Today is our anniversary. 18 years in a relationship. Wow! That seems crazy long. How do we do it? It’s really not that hard to explain, but it has been hard. Not what you expected to hear from this romantic optimist? Well here it is, sparing the sometimes sordid, sometimes mundane details…
Most people seem to think that the magic of new love carries people through a long term relationship. So if they don’t click with someone right away, or if the spark dies out or they hit a rough patch, it must not be meant to be. “I’m better off by myself.” “I don’t have to settle.” “I’m not willing to change, someone will love me for me.” These statements are true to some extent, but you do have to consider the other person, compromise, bend a little, stick it out and be willing to change in order to show that person that you value them in your life and you respect the fact that it’s not just about you anymore.
We both were “me” once. He has his own story. I’ll start the story of our journey with mine. I broke my own heart at age 17. It’s better to say it this way because anything else would be unfair to the boy that broke up with me back in high school. See it was my fault that he broke up with me anyway. But it was meant to be because I went away to college a free agent. And it made room for me to meet Mr. Right, aka my current hubby. Of course I was still pining for boyfriend #1, but I fell hard for Mark nonetheless. He was cute and super sweet and we became friends first for about a semester. Then it blossomed from there when I had resisted his charms enough and decided that I didn’t want to lose his friendship because my friends said he was too young for me.
It’s actually funny how they say the first year is the honeymoon because now that I look back, boy was it NOT! Our 18th year is way better than that first year ever was! Sure we were lovey dovey and always wanted to be together. But we fought constantly about jealousy and control issues (yep, boyfriend #1 hadn’t gone away yet). We did the break up/make up bit over and over again for 2 or 3 years. But gradually a funny thing happened…
Amid my indignation for his double standards about male/female relationship roles and his resentment about my aloofness and arrogance, we somehow moved from our base of friendship, to a base of family. Yes, he had become family to me. I couldn’t separate him out of my life as just “some guy I’m seeing”. He became as important to me as my sister and brother. I fought with them all the time growing up. But I would never think, “I’m going to leave you, cut you out of my life”. I couldn’t do without a sibling or shop around for a better one. Likewise, Mark just clicked into place as my partner. I could even see the big picture; a crystal ball showing me a glimpse of us 20 years down the line with a family, sharing our lives together. We weren’t just boyfriend/girlfriend anymore. We were family.
Well with me deciding to stick around through thick and thin, that meant making some choices, like dealing with things instead of just putting my hand in his face and moving on. Being in a longterm relationship forces you to look at yourself and your flaws. If I just left him because he did this or didn’t do that for me, I would have possibly moved on to the next person that couldn’t give it to me either. That’s not their role! I had to learn how to actually get whatever “this or that was” from myself.
Do you know what I mean? Haven’t you been in a relationship where the other person seems uncompromising or extremely hardheaded and you didn’t see how it would ever work out? But your pride was so stubborn that you were not willing to give in, even an inch, because no one is going to “play you”. You can do “bad all by yourself”, right? Well I needed to take a look in the mirror because my sh*t stinks too! As soon as Mark and I both took the focus off what we didn’t like about the other, and held up a mirror, we slowly began to let God show us how we can be better partners to each other. It was humbling. It was internal work. Not like couples therapy (nothing wrong with that, we just decided to go the spiritual route). And it was a lot of work. But little by little, big sacrifices switched to little compromises and big relationship deal breakers became things that we could overlook when we saw the big picture and remembered how much we cared for each other.
It’s really amazing what 18 years can do. I’m so glad and blessed to have him in my life this whole time (my entire adult life really). We were together for 3 years before we moved in together. We made a big move across country after 7 years together. We got engaged at 8 years and married at 9. We had our munchkin after we were married for 3 years. I’m older than him plus I’m a woman, so we mature faster (lol), so I reached all these milestones before him and had to pray and wait for him to be ready. But there is beauty and wisdom in that. I made no ultimatums. I did no tricking him about birth control to get pregnant. I got to enjoy being me, being part of a couple, and we grew closer every year. Mark got to be a guy, hang with his boys, and did not feel smothered or pushed into something he was not ready for. I waited because I could see that he loved me. I could see (in the early years in our 20s) that he wanted to be free but that he wanted me in his life. I can see that getting serious so young may have been bad timing. But I’m so glad that I had patience because now, when the timing is probably “right” (many guys seem ready to settle down by their mid to late 30s), many of my single friends have an extremely difficult time meeting someone! Contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy to create a relationship with someone you met online, at the club, at church or at work.
So we are blessed with our love story. Don’t get it confused with a Hollywood romance. There were a lot of bumps, bruises, backstabbing and heartaches along the way. Our pride was bruised, ego was bumped, independence was stabbed in the back and our hearts ached in confusion and perseverance. But pride was replaced by confidence in our love, ego was replaced by God and a soul connection, independence shifted to our interdependent little family of 3, and confusion and perseverance were rewarded with clarity and certainty.
Don’t be afraid to stick it out with someone! Yes, you can be happy alone, especially when you know God’s love. But God wants each of us to be bonded in loving partnership. First love Him, then love yourself and then watch yourself open to trust and love someone romantically.