Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name, Elizabeth Rose. Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.
When I was single and heard couples say, “Relationships are hard work,” I just figured they were in the wrong relationship otherwise it would be more like a romantic comedy than actual work.
It wasn’t until I was in a long-term committed relationship that I understood what they meant.
The inklings of “work” appears when the first euphoric months of dating wears off, the moment you realize he or she is an entirely different human than you, basically when googly-eyed lust turns into deep-seated love, that’s when the real work begins.
I’ve found the hard parts aren’t physically challenging, though if you consider biting your tongue a physical challenge, then it’s most definitely physical.
One challenge is realizing that you and your partner may show love in different ways. That as much as you want him to bring you flowers every day, his version of a bouquet of red roses is changing the oil in your car and filling the tank with gas.
Or, in my most recent understanding of how Jason receives love, what a love note means to me is the same as emptying the pee-jug of our compostable toilet for him. Not glamorous but to him, it’s right up there with offering a kidney.
Getting Used To Our Relationships Was A Struggle.
At the beginning of our relationship, one of the hardest parts for me was not taking offense when the values I was raised with were questioned – whether I still agreed with those values or not. I’d take Jason’s differencing point of view as criticism, a big FU to my parents, then wonder if everything I was taught was wrong.
It reminds me of teasing a younger sibling.
It’s ok if you do it, but if someone comes along and teases them the same way, your chests puffs up and all you want to do is punch them in the nose.
I realize how naive that sounds now, but at the time I wasn’t prepared for Jason to question out loud what I had only questioned in my head.
East Coast vs. West Coast
It all goes back to how we were raised: I grew up in a traditional Southern family and, due to my father’s military career, grew up in cities around the world. Jason, a third-generation Santa Barbarian, was raised by an unconventional-thinking family most of whom are commercial fishermen. His family prioritizes the environment. My family prioritizes those who serve our country. His family practices homeopathy. My family consists of Western-medicine practicing doctors. Jason wasn’t allowed to eat sugar or watch TV as a kid. My sister and I ate homemade cookies and watched I Love Lucy reruns.
Yet somehow on this little planet Jason and I found each other, fell in love and decided to build a life together. He takes a few steps to the right and I, to the left.
We learn from each other and we disagree. We choose our battles, communicate from the front lines, and find a middle ground. We rely on one another. We say we’re sorry. We laugh. We care for each other. And the wheel goes round and round.
After two and half years of dating, and numerous conversations with couples of all ages, I’ve discovered this is “normal”.
Conflict happens and it’s unrealistic to think you can avoid conflict in any relationship, let alone a person you are intimate with. The hard part is remembering our differences make us think outside the cozy box we’ve built for ourselves, needling us to grow.
It’s swallowing your pride and realizing your partner may know something that you don’t.
About once a month, Jason and I check in with each other to gauge what needs adjusting in our relationship. We put our egos down, lay our hearts on the line, and recommit to our relationship so we are strong enough to make it through the really hard stuff – the health problems, family dramas, financial challenges, career disappointments, etc.
We aren’t always in the mood. It can feel a little taxing at times. But we talk, we listen, we push through.
I’m learning what makes a lasting relationship work is choosing a partner you can rely on and who considers you just as much as you consider them.
Sometimes the simple questions are the hardest to ask:
Does your partner really have your back and consider your wants and needs?
Would you empty a pee-jug for them?
Do you love them enough to bite your tongue?