My top 10 (anti-fairy tale) relationship tips

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We recently passed the twenty-year anniversary of the day my husband and I met. Our eyes met across a room and I knew immediately that I would spend the rest of my life with him.

Except that’s not at all what happened.

Actually, if you ask him about the evening we met, he’ll tell you that his first impression of me was that I looked very young and very scared. (He’s right. I was 17, and we were out with a bunch of people at a crowded movie opening. See: introvert.)

And if you ask me about the night we met? I’ll feel like a big jerk as I’ll be compelled to admit that I don’t remember meeting him.

But we must have met because suddenly we were friends.  And for years we hung out, we went to Rock ‘n Bowl and Disneyland. He let my boyfriend borrow a nice shirt for a premiere. I passed his girlfriend toilet paper under the bathroom stall at The Cheesecake Factory. There were break-ups and get-back-togethers and more break-ups. I complained to him about all the alcoholic pretty boys with private planes, mommy issues and little concern with ditching me at a bar.

And then one day, after being friends for four years, something changed with me and J – and it was more.

I kind of wish it had been love at first sight, but the vast majority of the time, the fairy tale doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Mostly, the fairy tale is bullshit.

The most fairy tale thing about us is that we are happy. Someone just told me it made her happy to be around us because it’s clear that J and I really like each other. She assumed we were newlyweds.

We are kind of like that. I automatically grin when his car pulls into the driveway. He still opens doors for me and watches my ass walk up the stairs. But it’s also a real relationship. He re-washes the dishes because I am lazy about it and leave crusty stuff in the corners of the pan and we disagree about appropriate thermostat temperature and how much MSNBC is reasonable. Marriage is a partnership. If both people have personalities and opinions and an affinity for honesty, that partnership is going to have challenges.

We work at it. We don’t fall for these rom-com ideas of what marriage should be. And even in the moments when we disagree about something fundamental or when it seems like it might be fun to go get all fluttery-heart, weak-kneed with someone else – we have this foundation of respect for our relationship and the life we have created together.

Sometimes people ask me for advice and while I have a history of spectacular failures in my past, the last sixteen years of partnership with J have taught me a thing or two. The first step is ditching these romanticized ideas about relationships, then we can get to the real stuff.

Go to bed mad
Life is not a sitcom; not everything can be neatly wrapped up in twenty-two minutes. Everyone needs space to think things out and gain some perspective. Rarely is one o’clock in the morning the best time to find a resolution for real-life problems.

Start seeing other people
It’s never good to have your partner be your only outlet for social interaction. Don’t isolate. Don’t get lost. Going out with my friends is not frivolous; it’s essential to my mental wellness.

Don’t talk about it 
I have to write things out. My mouth moves faster than my brain and writing helps me be clear, complete and less whipped into an emotional frenzy. Sometimes I give him the letter, sometimes that’s not necessary because writing it down is actually all I needed.

Make sure neither one of you gets what you want
Compromise is key. I try to not get stuck with this idea about being right and winning. The real win is a peaceful and fulfilling relationship, even if it means bending a bit and watching yet another Jason Statham movie.

Talk behind his back
Venting can be really helpful and an honest reaction to the situation is invaluable. I have specific, time-tested friends for this; people who will shoot straight and won’t go blabbing my business. I also make sure I am not talking to my friend instead of talking to my guy.

Be evasive
Sometimes, I need to change the subject. For in-depth issues, sometimes a break from the discussion is in order. Doing something fun together that we both enjoy is entirely invigorating and offers important bigger-picture perspective. For us, that often means yoga. When we go to class together, we feel more connected.

Talk about yourself a lot
Sadly, he’s not a mind reader. If I need something that I am not getting from the relationship, I have to actually verbalize that. Assuming that he “should” know never works well. Then I need to reciprocate by asking him what he needs. And I need to actually listen.

Treat your partner like they are a cop
Being polite goes a long way. I say please when I ask for something. I say thank you when he is helpful. I suck it up and apologize when I’ve done something wrong. These daily decencies tend to go out the window when you’ve been together awhile. Loving kindness and gratitude are wonderful spiritual practices.

Pretend it didn’t happen
At a certain point, some issues just need to be released. I mean seriously released, not to be dug up again two years later. In all relationships, if I can forgive, I do my best to forgive completely. It’s more healing for me than for the person I’m forgiving – it’s really for my own benefit. Acceptance is incredibly powerful. It’s not the same as condoning someone’s actions, it’s simply the act of not allowing it to have power over your life anymore.

Lie
down. The oxytocin and endorphins that are activated during sexual activity are great for the mental state. It lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Sex clearly isn’t just physical, it’s about maintaining and strengthening the emotional connections with a partner. Oh yeah, and it’s fun.

We lucked out, J and me.  Two decades into this relationship, I’ve noticed that he turned into an even better guy than the one I married. We have both changed a lot, but we changed for the better – we changed together.

I used to think that the most romantic thing in the world was falling in love. But I’ve learned that there is something even more romantic than that fluttery heart, weak-kneed stuff: choosing to stay in love.

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15 thoughts on “My top 10 (anti-fairy tale) relationship tips

  1. I hosted a bridal shower last weekend, and we were all supposed to give the bride marriage advice (written on an index card). My advice was “It’s okay to go to bed mad”! I’ve been married for 18 years on 10/24/16, and I can vouch for that advice (and all your other advice above) 100%! Love you honey! XOXOX

  2. Nice one, Lisa! Short, sweet, clever, and oh so on point! I loved reading this. Congratulations to you and J, and thanks for the reminder that it can be done if done properly. 😉

  3. I can see some of these backfiring on me, however i really liked this one.
    Treat your partner like they are a cop
    I’m going to try that one for sure.

  4. I imagine it must be a continual challenge to maintain and grow the relationship with your guy, or any interhuman relationship. When you two married he was one person and you were another. A moment later, or a day later, you changed a bit and he changed a bit. Every day you desire to maintain the relationship and grow it, and all the while neither of you is the same person day-to-day. So it’s like shooting at a moving target. I imagine this is why it takes so much work.

  5. your last remark really hits home: chosing to stay in love. It is a decision about whom one wants to be with. AFTER one found out, who that person is. Everybody has their personal flaws, gosh, even I have some, would you believe it :). So, the grass it never greener on the other side and switching partners is just about switching some faults. But faults there will be. Making a concious decision about accepting a partner and living with him/her is the key. Everything else has a way of working itself out….

  6. Pretty much my beliefs, L. Marriage – or a close similar relationship – is a dynamic being. Media, society and rom-coms try hard to sell us the “relationship as static thing: once you find it, you’ll be happy forever”.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  7. I was absolutely terrified to go to sleep without sorting everything out, simply because I had read to “not go to sleep mad.” I remember having an argument, deciding we needed sleep, and laying there next to him having anxiety that would have shot through the headboard if it was material. What a load of crock that ended up being for me. After some work on myself, and realizing that our relationship was FAR different from anything I had been told, read, or seen, I found the most happiness in embracing that it was more than okay to find our own relationship path together.

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