. We’ve both been in relationships where we were the breadwinner and homemaker at the same time, and we knew that was not what we wanted anymore. During one of our “get to know each other” conversations, the topic of chores came up and we realized we didn’t mind the chores the other disliked. That set a precedent when we finally moved in together.
He would take care of the more physically demanding chores (lawn, garage, home improvements, gardening, cars, etc), while I would take care of the household chores (cleaning, cooking, laundry, dishes, etc).
Although it would seem to other people that we’ve regressed into a 60’s era relationship, it works for us. We didn’t let current social norms influence how we wanted our relationship to be and now we rarely argue about chores. He makes sure our lawn is in top condition while I sip iced tea on the porch, and I make sure he always has dinner and clean socks. He does the heavy lifting of dog food and dirt while I handle the household budget. While I’m all for equality and pride myself on being an independent, strong woman, it’s a relieve to have a man do the heavy lifting for you. Especially when the price for it is just a peck on the cheek and a cold beer.
Onto the next point, it is also about realizing what your partner does for you.
Our relationship began in long distance. That meant if the relationship were to go on, one of us would eventually have to make the big move and we made the decision that it would be me for many reasons. He had more roots where he was, I had the education and therefore better job prospects, and it would have been easier for me to pack my things since I was living in a small apartment at the time.
Although this was agreed on and we were excited to finally be living together, he realized it wasn’t going to be easy for me to uproot my life. I had a great job, family and friends where I lived and I was willing to be away from all that just to be with him.
I was not able to legally work after I made the move and it made me feel horrible. I was depressed a lot and felt like I was a burden as I had to depend on him. That’s when he stepped up. Not only did he take extra hours at work, but he made sure to give me the attention and loving I needed to overcome it. He encouraged me to do something I love — writing. I’ve always written well for corporate, but never for myself for fear of failing and criticism. His exact response to that was “if it fails, oh well. But what if it doesn’t and you’re finally doing something you love?”.
Realizing what your partner does for you takes most of the frustration away. It doesn’t even have to be a big gesture of love. The simplest things like watching my favorite movie (even though he hates it) or making a cup of coffee for him every morning says something about how we feel for each other. We do these things because we know it makes the other feel loved. It shouldn’t be because it is expected of us.
Has he left a wet towel on a chair instead of tossing it into the laundry basket that’s right next to it? Of course he has! But I also know it was because he was rushing to get dressed for work. I’ve forgotten to do the laundry when he doesn’t have enough socks to wear but he doesn’t get on me for it because he knows I was distracted that day with other chores. Some things may seem important or just common sense to us but it doesn’t mean it’s the same for the other person.
It is also about understanding that we will both have bad days.
This is a biggie for us. We’re both hot tempered in a different way and can be moody just by waking up on the wrong side of the bed. We’ve had arguments purely because we were mad at ourselves and not at each other. But they always end with the both of us walking away for a little space and time, and coming back to one another once we’ve calmed down to talk about it.
I’ve always been the one to not apologize. I realized it was because the men I used to date would refuse to apologize for anything. The first time he apologized, I was caught off guard. I could see it was difficult for him, but he wanted us to be right more than he needed to be. After that, I found myself apologizing for my mistakes too! Because it was more important for us to be right with each other than for one of us to claim victory over a fight.
I’m prepared to admit I’ve had more bad days than he did, and I probably will in the future. But it doesn’t seem that daunting anymore because I now know he will be there for me through thick and thin. The least I can do is not treat it like a chore when he’s having a bad day.
How do we know when the other is having a bad day? We communicate.
Every relationship article stresses that communication is key to a successful relationship, but they don’t specify the metrics of a successful relationship, nor do they specify the type of communication. I was never able to fully express myself in my past relationships and have had to hide a part of myself just to make things work.
We had two things going for us — we were forced to talk because we were in a long-distance relationship, and he loved to talk. I remember marveling at how many hours we’ve spent on the phone talking about everything and anything — from how our future kids would look like to our favorite foods to our sexual desires. We were put in a situation that if we didn’t get to know each other thoroughly, it wouldn’t have worked out between us. Because of that, we’ve unconsciously built a solid foundation based on honest, judgment-free communication. That is ultimately what you need in a healthy relationship. Do we disagree when we don’t like what we’re hearing? Of course, we do! But we’ve never judged or held a grudge over each other for it because guess what… it’s ok when you agree to disagree. It doesn’t change how we feel or who we are.
All this has made us a better team.
We’ve gone through every hurdle life has thrown at us just to be together. Not once did we make the other go through it alone. There were times we felt alone but the other one was always there listening, giving little words of encouragement and assurance. It truly feels like it’s us against the world; that we can take on any challenges so long as we do it together.
I found my knight after I stopped being a damsel in distress. Because no one should feel like they have to constantly rescue their partner.
Also published on Medium