Making 'Happy Ever After' Real

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Hi dolls

A bit of a different post today. More of a lifestyle one! I'll be talking about relationships- specifically long term ones and how to make them last. 

A little disclaimer first. I certainly don't consider myself any kind of relationship expert. I make mistakes all the time and things are not always perfect. But one of the things I am proud of is mine and my husband's track record. 

We've actually been together for 10 years, and we'll have our third wedding anniversary this year. We met when I was 18 and although I didn't make very many good decisions at that age, finding Sebastian and sticking with him was one of the best.

It certainly hasn't been all plain sailing. The thing about 'Happy Ever After ' is that the story ends there and no-one ever talks about the 'after' part, and what that means. But it's always been worth whatever trouble it's cost. 

We haven't always got it right, but over the past 10 years I'd hope that I've managed to learn a few things...

Being with someone for such a long time can be hard work at times but if you find the right person,it's also the greatest blessing. The following is all common sense but I think it's the 'secret' -if it can be called that- to our being together all this time and still enjoying ourselves!

Be a team

You’ve got to know that you have each others backs, whatever the circumstances. There’s nothing better than feeling that you have an ally and a best friend who will always be there for you. And that’s what marriage should really be, in my opinion.

That feeling of you two versus the world. Nuture that however you can – from silly in-jokes to mad little adventures together. A shared history is really a unique and special thing. One of the good things about meeting fairly young is that we’ve been through phases together - we can look back and laugh at that song we really rated that seems awful now, or the strange fashions we were into – him with his long hair and baggy skater jeans, me with my pink ends and ripped fishnets!

That sense of a shared journey is such a comfort. We’ve seen other people come and go from each other’s lives – uni friends, housemates, little sister’s boyfriends- and we’ve been through it all together.

Even the hard times, awful as they are, we’ve been together and seen each other’s low moments, which is even more important than just sharing the good times. I look at us now and I’m amazed.

Because your late teens and early twenties are really where you do a lot of changing, we’ve grown up together. At our wedding I included as one of the readings a William Blake poem that I love because it mentions a tree with its roots all intertwined – and that’s really how I feel about us together.

Be kind to each other 

I know, I know. Its obvious. But its precisely because its so obvious that it gets neglected. You’d think being kind to your partner would be second nature, but in any long term relationship you can begin to take this for granted. And because you know each other so well and you feel safe, you tend to take all your nameless frustrations out on the other person.

I know that when Seb and I were both having a terrible time at work a year and a half ago, the atmosphere at home was also awful. He was working hard to advance his career and getting nowhere, I was getting bullied by my boss. We both felt bad at work and because we couldn’t vent there and we had to both be professional, we totally did the wrong thing and brought it home. It was fairly toxic because instead of home being a haven from those stresses, it was tense and horrible there too.

We forgot that you need to be kind to those you love. We forgot the other was also having a hard time and that it wasn’t okay to take it out at home, or even turn stress into some kind of competition. So now I try to remember to be kind.

Its always the little things. Making them a cup of tea in the morning, defrosting their car windscreen if you’re up first, buying them silly little ‘just because I thought of you’ things. But those are the things that make the most impact, and make your partner feel valued in a constant, low-level way.

Have time apart

This might seem like a contradiction to the whole ‘be a team’ thing, but every team needs time out. By doing some things separately, we enjoy our time together so much more. If I go away for a girls weekend, or on a night out with work colleagues, its actually nice to miss Seb. Just that little twinge that lets you know you’re looking forward to seeing them.

As an only child, I grew up with time on my own as a regular thing, and as a result I positively love time alone. I like reading my gossip magazines, doing a facepack, blogging and catching up on trash tv that he doesn’t like. And this headspace away from the other person ensures that things don’t get too suffocating. We have plenty of little rituals and hobbies that bring us together – but we also sometimes need ones that push us apart a bit, or things can get claustrophobic.
It only leads to trouble to expect one person to fulfil all of your wants and needs – life doesn’t work like that. With a variety of friends and those relationships – the one you go shopping with, the friend from the gym, the one you call when you need to unload- you don’t need to expect your partner to fulfil every single one of those roles. Seb is my best friend. But I don’t expect him to take the place of every other friend I have, and I think we’re better for it.

Know the grass isn't greener 

This can be a hard one to learn, especially when you get together young. I’m going to take a deep breath and say something that sounds a little shocking, because everyone sweeps it under the carpet – but, even if you love that person, you will find other people attractive. Someone will come along someday who will appeal to you.
Denying that and trying to insist that you’ll only ever have eyes for one person is the route to trouble. If you settle down with someone young, like I did, it’s madness to pretend that the thought of ‘What If?’ or ‘Am I missing out?’ won’t occasionally cross your mind. Pretending it doesn’t or even shouldn’t is just harmful. In real life, it does.

But the gift is all in how you handle it. Especially if you’re going through a rough patch, and then you tend to project a rose-tinted view of what ‘could be’ with someone that’s turned your head. What you need to accept in your heart is that the grass is not greener. Every single person on this earth has flaws – that person will too. Fantasies work precisely because the other person’s bad habits never come into it. Why would they? The reality of a person is always very different from the idealised daydream of them that never answers back and doesn't leave dirty socks on the floor.
If you find someone you ‘fit’ with, don’t jeopardise it for a half-baked daydream. Accept that your relationship is a product of reality, with its bad parts, but as long as the good outweighs the bad, there will never be a ‘better’ option.

Accept the rough with the smooth 

Know that there will be bad times. Know that there will be times you don’t fancy your partner. Know that there will be times where the very sound of their breathing annoys you!
But also know that these times always pass (at least they do if the relationship is still a good one). 

You go through so many cycles when you’re with someone long term, and you just can’t mistake a bad moment for a terminal decline. People like to sell you the ‘happy ever after’ line where the norm is that everything is sunshine and flowers and lovehearts the whole time - but that is not reality, and even if it was, how boring would that be? Real relationships take a bit of hard work, a bit of grit and determination. But is the payoff is more than worth it. 
There will come that sunny day where you’re laughing together, when you look over at the other person and your heart just bursts with love. Or the time you glance over at them in the gym and –man- they look so hot in that top. I tend to think that people expect to give up easily these days. It’s important to acknowledge that the ideal slushy romantic films sell us is not real or even necessarily desirable.
In our current culture, everything is so cheap and disposable. Novelty is valued over everything else. And I’m just as guilty of that in some areas- but my relationship is one thing where perseverance pays. Value yourself and the investment you’ve made in the other person - and don’t give up on it without very good reason.

Want the same things

Another one that sounds obvious. But I think you’d be surprised how many people get in deep without having the most fundamental of conversations. Because these conversations can be intimidating or uncomfortable. They can even be embarrassing. But you need to know exactly where the other is headed. Is marriage important to you? Do you want to have children someday? Does your career always come first? The big, basic building blocks and the topline values you two have need to match up. 

I knew early on with Seb that he’s a family man, that he’s close to his sisters and mum, he wants children, he’s traditional with regard to marriage but very equal in the home, and that he’s ambitious. That one day, he’d like to move to the country and have chickens. Luckily, this turns out to be what I want to. But if you don’t aim for the same things, there’s no chance you’ll get there together. 

I must admit I haven’t always been so sure. When we met, I didn’t have a clue what my life would be, and what my real aspirations were. Through constant communication, we’ve grown together, reaching for the same things and learning to value stuff together. And that’s why we feel so connected.
I’m not really sure who this post is aimed at but its been nice to step back from the shallow stuff, if only for one post!

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