This is a long blog post, but I promise this information is compressed, helpful, and valuable in any relationship you'll ever enter. I took a course called Communications in Love and Relationships at JMU and it taught me more about life than anything ever had. I want to share this information with you all on the day of love in hopes that it will help you with any present, past, or future relationships. Your heart is fragile and relationships take work. I'm certainly no expert, but one college course and 7 Valentine's Days with the same man I had a crush on in middle school and dated through high school, college, and a move across the country taught me a lot about love. Learn how to be as happy as you can in your relationship with 8 important lessons I've learned along the way.
1. Put Your Relationship First
I’m going to indulge you in a little metaphor one of my favorite professor’s from JMU came up with. Her name is Professor Jennifer Rosier and she taught Communication in Love & Relationships. It was the most informative, important class I took at JMU. Here is her “stove metaphor” I pulled from her Facebook page, @relationshipslovehappiness:
“PRO TIP: Put your marriage first. Before the kids, before your job, before your parents, before running your household, before it all. Let me indulge you with my stove metaphor. The way I see it, most of us have several “pots” in our lives that we have to cook on a proverbial stove at the same time. You have a pot for your job, a pot for your house, one for your kids, one for your marriage, a pot for your volunteer work, and one for any other significant roles you play in your life.
Most of us also only have a four burner stovetop with two burners in the front and two in the back. And, I personally believe that it is impossible for us to focus a significant amount of our time and energy on more than a couple of things at once. This means that some of our life’s “pots” have to be put on the proverbial back burner; even if it is just for a short amount of time. And sometimes, we might even have to put a pot on the counter for a bit.
Something that I’ve learned over the years is that you have to work really hard at not putting your partner on the back burner. You can put your children on the back burner (they’re more resilient than you think), you can put your job on the back burner (maybe learn to say “no” to a new project?), and you can put managing your household on the back burner (the dishes can wait). But your relationship with the person you are creating this wonderful life with has to stay on the front burner.
So what do you do with all of your other pots? The trick to disperse the back burner suffering equally. Rotate those other pots while keeping your relationship on one of the front burners. Because if your marriage fails, the rest will follow suit. Eventually. So, kiss your partner through the chaos of life.” -Jennifer Rosier
2. Learn the Love Languages
Knowing your and your partner’s love language is so important. The five love languages are physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. Mine is quality time and Tylar’s is words of affirmation. Most people try to show their partner love in their own language (if your love language was words of affirmation, you would complement your partner often thinking it made them feel loved) when really, they need to be receiving love in the way that makes them feel the happiest. I noticed that if I don’t get enough attention (shocking, I know) or time with Tylar, I get really moody and sad. I highly recommend reading the whole book, but to start, you can take a quiz to determine your love language here.
3. Remember the 5:1 Ratio
One of the things I learned in my class was the “magic ratio”. According to Dr. Gottman, the magic ratio is 5:1. Basically, if there are five positive interactions for every negative interaction between the couple, the relationship is probably stable and going to last. Essentially, just try to be as nice to your partner as possible. Hug them, kiss them, tell them you appreciate them, and smile at them. A little bit goes a long way in a relationship, even if you may not realize it. This ratio has predicted divorce countless times. Dr. Gottman invites couples, new and old, to study them for about 30 minutes. He adds up the amount of positive and negative interactions (spoken and body language) between the pair and can determine whether or not they’ll be together forever. It sounds insane, but it’s been accurate every time. You can read more about Dr. Gottman here.
4. Grow Together, Not Apart
One of the biggest challenges in a relationship is learning to grow with the person. My mom taught me when I was really young that it’s the toughest part of marriage. You’re a different person in your 20s than you are in your 30s and so on and so forth. Support, patience, optimism, open communication, and sympathy/empathy are going to help you grow together. Support your partner in every endeavor they do, be patient with them always, look at your life together with a glass half full and believe you can get through anything together, talk open and talk often, and always sympathize/empathize with them in tough situations. Don’t make the hard times about you, but let them know it’s okay to feel however they’re feeling and let them know that you’re there for them.
Tylar and I started dating when I was a junior in high school, dated through college, and moved across the country together shortly after. You change so much from the age of 16-22. Tylar and I have gone through so many stages together and grown through it all. That boy loved me through about 12 hair colors, a party stage, a chubby stage, a crazy from birth control hormones stage, a my parents are getting divorced and I cry every single night stage, an I hate my step mom and want to avoid family events stage, and will love me through many more to come. I loved him through his high school party phase, half a can of dip at a time phase, newly into college and overly independent phase, and will love him through every other phase that happens in this life. Grow. Together.
5. Learn How You Handle Conflict
Everyone handles conflict differently. It’s important to know how your partner reacts to conflict, what they need in order to resolve it, and how your method of resolving conflict ties in with theirs. If your partner needs alone time, you need to learn to respect that even if you want to fix it now. Tylar and I are both the type of people who won’t leave the room until the situation is handled. We don’t raise our voices at each other. We both apologize, because 99% of the time, both parties are at fault. I used to be the type of person that immediately wanted to leave a room and have him come chase after me in an argument. Years of being brainwashed my chick flicks and dramatic tv show like One Tree Hill put it in my mind that as soon as I walked out of the house, he’d run out after me, immediately apologize, and kiss me until I forgave him. Lol, NOPE. When you walk out of a situation, it makes it worse. It makes it harder for one person to be the first to initiate the next conversation, it makes whoever got left extremely sad and confused, and it leaves the person who left with high expectations of how the conflict will end. They don’t need to show up at your door with flowers every time you’re upset. It's so important to learn to work it out in a way that works for the both of you, but leave the drama for Hollywood.
6. Have Serious Conversations Sooner Than Later
Something Tylar and I have always been really great with is speaking our minds about the future. Two years into our relationship (I was just graduating high school) is when we had talked about if we wanted kids or not. It was when we realistically talked about when we'd get married. That was when we were younger. If you’re getting into a serious relationship with someone in your 20's and feel like it could last forever, you need to have that conversation soon. Things get serious much faster once you're out of college and living on your own, so these conversations need to happen early on in a relationship (once the time feels right). Tylar and I lucked out in the fact that we both don’t want kids, but my professor spoke to seeing that one detail absolutely destroying multiple marriages.
7. You Are Not Your Parents. You Are Not Your Past Relationships.
I come from the longest line of divorce there is, but I’m confident in breaking the cycle. Don’t let the fear of getting hurt, getting divorced, etc. hold you back in your relationship. Try your best not to hold what your ex did to you against your new partner. Attachment is huge in this part of a relationship. You can't help what happened to you in your past, but if you share with your partner what happened, it can help them understand better when you're reserved, fearful, etc. because of them. If you're wondering what I mean by attachment, this article is really helpful in explaining the details of it in terms of intimacy. Essentially, it's how people connect to each other based off of how you were raised, your past relationships, and traumatic life events. As a parent, it's extremely important to be well-informed on this, as the smallest details can affect your child's relationships for the rest of their life. There are four different emotional attachment styles and your attachment can be altered whenever you experience a traumatic life event. This aspect of intimacy heavily affects your relationship, so it's important to know about your own attachment style and inform your partner so they can work with you/understand you better.
8. People Make Mistakes
“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.”
The reality of love and relationships is that we’re all human. We are bound to mess up, plenty of times, and it’s important to find it in your heart to forgive them for being human. I’m not saying you need to forgive someone who cheated on you, but I am saying you need to recognize someone truly being sorry and work towards forgiving them for it. You will make mistakes. Your partner will make mistakes. You will make mistakes together. Learn to forgive your partner and just as importantly, learn to forgive yourself.
No matter how long you've been with a person, how many times you've been divorced, how many books you read, or how many years you've lived to see... you will never stop learning about yourself, your partner, and relationships. Please know that I know I'm young and have much more to learn, but I truthfully wanted to share with you all what I've learned thus far that's either helped my relationship or changed my perspective.
Happy Valentine's Day to all of you! Whether you're in a relationship or i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t this year, know that you are important, you are amazing, and you are loved. And btw, Papa Johns is doing heart-shaped pizza again this year. You're welcome.