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.
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.
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".
"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.
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.
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 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.
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.