I’ve been staying away from blogging a few weeks now because so many things have been happening. I can’t claim to know much about how to build up and maintain a healthy relationship and/or marriage, but I believe that some of the practices that Flo and I try to follow have helped us to create quite a balanced, stable, healthy one.
In recent weeks, my heart has been torn for friends whose relationships have dissolved, friends who are questioning their relationship, friends who are going through a terribly turbulent patch in their relationship… These are all friends who are dear to me and it certainly hasn’t been raining, it’s definitely been pouring. Or so it feels.
Some fundamentals I have learned in recent years being with Flo are so incredibly vital to making a relationship work. One thing that I value between Flo and I is that aside from love, we trust each other whole-heartedly and are completely honest and open in our communication.
My Dad once told me – when I say once I really mean repeatedly otherwise it would never have got into my head, that when you trust your partner, you have to trust him 100%. There’s no such thing as 99.9% because if you cannot trust your partner completely, you don’t trust him at all. Trust is something that’s black and white.
I’m totally ok with Flo meeting female friends for lunch when he’s at work, going out for drinks with his colleagues after work, staying out past midnight even. I have never made it an issue because it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. So, he has never had a problem telling me straight up that he has these appointments lined up for the day or the week. The only thing I like for him to do is to keep me updated that he’s gone for drinks so I don’t worry when he’s not home the usual time. Also, I have told him never to come home drunk on a work-night such that he has a hangover too impossible to overcome to go to work the next day. Flo generally drinks responsibly so we’ve never had much of a problem with that.
Now, as a female, we’re known for saying A when we mean B, and saying B when we mean B but are mistaken for meaning A. I cannot deny that women sometimes like their partners to read their minds, guess what they really mean underneath what they say, and strut off in a huff when they guess wrong.
However, as much as women often complain that their man doesn’t understand them, I realise that men are generally very simple creatures. If you’re upset, say you’re upset. If you’re angry, tell them. If you like a certain piece of jewellery for example, tell them directly. If you feel like sushi for dinner, say you want sushi for dinner. It’s that easy.
A lot of stress from our relationship was removed the second I stopped bothering with trying to play ‘Guess‘ with Flo – not that I really did it often to begin with. We tell each other straight up when we miss each other, when we haven’t been as affectionate towards each other in what feels like a while, we say so, and we make sure to set time aside to spend together.
When we have petty arguments, we apologise and hug it out. Of course, we have big arguments too that can set our emotions ablaze. When that happens, we take time out to fume and then we talk about it. We talk until we reach a consensus, or learn how the other’s mind works so we can better understand him/her in future. It’s not always easy, but it works for us.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Key to communicating well and avoiding misunderstandings is never to make assumptions. If there is any doubt, ask.
Again, wise old Dad always told me that when you choose to be with a person, you accept him in his entirety. Do NOT get into a relationship with him thinking you can change him. Do NOT even begin to consider marriage if he has deal breaking habits that you think you can change after signing the dotted line.
That’s not to say that your partner cannot change. Just don’t expect him to. If he does change to how you like, then it’s a bonus. If he doesn’t, well, you were the one who chose him so sit tight! And if he changes for the worse, then please walk away.
I remember a case a doctor friend shared with me about a man who married his girlfriend hoping that after marriage, he’d convince her to have children with him even though she’d been adamant about not having them. 10 years on, he was depressed at being without children because he wasn’t able to change her mind.
Also, if your partner doesn’t possess the qualities you wish him to have, you shouldn’t hold it against him. Love is about accepting the other for his shortfalls and strengths, and vice-versa. Otherwise, you’re trying to bend him to fit that checklist you’re trying to tick off. Eventually, you’ll break him or he’ll run.
I usually think that Flo is more ‘high needs‘ than I am when it comes to physical affection. And while I enjoy cuddling, Flo needs it to feel loved. Understanding this has made me more aware of trying to give him affection whenever I can. Sometimes I lapse, so Flo lets me know as well when he needs a good snuggle fest, and we do it.
For me, I realise that when we have arguments, my insecurity peaks when Flo gets cold and distant, and I worry about Flo not loving me anymore. We have had discussions about this and I can see that Flo tries to ensure that he doesn’t pull himself too far away from me these days while we seethe with frustration. He reminds me that he loves me but he needs time to get over the raging emotions. Often, he will tell me that love doesn’t disappear just like that. And in this sense, I can only agree. One argument doesn’t break a relationship. Nor does a few. It can make us feel uneasy, uncomfortable, but more often than not, it helps strengthen us as a couple as we learn to settle our differences.
Every day, we tell each other “I love you” before Flo sets foot out the door to go to work. Every morning we spend 10-15min of his snooze time cuddling before starting the day. Every night we try to go to bed together, sealing our ‘Good night!’ with a kiss. These are small things, routine things, but they are important things to us.
Never Walk Away
At the beginning of our relationship, in the heat of an argument, I would tell Flo that he should find someone else. I said that because I felt like maybe I wasn’t good enough for him. But he would tell me later that it made him feel unwanted. In the time we’ve been together, I’ve become more aware of this and while I did use that line a few more times after when I allowed my emotions to get the better of me, I don’t use it any more.
Words can hurt, but actions can hurt more.
Sometimes we want our partners to feel the same hurt we might be feeling. During these times, we also fail to recognise that they might be feeling just as hurt as we are without us adding salt to that wound.
Flo and I have had some terrible quarrels so much so that we both feel like we need space and time from each other. It’s usually no more than a couple of hours. The longest was probably one night. I don’t think there’s any wrong in needing a bit of time to think, a bit of space to breathe, before going home and thrashing things out coolly and calmly. I don’t believe in walking away for a few days, a few weeks, without an agreement on when to meet up again to discuss the situation. In a relationship, a marriage, you don’t ever walk away. Ok unless there’s abuse then please, no hesitation, just WALK!
I’m about to be married, but not yet married which means that I have zero experience in married life. But Flo and I have been living together the past year and a half, and I don’t see it as being any different from being married aside from the law recognising our union. And the ring.
What I do know is that come tide or high water, you never leave your partner. You don’t go and not contact her even if simply to let her know you are ok, but need more time to think; you don’t leave without word of when you’ll be back; you don’t turn away because nothing will be resolved during the time you’re missing in action. If anything, you are causing your partner to live in uncertainty, drown in sadness and pain, and fight anger at your selfishness. How can you allow someone you claim to love suffer like that?!
No. You take your time to breathe in, then breathe it all out. Then together, you work like heck to dig yourselves out of that slump.
This is another thing that my parents taught me. Forgiveness in any relationship is important. But perhaps on my part, I will add that it is important to forgive, with a discerning eye. Again, abuse of any kind is a total NO. Forgive, but don’t forget. Forgive, but walk away. Forgive, but never look back.
Here, I’m talking about forgiveness when misunderstandings arise, whether big or small. I can be quite the girl and feel sensitive at times over the most incomprehensible of matters. Flo will apologise and I will let it go.
In New Zealand, we had a big argument what with the stress of being with each other 24/7, Flo’s tiredness from driving hour upon hour, and me being not so tired and failing to comprehend his tiredness. It was probably one of a handful of explosive arguments we’ve ever had, but the morning after, we talked it out. One thing I often remind both of us is that we only have so much time together, be in on holiday, or in life. We can spend our time being mad with each other or use that time to spend making great memories – We always choose the latter.
Please note that forgiveness doesn’t come with a simple ‘Sorry’. Sometimes, it’s having to sit through uncomfortable periods of talking things out. However, I cannot stress how vital it is to communicate and share thoughts, feelings, how his words made me feel this way, why my actions made him feel that way, what I actually meant when I said this, what he actually meant what he said that… Thereafter, we forgive, hug, kiss, and move on.
I don’t have a tried and tested recipe for what makes a relationship successful, but I do know it takes two hands to clap. Always. In this day and age, it’s easy to throw in the towel at the slightest bump. I don’t want to do that. I still believe in the sanctity of marriage. I see my parents, grandparents even, walking together, holding hands – maybe as support but I believe there’s still burning love between them. I want to grow old with Flo, walk hand in hand with him until we have gummy smiles, until he has hair growing out of his ears, until I sip dim sum through a straw. I’d like my friends to build strong, lasting relationships and marriages, and not feel weighed down by a turbulent partnership. Flo tells me often, that together we are stronger. Being with someone else should make you stronger, and if it doesn’t, then you’re stronger without him/her.
I don’t see divorce as a way out. I see it as setting yourself free only after you’ve tried so hard and can no longer carry that burden; after you’ve worked so hard that you have nothing left to give; after you’ve exhausted all your resources and can only let go.
No relationship, however perfect they appear, is free from trails and tribulations. However, when you make that commitment, it’s a responsibility to yourself and to your partner to do whatever it takes to make it work. Even if it means seeking advice and help from professionals.
I’m writing all this because… because my heart is crying for my best friend as she tries to stay afloat in this sea of uncertainty. And to be so close to raw emotion makes me hope that no one will have to bear this level of heartache. But if anyone does, believe that no matter what, you WILL be ok, you WILL get through, and you WILL find happiness again, with or without that person.