A healthy and happy relationship requires two healthy and happy individuals. The keyword here: “individuals.” That means two people with their own identities, their own interests and perspectives, and things they do by themselves, on their own time.
This is why attempting to control your partner (or submitting control over yourself to your partner) to make them “happy” ultimately backfires — it allows the individual identities of each person to be destroyed, the very identities that attracted each person and brought them together in the first place.
“Don’t try to change them. This is the person you chose. They were good enough to marry so don’t expect them to change now.” – Allison
“Don’t ever give up who you are for the person you’re with. It will only backfire and make you both miserable. Have the courage to be who you are, and most importantly, let your partner be who they are. Those are the two people who fell in love with each other in the first place.” – Dave
But how does one do this? Well, it’s a bit counterintuitive. But it’s something hundreds and hundreds of successful couples echoed in their emails…
6. Give Each Other Space.
“Be sure you have a life of your own, otherwise it is harder to have a life together. What do I mean? Have your own interests, your own friends, your own support network, and your own hobbies. Overlap where you can, but not being identical should give you something to talk about and expose one another to. It helps to expand your horizons as a couple, but isn’t so boring as both living the exact same life.” – Anonymous
Among the emails, one of the most popular themes was the importance of creating space and separation from one another.
People sang the praises of separate checking accounts, separate credit cards, having different friends and hobbies, taking separate vacations from one another each year (this has been a big one in my own relationship). Some even went so far as to recommend separate bathrooms or even separate bedrooms.
Some people are afraid to give their partner freedom and independence. This comes from a lack of trust and/or insecurity that if we give our partners too much space, they will discover they don’t want to be with us anymore. Generally, the more uncomfortable we are with our own worthiness in the relationship and to be loved, the more we will try to control the relationship and our partner’s behaviors.
BUT, more importantly, this inability to let our partners be who they are, is a subtle form of disrespect. After all, if you can’t trust your husband to have a simple golfing trip with his buddies, or you’re afraid to let your wife go out for drinks after work, what does that say about your respect for their ability to handle themselves well? What does it say for your respect for yourself?
I mean, after all, if you believe a couple of after-work drinks is enough to steer your girlfriend away from you, you clearly don’t think too highly of yourself.
“Going on seventeen years. If you love your partner enough you will let them be who they are, you don’t own them, who they hang with, what they do or how they feel. Drives me nuts when I see women not let their husbands go out with the guys or are jealous of other women.” – Natalie
7. You And Your Partner Will Grow And Change In Unexpected Ways; Embrace It.
“Over the course of 20 years, we both have changed tremendously. We have changed faiths, political parties, numerous hair colors, and styles, but we love each other and possibly even more. Our grown kids constantly tell their friends what hopeless romantics we are. And the biggest thing that keeps us strong is not giving a fuck about what anyone else says about our relationship.” – Dotti
One theme that came up repeatedly, especially with those married 20+ years, was how much each individual changes as the decades roll on, and how ready each of you has to be to embrace the other partner as these changes occur. One reader commented that at her wedding, an elderly family member told her, “One day many years from now, you will wake up and your spouse will be a different person, make sure you fall in love with that person too.”
It logically follows that if there is a bedrock of respect for each individual’s interests and values underpinning the relationship, and each individual is encouraged to foster their own growth and development, that each person will, as time goes on, evolve in different and unexpected ways. It’s then up to the couple to communicate and make sure that they are consistently a) aware of the changes going on in their partner, and b) continually accepting and respecting those changes as they occur.
Now, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “Sure, Bill likes sausage now, but in a few years he might prefer steak. I can get on board with that.”
No, I’m talking about some pretty serious life changes. Remember, if you’re going to spend decades together, some really heavy shit will hit (and break) the fan. Among major life changes people told me their marriages went through (and survived): changing religions, moving countries, death of family members (including children), supporting elderly family members, changing political beliefs, even changing sexual orientation, and in a couple of cases, gender identification.
Amazingly, these couples survived because their respect for each other allowed them to adapt and allow each person to continue to flourish and grow.
“When you commit to someone, you don’t actually know who you’re committing to. You know who they are today, but you have no idea who this person is going to be in five years, ten years, and so on. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, and truly ask yourself if you admire this person regardless of the superficial (or not-so-superficial) details, because I promise almost all of them at some point are going to either change or go away.” – Michael
But this isn’t easy, of course. In fact, at times, it will be downright soul-destroying. Which is why you need to make sure you and your partner know how to fight.