I’ve been sitting on this question for a few days now because I have no clue how to answer it. It made me realize that whenever someone asks what makes our relationship work, I usually credit Adam: “He doesn’t hold grudges. He is a ridiculously upbeat, optimistic person. He has sweet dance moves” etc.
But obviously, this is only half the story. I’m not a self-effacing “Oh my gosh, my husband is the reason I’m here! I’m nothing without him!” person. I existed as a whole, complete person before Adam, and if need be, I could exist after him, too (albeit in a heartbroken, limping sort of way.)
I’ve always hated wedding vows that go on about “two becoming one” and “each completing the other” , just, no. What kind of codependent nonsense is that? Adam complements me, but doesn’t complete me. There are no Unity Candles or Togetherness Sand Vases in our house.
Oh wow, we got a little off track there hey? Sorry.
Anyway. Logically I know that I am responsible for half of the success of this relationship (if you define success as 10 consecutive years without any spouse-strangling…as long as mime-strangling behind backs doesn’t count), but I’m still not sure how to answer this.
I’m stumped because I think there’s two different questions here: things to do to make THIS relationship successful, and things to do to create a successful relationship generally speaking.
So, to answer the first question, a list:
What I Do To Make This Bizarre Relationship Successful
– Help Adam find his keys, phone, wallet and other assorted detritus minimum five times a day (mostly) without complaint
– Rub his back when he is stressed
– Ignore, for the most part, his horrific messiness
– Hold back my instinct to plan and schedule, and go along with his spontaneous adventures
-Listen to him talk through his ideas
– Accept (mostly) without mockery, his imaginary bromance with Channing Tatum (I know, I KNOW. You should have seen him watching The Vow)
-Laugh at his jokes
-Fist bump him upon request
-Add some organization to temper his chaos, long term planning to balance his short-term focus, and a voice of reason to tamp down some of his wilder instincts.
The thing is, these aren’t going to help anyone else in their relationship, probably. You can’t just go around giving dudes Channing Tatum posters and fist-bumping them, that’s kind of weird, and this is why I think most relationship advice is bullshit.
It’s either so generalized that it’s just common sense, or it’s built around what worked for one specific pairing, and tough to generalize to the wider public.
I know this because I spent the first half of our time together trying to squish our slightly offbeat relationship into a box that the experts built. I hopped from book to book, insisting that we need to Communicate more! Learn each others Love Languages! Set date nights! and so on, depending on what book I was reading at the time.
I’ll save you a lot of time and useless book purchases by breaking down The Basics For a Decent Relationship:
-Sexual attraction (unless both you and your partner identify as asexual, in which case, rock on wit yo asexual selves!)
-Like (as in, you both genuinely LIKE spending time with each other, are still excited when you see them, when they call, even after years and years.) I think in many ways this one is the toughest, because it’s almost impossible to manufacture. Either you like them or you don’t.
-Basic shared goals -like, really basic. Do you want to get married, do you believe in monogamous relationships, do you want to have kids type basic.
-You get along with each other’s families. This one is luck of the draw and is sometimes beyond your control, but it’s a hell of a lot easier when it happens, so try your best.
I think too, that we’re sometimes too quick to throw in the towel and try to trade up. It’s so easy to think that somewhere out there is the perfect partner who would match every criteria on our imagined wishlist. I don’t believe that there is ONE perfect person for everyone. But even if there was, would you want that? Really?
Wouldn’t that be boring? Where’s the conflict? Where’s the push for growth, for change? Who is challenging you and forcing you to begrudgingly step outside of your comfort zone and see the world from a different viewpoint?
Which brings me to my final point, which you probably knew was coming: fights.
Fights are not a bad thing in and of themselves. They are a necessary part of having the lives of two people run smoothly in parallel, they are how you figure out where to give and where to take, they are what cements you together as a couple.
So fights -or disagreements, spats, whatever you want to call them-are all good. Name calling, being cruel, using violence or threats or the silent treatment to get your way, are decidedly not.
Pay attention to how your partner acts when they are angry. Pay attention to how they speak to you, how (or if) they apologize, and what their repair attempts look like.
And the last piece of wisdom I have accrued in the past decade is to not say anything about your partner, that you haven’t said (or wouldn’t say) to them.
It’s totally fair to have grievances about your partner, it’s not fair for your barista to know that you hate the way they chew with their mouth open before they do.
I don’t know if this answered your question.
There isn’t one formula for a perfect relationship, and if there is, I haven’t found it. Do your best, treat others how you would want to be treated, be gentle with your partner and yourself.
Aaaand finally, just because this isn’t long enough already, Adam’s suggestions for how to answer this question: