Forget everything your heart embraced from romantic comedies or dramas. It’s not enough to simply know that “happily ever after” isn’t a reality. We have to accept this and put healthy relational skills into practice. Otherwise, we pine for what cannot be and perpetuate unsatisfying patterns.
Most of what we know about how to be a partner/spouse came from observing our parents. Lots of us learned only what not to do. While there can be no true “rules” to relationships beyond what two consenting adults agree to, what’s presented below is wisdom accumulated from good people in recovery who have been in both unhealthy and healthy relationships.
1. It’s not all about you.( Even when we’re not selfish we can be self centered).
2. When in doubt, refer to rule #1
3. Your recovery (from trauma, addiction, mental health, self abuse, childhood, others) must come first. Without recovery we lose everything good.
4. Give yourself at least a year before entering into a new relationship. Whine about it if you must, have casual sex if you care to, but we simply must invest in ourselves in order to have something to offer others. Further, we must come to value ourselves lest we just keep jumping into bed, paying their bills, or trying to be their whole world.
5. The two most important relationships in the world are between you and you and between you and a Higher Power. These are the foundation upon which all other relationships are built. Seeking love from others while we can barely tolerate ourselves is a fool’s errand.
6. Choose to be vulnerable. In all your words and deeds, be open, receptive, and honest. To hell with your trust issues – learn to trust yourself and choose to trust your partner.
7. Maintain a kick ass support system. Your partner may be great; they will not be everything you need. That’s way too much pressure and at least three full time jobs.
8. We all have needs associated with the failures of our mothers and fathers. These needs will not be met by the person you have sex with because that’s both impossible and disgusting.
9. Your partner is not obligated to do a damned thing. Neither are you.
10. You do not owe anything to anyone unless they are your child, your pet, or someone to whom you have expressed a commitment. Your commitments are not all inclusive. You are responsible for the things you agree to and nothing further.
11. Ask for what you want and need and share how you feel. Your partner is not responsible for determining what these are. You are.
12. We do not take care of each other. We care for one another.
13. Before getting into a big discussion or something you know will be difficult, ask your partner to set aside time and/or ask if this is a good time.
14. Never use the words, “If” and “Then” together as in “If you loved me, then you would…”
15. Reserve time for one another and let nothing short of life and death stuff interfere with it.
16. Grow in your relationship until your partner becomes your best friend. Then continue to grow.
17. Deal with your baggage (resentments) in therapy and/or with a sponsor. When we bring wreckage to a partnership, we poison it’s potential.
18. Never distance yourself because of fear. Be afraid together. Our partners do not require protection from us nor do they appreciate us making decisions for them. We are not burdens or impositions. We are very lovely hypocrites – we do not wish for people we care about to struggle alone, yet we frequently choose to do so ourselves. Allow them to be there for you.
19. The two hardest things to talk about in a partnership are most often spirituality and sex. Talk about them both, lest you have bad sex and limit growing as a couple holistically.
20. Maintain individual pursuits and time away from your partner.
21. Talk about what isn’t working. Don’t wait for it to happen again to address it.
22. Be grateful. Take nothing for granted. Say “thank you” a lot.
23. Mindfully choose to do things that express your love and which make your partner feel special.
24. Learn how to see things through your partner’s eyes. Ask them to teach you to see as they do.
25. Relationships are work. When you love someone you do your damnedest to make the relationship grow by continuing to work together.
There may not be a “happily ever after” but as a friend told me recently, there is a “reasonably happy most of the time.”