Hollywood doesn't tell you this but - relationships are hard. They take work. Even the most loving, simple, easy, beautiful couple has to work to make that happen. If anyone tells you otherwise they're selling something, lying, or have a disaster looming.
My partner and I were long distance - east coast to west coast (United States) - for three years. Long distance really brings your whole relationship into stark realities because every little piece of it takes work (even saying good morning is a conscious effort). There are a lot of things we take for granted in our relationships that aren't present when you're long distance, and it makes you realize all the pieces that go into being with someone long-term.
By the time my partner finally moved in with me we were on the brink of divorce. That's underselling it - I didn't want to be with him any more, I didn't believe I loved him, but I didn't want to be "the bad guy" so I thought I'd wait it out for him to quit on me. This is not a good thing - it's not healthy, it's not happy, and I want to make that very clear here, I was "the bad guy" anyway. I knew that the whole time, I knew it, but it felt worse to call for the divorce.
We lived like that for 4 or 6 months, not talking, not laughing, me just barely tolerating him, him coasting along depressed and lonely. Day after day, week after week, he was still there, and we were both still miserable. And I continued to wonder what it was that drove us apart, we were so in love, we were so happy - so what happened?
I was in the shower one morning before work, just standing, letting the warm water run while my mind wandered when I finally admitted - I need to make a choice. We couldn't keep living that way. I either need to choose to leave, or I need to choose to stay because I was doing neither and that's not how life works.
I chose to stay. And from that moment I began to work hard to figure out how to get back to where we were before, and find what it was we'd lost along the way. It wasn't easy, at first it was literally minute-to-minute, every time he spoke choosing not to get upset, choosing not to roll my eyes, choosing to actually listen, choosing to care. Then it was daily, the daily choice of wanting to be around, wanting to be with him. Then it stopped feeling like I needed to choose, and it was just what I wanted.
It continues to be easier, but it also still continues to be a choice - because that's what a relationship is. It's a choice. It is hard to sacrifice your own wants and selfishness for the sake of someone else. It is hard to choose to not be angry when you're hurt or betrayed, and instead choose to talk. It is hard to choose to forgive someone when they mess up the same thing for what feels like the hundredth time. It is hard to call and text and communicate. It is hard to learn to live with someone else, their habits, their messiness, their general way of being. It is hard to talk about money. It is hard to compromise.
All of those are choices. Choices that I make every single day, still. They don't feel like choices any more, they feel like "well what else would I do, I love this man!", but it's important to acknowledge that they are, in fact, choices, no matter how common sense or simple or easy they are.
Last night I was upset with my partner because for a while now he's been kind of addicted to his phone. Always has it out, always playing chess, always looking at it, and last night it hit a point that I knew I needed to talk about it. I chose to talk about it. I chose to say that I loved him, and that I was sad because I felt like he wasn't engaged. I could've let the feeling seethe under the surface and build into resentment, that feels good, because anger, especially a kind of righteous anger, feels good. I could've shrugged it off and decided I didn't care - but that doesn't work because eventually the not caring builds into a laundry list of resentment.
But instead I chose to talk to him through kindness and compassion and knowing full well that he didn't mean to hurt me. More than that - I chose to talk to him and acknowledge that the phone thing wasn't about me at all, and was probably a sign that he was hurting more than I was. That kind of habit is born our of depression, which we both have, so we both understand. And that is even more difficult - to choose to express that you're hurt, but then open up to help that other person with their hurts, too.
We're all going through life just trying to do better - be better. Here's the hard truth of life - you will never stop hurting people. You will always hurt people because none of us is perfect and those imperfections will cause pain. Instead of committing to not hurting anyone again - we need to commit to just try to do better, be better.
He's talked to me, worked through my mistakes a hundred times or more by now. But that's the point - we keep trying. We keep choosing each other over all else.
That's the thing that Hollywood misses - you can love someone with all that you are, but it is still a choice. If you don't realize that then eventually things will get hard, because they always do, and you won't know how to pull yourself back out again.
So, all of that and you're still here wondering "Yeah, whatever, cool story bro, what are you trying to say?"
1. You need to choose to love your partner(s). Every single moment, every day is a choice of love over all else. A choice of gentle questions, instead of accusations, the choice of understanding over blame, the choice of talking over just trying to work through it on your own.
2. That choice isn't easy. Negative emotions feel good, and choosing to ignore that and instead seek out compassion and love is tough.
3. That choice can be scary, because your partner(s) may not choose the same thing. Every time you reach out and choose to try, they could choose to not care, and to walk away. Choosing to love someone is a very vulnerable thing, and that makes it difficult, but even more worth doing.
4. You also have to choose joy. My partner and I each have hobbies the other doesn't really care about, but we support each other anyway. If he wants to play a video game I don't like, that's fine, I'll do my own thing, or I'll watch and talk with him while he does it, find a way to enjoy it. When I get hooked on some new trash show (I own that America's Next Top Model is garbage fluff), he laughs along with me, or he does something else while I'm watching it. We choose to find joy in things that we may not like ourselves - because of the joy our partner gets from it.
5. You must choose to take responsibility, as well. It is easy to point out someone else's flaws over and over and over, but we all have flaws, so when our partner(s) make these choices of love and compassion, we must meet them where they're coming from. It is easy to get defensive, and it doesn't feel good to know that you messed up and hurt someone, but we must face it without deflection or anger.
6. Choose to forgive and forget. Forgiveness is a personal choice, and in a relationship it's something you need to do. If you don't find a way to genuinely and sincerely let things go and move on and forget about them - then you're not choosing love. The reason I gave the example from last night is because, honestly, it's the only example I have right now. I don't keep track of his mistakes, and he doesn't mine. I don't remember even one tenth of the mistakes he's made and that's how it should be because that's what it means to choose love.
7. This is the most important one, given everything I've just said: Relationships are hard - but they shouldn't feel bad. There is a difference between what I went through and abuse. I have faced both, and have learned the difference, but it can be subtle sometimes. Make sure you're in tune with yourself, and talking to other people if you're worried about anything. You do not need to, and should not overlook abuse.
Relationships feel easy when we understand that we're making choices, and when we understand this kind of dynamic. But getting to that point is hard, and even once you get there things happen that make it hard to keep choosing love. And sometimes things happen and you just can't choose love. And that's okay, too.
We almost got a divorce. But, at the make it or break it moment we chose to try again, we chose to try love. We chose to work hard to see if we could be better than who we were then, and have something great together.
It's been four years since then and every single anniversary we laugh that last year we thought we had 'made it', how 'it's been a long climb but here we finally are'. Because the truth is that every year is better. Every year we do better, we learn how to love each other more, and because we choose to communicate, because we choose compassion, because we choose patience and all those wonderful virtues - our relationship continues to grow. Every year it feels impossible that we could love each other more, be better partners, improve our relationship, but every year we do. Because we recognize that growth and love are lifelong journeys, and we chose to make those journeys together.