17 Years On - A Relationship That's Totally Perfect In Its Imperfection

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Saturday 16 February 2019

17 Years On - A Relationship That's Totally Perfect In Its Imperfection

Today Dan and I celebrate 17 years being together in a relationship (almost a third, so 5 of those years, have been spent together living in a motorhome); something which fills us immediately with gratitude every morning.  And so I felt moved to share some words about how more and more the perfection of our relationship is revealed to me everyday! And I wanted to write more about what myths and expectations I'm constantly being challenged to let go of when thinking about what is the 'perfect' relationship and also how so often we just take for granted what love we are being offered.

Dan and I have shared, in some other past posts, that we are totally suited to driving each other nuts at times.  Yes there are many outlooks that we share - our love for the outdoors, sports, animals, good nutrition, concern for the environment etc. and these do bond us together.  Yet in some very fundamental respects we are just such complete opposites, which sometimes leads to friction and tension building up. Something which the very understanding campers next to us last week can attest to - thankfully, both sets of campers either side, had also been married a long time and so when we went round to apologise if some noise may have inconvenienced them, those older and wiser in the relationship department reassured us that it was okay and these things sometimes happen and sometimes need to happen.  I found this incredibly understanding and also freeing.  A perfect relationship doesn't mean one in which you should agree on everything, don't argue, or never scream and shout from time-to-time.

17 years on and yes Dan and I have had our fair share of 'moments' - living in a 6 x 2 m plastic box for 5 years (2 of which have also been shared with 5 dogs) has sometimes pushed us to our communication limits; having said that so did the stresses of our old lifestyle in the years beforehand, just in different ways.  Of course, you hope that you can catch the tension and find more constructive ways to diffuse it and to communicate what changes are needed before it turns into a full scale argument.  In the area of communicating differing individual needs within the context of living together, many of the relationship books and online courses, such as the work of John Gray and that of Katie and Gay Hendricks, have helped us in more recent years.  Just before Christmas we were watching for 30-60 mins most nights od the Hendrick's online course 'Lasting Love Made Easy' together, and I know we both benefited immensely from this third-party help and suggestions of different tools and techniques to try-out.

But this is something which has taken time to develop and to learn that a relationship takes work.  Esther and Dan a few years back wouldn't have been this brave.  Dan and I got together very young; I was 18 having just left home for University and Dan was 19, in the year above. For both of us it was our first long-term relationship and so we had very little experience other than seeing those of our parents and those of peers around us.  And neither included scenarios where couples were open about their relationship struggles or in asking for help.  That felt like admitting the relationship was failing.  And for many years Dan and I just lived together.  Staying together under the same roof rather than admitting we didn't know what we were doing and feeling a failure instead of reaching out and acknowledging that our relationship skills might need some help and some practice.

In those 17 years, we've also both been growing and changing as individuals.  So much so that sometimes the relationship roles we've cast each other into, has felt like it is holding us back.  There have been many periods when quitting and walking away would have been so much easier.  Days when each of us have that internal voice that says 'it's all the other's fault, they make life difficult for you, you could do so much better with someone else or even better if you were on your own so just walk away."  And sadly, we've seen many of our friends' relationships end like this.

My idea of perfection in a relationship was always that romantic ideal that Dan would just know what I needed, even if I didn't, when I needed it.  That Dan would be as interested and enthusiastic about the exact same things that interested and excited me.  That Dan would listen to me, understand all my emotions and say or do exactly the 'perfect' thing I needed that "would make it all better".  Anything less and that little judging voice would come out from hiding and say "see told you, he's let you down again, he's not right for you, just walk away now before you waste even more precious time on this relationship".  And yet each time there was still another voice inside, or more a feeling, that said that wasn't the case.  Something which instead asked the question "what is this showing me, where do I need to change something about me, where do I need to let go of some old drama playing out in my mind, where could I do better".

I've come to really believe and see that Dan and I are completely perfect for each other because we do often trigger each other and rub each other up the wrong way.  Yes it helps that we also share a lot of the same external interests but what really is the foundation of our relationship is that our differences forces us to recognise our own imperfections, look at our own faults and areas where we could be more loving, more understanding, more forgiving, more compassionate and work hard at our communication.  Trying different ways of reaching out to the other or trying different ways of communicating our needs more effectively.  Relationships take work.  I love Dan because 17 years on we're still here.  We're still doing the work, despite so many times when it would have been just so much easier to walk away.  And more and more these days we're able to even have a good laugh at ourselves, about how wonderful it all is that we are helping each other wear-down the walls around our hearts.  See all the things inside of us where we are wounded and insecure and where we so quickly still put up our defenses.

Dan wrote to me after our recent 'disagreement' and I wanted to share some of his words which to me are a wonderful description of unconditional love....
"You and I ultimately both want the same things.  We want to be loved, not for what we do or say, or even think, but for the people we are deep down inside, at our core.  We want to feel that 'I love you when you're sad, angry, distant, aggressive or even blaming;  I love you when you do stupid things, things you knew were stupid but did anyway, even if it affects me sometimes.  And I love you even if you think you don't love me.  I just love you.' "

And that's what a 'perfect' relationship to me is about.  No longer what I can 'get' from Dan. No longer what Dan can do for me.  No longer keeping score of positive things he does versus the negative things, what he does that irritate or hurt me.  But asking myself each time what can I 'give' to Dan.

Dan's scared and insecure at times, just like me and does stupid and insensitive things as a defensive move to push me away.  Can I get better at recognising these times and give him more love and appreciation?  I know now that sometimes when I get scared of just how good things are going, I can unconsciously put the brakes on and do or say some really provocative things; a self-sabotaging move, almost looking for an argument (often referred to as the 'Upper Limits Problem').  As some authors say, it's hard to know a women just needs a hug and some reassurance when she's 'got her teeth out, claws out, snarling and screaming'.

I am increasingly experiencing the truth in the statement 'you are often not upset for the reason you think you are upset.'  In the past I have too quickly blamed the other, before looking at myself first.

I'm grateful for my relationship with Dan.  We are great mirrors for each other.  It helps me see areas about myself that are triggered and that aren't always pretty. Yet each time we can trust the other to know we will still love each other by bedtime (well or at least the next morning!). It would be easier to walk away some days and to pretend that "oh I'm so perfect and it's the others fault and someone else would be better fitted to me".  To so many others we meet in life, in more fleeting relationships, we can do that and hide from ourselves and the things we don't like or are to scared to acknowledge about ourselves.

I'm also aware of just how much we also take for granted what we have in our search for perfection.  There is a part of me that even if it judges our relationship or Dan as at times to be upto 99% perfect, still would insist on throwing that all away in search for that perfect 100% match.  I've come to believe and recognise that as a trick of the mind, an illusion, a mentality of 'the grass is just that bit greener over there'.  I get so focused at times at the things Dan doesn't do, forgets or 'doesn't get right' that in those moments I completely take for granted the wonderful things he does do - yes he cleans, he gives massages, he writes poetry but more importantly I know he is always trying his best as he knows that I am.  And that we will both keep trying until we have tried everything and really feel all options have been explored.

A recent documentary we watched 'Incite Happiness' challenged both of us suggesting times of unhappiness and depression come when we focus too much on our own problems and burdens and that real happiness comes from asking 'what can I do for someone else'. Suggesting in a truly happy relationship we ask our partner daily 'what more can I do for you or to better understand you?' and be a source of support and encouragement to the the other.   As our Yogi Tea-tag told us today 'Love is to Live for Somebody, Love is Not to Live with Somebody.'

So I'm so grateful to Dan; our relationship and it's challenges helps me every day to be a better person.  Grateful for the love and trust we share that allows us to make mis-takes (even big ones at times) and yet still somehow find our way back to forgiveness and laughter.  I'm grateful to Dan for his commitment to our journey together.  I'm grateful for his love and support.

So should a relationship be all fireworks and 'you complete me' like in the romance blockbusters?  I don't know.  All I can say is that from my experience this is not my definition of a 'perfect' relationship anymore.  I'm grateful that I can trust Dan, for his commitment to keep on trying.  We are a perfect match to rub each other up the wrong way on a regular basis, rubbing away all those rough, imperfect edges we have.  We just keep on polishing.  We keep on trying. Keep on loving, keep on forgiving, keep on trying to understand each other.  I feel safety in our relationship because we have seen the worst in each other and we can look past these times, knowing they were just moments where one, or both of us, went temporarily insane due to a very wounded place within ourselves getting triggered and we couldn't in those moments keep our heart open and communicate our need in a way the other could hear us.  Like the very understanding camper said, these times happen.  And I'm sure they will happen again.  But thanks to our commitment to each other and the commitment to trying to use the relationship tools and techniques we are learning about, each time one, or both of us, is recognising sooner what's going on and we catch ourselves and come back together, stronger.  Like a broken bone.  When we recognise a trigger, where we have been wounded or hurt by something in our past, we get stronger at knowing that was the past and coming back into the here and now.  Seeing instead the love or the call for love from the other.   

We got together very early and this have concerned certain people over the past years, and concerned ourselves at certain times as well, that we may have stifled and constricted our individual growth in sacrifice to our relationship.  But whenever I start to think Dan's the problem, deep down I know it's not true, I'm sure it would be the same with any other man.  Maybe it would have been different if we'd first grown up and experienced more before we got together later in life.  Maybe Maybe Maybe.  Who's really to judge or to say.  I accept that Dan and our relationship challenges me to grow individually and yet within a relationship.  And more recently, especially with the addition of our dog family, it has enhanced the need for us really to be honest with ourselves and the other about how to get our needs met and try to communicate this.  Learning the importance of appreciating both the time spent together and also the time spent apart. 

I've heard it said by several speakers that a successful relationship / marriage is one of a constant series of divorces and re-marriages as the individuals within the relationship continue their own personal growth journey.  Or another metaphor I like is that a relationship is like a dance. Sometimes there are steps the couple learn to dance together, sometimes one takes the lead and sometimes there is a little freestyle where each spins and twirls in their own way before coming back together again.  This is an exciting dance to be dancing.  Yes Dan and I often tread on each others toes from time to time but as I'm learning with everything in life .... nothing is perfect; there is only perfection to be found in accepting imperfection.

**I'm so grateful for the dedicated work of so many authors who support couples with their relationships, such as John Gray, supported by his wife Bonnie, and couples such as Katie and Gay Hendricks.  "I am committed to lasting love and I'm committed to it being easy!" ;-)  And I'm also very grateful to speakers such as Marianne Williamson and Michael Beckwith for their relationship seminars, workshops and talks, amongst the many other topics they speak on. **

And a few 'older' photos, just for fun.


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