In a world of #couplegoals is the best guide for a healthy relationship one’s own life experience?
The first time I sat on my therapist’s couch, she asked me “So, what are you here to work on?” Outside of my recent adjustment from college to the real world, my biggest priority was love. Knowing that fatherhood and building a family were two life goals I was firm on, I told her that I wanted to figure out how to build a long-lasting relationship. Up until therapy I only loosely understood how to navigate sexuality in a conservative southern state, much less, how to spend the rest of my life with someone. And although I understood monogamy wasn’t the only way, it was my way, and I was okay with that. My fear, however, was that I had never gotten the chance to exist among long-term relationships or healthy marriages, so how was I to build something I’d never seen before? Could I hope for a successful marriage when I didn’t know what it looked like?
My family solidified my love and respect for women. Out of the seven women who played a role in my upbringing, six of them were single mothers or widows. I was able to see firsthand the absolute magic that exuded from these women when faced with adversity, and I strive every day to embody that for myself. On the flipside, this upbringing created gaps in other areas of my experience, specifically romantic relationships. There was a time in third grade or so that my mom introduced me to her friend “Charles,” but before I could understand what was really going on, sis had to cut him loose (#NoneOfMyBusiness). This experience felt so far from the experience of friends and classmates whose entire existence occurred around a marriage. They saw affection and intimacy up close and personal morning, noon, and night, not just on movies and television shows. How could I replicate that experience? How could I find a husband and build a lifelong partnership when I was at such a disadvantage? Hint: I wasn’t at a disadvantage.
Since I can remember, I’ve always been pushed to never settle for misunderstanding. My philosophy is: when the answers are all around you, you find them, you don’t sit in confusion and twiddle your thumbs. So, I would compulsively study and observe the things around me and analyze my experiences to understand how to close this “gap” in my upbringing. Over time it meant that I would look closely at the relationships of family and friends, get a degree in communication, become generally obsessed with all things related to interpersonal communication, and prioritize my spiritual growth. In that time, what I found was that the disadvantage I thought I was working against was actually irrelevant.
The fact that I didn’t grow up in a two-parent home or surrounded by successful marriages was going to make no difference to my own relationships as long as I maintained a certain level of self-awareness.
As a matter of fact, it may have helped me.
That entire time I was convinced that the answers to my problem could be found in successful marriages. I thought for sure that they had the secret sauce of how to live happily ever after, but the only thing I learned was that there is no secret sauce and there is no one answer. Actually, it showed me that the way you build a successful partnership is by first understanding yourself. I’ve witnessed relationships and partnerships go to the wayside, and sometimes even wondered if the people who grew up around successful marriages were working too hard to recreate what they had seen as opposed to building something new.
See, what I took away from everything that I had worked to understand was that marriage is about two people coming as whole (not partial) individuals into a partnership. It’s not enough to recreate what you’ve seen, you must get comfortable with the idea of building something you’ve never seen before. I had convinced myself that marriage was something that happened to you, and my lack of luck in relationships meant that I was just going to try and try again until marriage happened to me. Then I realized, that’s not how any of this works.
Long-term relationships and marriage are built intentionally, not by happenstance.
I’ve seen that they begin with ongoing personal development and then add on the layer of partnership development. You first become aware of yourself and the experiences that led you to this relationship, fully understanding what it is you are working on within yourself, and then understanding what it is you two will build together. When I listen to long-lasting couples talk about their relationships, I’ve learned that the only thing these partnerships have in common is the fact that they were willing to put in the work.
I’ve noticed that “the presence of work”’ has a bad rap of being an “omen” for relationships. I’m no expert, but I believe that to be far from the truth. The work is where the magic is. When we haven’t accepted the true work that comes with partnership, it is so easy to see a challenge and decide that this is the end. The opportunity to build trust and love by overcoming challenges together can solidify a relationship if you want it to.
I’m prepared to live in the reality that comparing experiences doesn’t serve me. I don’t want to be the next Bey and Jay or Chrissy and John. I want to live in the beauty of what I’m hoping to create with someone and just be the first Jared and [insert name here].