It seems obvious that the days we argue, find ourselves on different pages, and miss each other’s signals are the most difficult days in my relationships. I mean, duh, right? Nobody likes fighting or feeling like something is just off in their relationship. It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable and it can feel downright scary when you don’t know how to get back to the good days.
I was blessed in that my parents never fought – well, certainly never in front of me. If they disagreed or ever felt off-kilter I never saw it. I love this about my childhood and when I talk to people who tell a different story I feel really grateful for the harmony that always existed in my household. While this blessing taught me a lot, there’s one thing it didn’t teach me: how to weather a storm.
I had an amazing example of what love looked like and what happiness meant but I never witnessed a relationship survive a fight. I never knew how a marriage could navigate rocky times without sinking or even that a little friction here and there could be normal.
In the first three years or so of Ben and I’s relationship, maybe even longer, we never ever fought. People who knew us as a couple wondered out loud how we could be so damn happy all the time. I appreciated the praise for our relationship success but I could never articulate how we had achieved it. For me, it was just natural and normal. It looked like my parent’s relationship and like Ben’s parent’s relationship. We never had to work at it.
The hard truth is that in those days it might have been easier to live this bliss because life really didn’t have too many serious stresses. We were in high school and then at University. We were only just beginning to taste adulthood and we knew then that life was sweet with minimal bills and a lot of time available to spend together.
As we’ve progressed into full-time jobs with more serious bills (ahem, student loans – the very ones that previously made finances so stress-free.) and a lot less leisure time to spend with each other or with anyone, for that matter, we’ve had to face a new and evolving set of challenges. I think our relationship has faced a couple of unique sets of challenges, actually.
Building a life together brings one set of challenges. From living together and maintaining the house together, lifestyle choices to mutual bills. Building a life together has challenges and difficult conversations built in.
On top of that, we’ve had to grow up together. I’ve talked a little bit about this and probably will talk about it again from time to time. As romantic as it is being high school sweethearts if the relationships are really going to last forever there’s some work to be done to transform from teenagers who love each other into adults who function as a team, whose lives work together and who still love each other.
I think we’ve been lucky. Even with the challenges we’ve faced we really haven’t had to weather too many storms. That being said I wanted to take a second here on getting through the days we don’t like to talk about.
Finding ourselves lacking harmony some days was really scary because for so long we never felt that way and we didn’t see a lack of harmony in our households growing up so it started to feel like we must really be doing something wrong. It wasn’t our normal so it felt like a battle neither of us was ready for.
The way we survive and the best advice I can give is simple: love first.
When the love of your life drives you crazy, disagrees with you, makes little mistakes over and over again or just seems to be lacking something you need from the relationship, take a deep breath and love first.
Someone somewhere in something or other I was watching about relationships once said couples have to fight while still being on the same team. You can be upset with each other and you can ask each other to do better in the relationship but always be on the same team.
When you start to feel like you’re on separate teams in some sort of ultimate opposition everyone loses.
What does that look like?
Sometimes it means pausing the argument to ask yourselves what you want the result to be and finding out if maybe you just have different ways of trying to get to the same place.
This happens to Maggie and I sometimes. We’re both strongly opinionated, highly organized, goal driven and a tad bit stubborn. When we see someone else in the pod, particularily each other, veering off the path we really feel we should be on… or if someone asks us to change ours… get ready for a world of resistance and friction.
Then at some point someone asks what the freakin’ point is and we realize we both have the same answer. We’re trying to force each other to the same destination we’re just trying to get there in different ways. Realizing we were on the same team and had the same goals the whole time has solved basically any fight we’ve ever had in a matter of seconds.
Fun fact: Want to clear men out of a room? Start an argument with your girlfriend. Never seen Ben or Tom make themselves dissapear faster than when their women are on the path to disagreement!
Sometimes it looks like creating a compromised vision of how you want it to end so that even though you weren’t fighting for the same thing to begin with you have created a new goal you can both work towards.
Sometimes it means going to bed and seeing how you feel in the morning.
Everyone says you shouldn’t go to bed angry. I sort of agree but I think more importantly you should never go to bed (or anywhere) letting your anger be bigger than your love.
I hate going to bed angry. It’s a terrible feeling and I never get a good sleep. But staying up all night depriving yourselves of any sleep at all is going to put ya’ll in a worse mood and move you further away from resolving your disagreement.
Ben and I have never slept in separate beds simply because we refused to sleep together. If we’re not sleeping with each other it’s because one of us isn’t home, because I am only sleeping for a few hours in between classes. If we’re supposed to be in bed together, we are. Even when we’ve upset each other.
It’s part of putting love first and living the truth that we’re on the same team. We don’t let frustration and disagreement divide us.
When it feels hopeless let yourself remember all the reasons you’re here. How did you end up together? How did you end up living under one roof? How did you feel as you laid the bricks one by one and built this life together? You made a decision – actually, you made a lot of decisions – to get here.
Staying here is a decision, too. It’s a decision that makes sense with the hundreds and thousands of decisions you’ve made as a couple so far. But ending it undoes all those other decisions. Deciding to leave and turn away from love is a decision to remove all those bricks you laid and unbuild this life.
For me, it was worth building and on our worst days, it’s still worth fixing.
Lastly, when I read about peoples worst relationship days they talk about feeling like something is beyond saving. Another piece of advice in my head that I know I got from somewhere but can’t remember where is that you can build something new. Deciding that your relationship isn’t working the way it is doesn’t mean you need a new person. Love is pretty limitless. When you refocus on love you can assess what parts of the life you built aren’t functioning and focus on rebuilding those and doing better instead of swinging the wrecking ball and walking away.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes relationships end and there’s nothing wrong with deciding that what ya’ll really need is to part ways. That being said, I believe in love and the way I see it love can weather a lot of storms when you are willing to repair what you’ve built when it gets damaged.