Six years ago, I met my husband while vacationing in Italy. We married three months later. This time was filled with passion and excitement. It felt like something straight out of a romance novel. But, it was real. And because it was real, that period of utter euphoria didn’t last. What followed was a life altering period of development and growth. And I am proud to say that my husband and I are much better people now than we were when we first met. But to get to this point, it required work and exploration. While reflecting on our approaching six years of marriage, I’ve found there are six things that I’ve learned.
Effective Communication Is Everything
I have to start with communication because I truly believe it is one of the most essential components of a healthy relationship. It is absolutely necessary to learn how to communicate with your partner in a way where you both are able to express your thoughts and feelings and arrive at solutions to problems. We pick up so many unhealthy ways of communicating before we arrive in our relationships, sometimes from seeing how our parents communicated, and so it’s important to examine how you communicate with your partner to determine whether you need to make any changes.
Address Your Past Hurts
We all have baggage. And I realized how vital it was for me to examine what I had been carrying around because it did impact my relationship. We bring around baggage from childhood scars, issues with our parents, family members, or past partners. The thing is, our experiences shape who we are and our view of the world. So if you’ve had past experiences where you were hurt and resulted in you putting up barriers (as I had) then vulnerability may be an area that you have to address. It’s necessary to examine what, if anything, from your past is coming out in your relationships.
Verbalize Your Needs
First you have to know your needs in order to express them. I didn’t know what my needs were when I married my husband because I had never spent time thinking about them before. But it’s critical to understand your needs and then verbalize them so that you can discuss how they can be met. Because otherwise, you could start feeling unfulfilled in your relationships.
As a relationship consists of two imperfect people, it’s impossible for the relationship to be perfect. There will be arguments. Each person will offend the other. You will be hurt. But I realized that in order to get through the rough times, you have to forgive. Like really forgive. Not the kind of forgiveness where you forgive and then bring it up six months later. And it’s also helpful to give our partners the benefit of the doubt. It’s so easy to fall into the rabbit hole of negative thoughts, such as when your partner didn’t make the bed which then means they don’t care about you. Maybe they forgot to make the bed because they’re thinking about work. It’s really not helpful to assume the worst.
Never Stop Dating
Especially because the start of our relationship was a whirlwind romance, it was necessary for us to continue to date. Over time, you get comfortable and fall into the normalcy of life. But it’s important to still set aside time where it’s just you and your partner and you’re paying full attention to each other, learning about them, and connecting with them just like when you were dating in the beginning of your relationship. We also value sharing new experiences together, it keeps us out of the mundane. And you don’t always have to leave your city. You could go to a new restaurant, see a play you haven’t seen before, or even go for a run at a place you both haven’t been before.
Conflict Is Good
I used to think that conflict was bad. But that’s far from the truth. Healthy conflict can allow you to strengthen your relationships and understand people better. Of course, that’s healthy conflict. If you’re just fighting and there are no resolutions, or if either one of you are yelling, assuming, or interrupting, then it’s not healthy conflict. In relationships, there are two very different people with different experiences and values. There are bound to be times when you disagree. So, we can use these moments to understand each other better and strengthen the relationship. My husband and I decided to create a communication agreement where we both added agreed upon ways we’d go about having discussions. It’s really worked for us, and I believe it’s a great way to ensure that both of you are on the same page about how you want to have discussions.