If we’ve covered parents and God, I think that brings us around to significant others on the “influential relationships” circuit. I’ve known a lot of guys who say things like “My wife saved me,” or “I was nothing before her.” I think that’s a wonderful sentiment; I can’t express it. I have definitely become a better person since I met Emily, and a lot of the improvements have been because we’re together. I don’t have any interest in going back to my life before her, but I still have self respect, and “She’s the only reason I matter” sounds like codependent BS. For those of you who say things like “I was nothing before her,” please check right now that you’ve not been dragging your spouse or girlfriend down since the beginning of your relationship. With all that out of the way, I’m not sure I would have survived the last six months without her. We have a good relationship. We watch our families and our friends, see what they do that works for us, and what they do that don’t. Then we try to stop doing the things that don’t work, or change them so that they do.
That brings me to the focus here, the things we do–and don’t do–that work for us. I’m writing this as someone who has been married for all of four years; I’m not an expert, I don’t know how things will change. I know what’s gotten us this far, and kept us generally happy with our lives.
Spend quality time. Not all the time, but a decent amount of it. That means talking about the implications fictional characters’ decisions would have in our life, coaching each other in video games, sharing what’s going on in our days and trying to empathize, and going on walks. Literally, just spend time together. That’s not enough to strengthen a relationship, but it’s a prerequisite.
Support each other. That also means not judging or shaming the other person when we come to different conclusions in a conversation, for completing an objective differently, or criticizing decisions made throughout the day. It might be fun every once in a while, but it’s the world’s job to test the relationship’s strength, not ours. As Major Frank Burns said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” and we both prefer being supported to being challenged.
Trust. If a relationship is going to work, you have to trust the other person. That’s why support is so important, so the other person knows they can trust you. But it’s more than not cutting each other down; let the other person into your life. If you can share a house, and a bedroom, you can share fears, dreams, and bank accounts too.
Make decisions together. If you’re in it together, be in it together. That means not hiding things because you’re ashamed, and taking advantage of a second perspective.
Accept help. Chances are pretty good that you’ll need some help, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Whether that’s living with family members, advice from friends or other couples, or support from government programs, you’ll need help. Don’t abuse the systems, but don’t be so proud that you reject help. Pay it forward down the road.
Men do not get pregnant. If there’s going to be a kid in the picture, you have to grow up fast. If there’s a pregnant woman in the picture, she’s growing a human being inside her. Her body’s changing drastically, her hormones are probably all over the place, and she might seem like a crazy person. She’s probably doing the best she can, which means the other person needs to pick up the slack. Non-pregnant person, you don’t get to be crazy or selfish anymore. EVER AGAIN. When the baby comes, then it gets to be crazy and selfish. If you’re adopting, you don’t get the slow lead-in time of early infancy to learn what you’re doing, so you both need to bring your A-Game. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it means you don’t get to slack off anymore.
Accept that you have your own things; your own pasts, your own interests, your own problems. You don’t have to have everything in common. I don’t think Emily will ever be as interested in food as I am. She still helps make cookies and accepts that I treat a clean kitchen as a challenge rather than a goal. I’ll never be as worried about a clean house as she is, but I still help with laundry, mopping and dishes when I think about it. Help each other work on the things that are problems, and don’t worry about the rest.
I don’t think anything on the list is really all that profound. As I wrote it, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “well duh” for almost every item, even when they contradict. But I see needless struggles because people are ashamed, afraid, selfish or proud.