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By Ariana Schaefer
It has been said that you tend to learn very little from success. Rather, it is failure that often teaches us the most invaluable lessons that shape our destiny. Falling in love is one of the most organic things a person can do. As Mary Oliver is famously quoted, “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Nevertheless, as many times as we have followed our hearts and our bodies, we have also painfully lost these connections. That is because falling in love and building a relationship are not as mutually exclusive as one would like to believe. Love sparks up quickly in a fast, hot, dizzying frenzy. Relationships are a more methodical foundation from which to build this magnetic draw. This is often why breakups undermine our sense of self so profoundly. Because underneath all the pain we know that there was just something we didn’t do to save it. It takes skill, and it takes grit. The following are the lessons I have learned from failing in love.
1. You won’t receive what you don’t ask for: people don’t read minds.
You need to hone this awkward habit in relationships. As much as we’d all love to feel completely in tune with our partners- having them cater to our every beck and call unannounced- it simply does not work that way. No matter how smitten, we are all moving throughout our daily lives with our own agendas. It’s a good idea to respectfully ask for what you need from your partner. You may get a ‘no’. You may feel silly and demanding, but more often than not, you’ve solved a problem that could have easily snowballed.
2. In an intimate relationship, you enter a mutual trust agreement– never turn your back on it, even after-the-fact.
I have violated my partner’s trust and I have had my partner violate my trust before. No matter if you are the aggressor or the ignorant party, the outcome is always the same. When you begin seeing someone seriously, it is a good idea to go over what you both feel are a violation of boundaries. For some couples, that could mean watching porn. For others it could include a kiss, texting, oogling someone attractive, or fostering a friendship with an ex. In a good relationship, you will feel like an obedient dog gazing over the imaginary lines of your electric fence. You know there’s more out there. You know you’ll hurt yourself, thrill yourself, prove something about yourself…and yet you enjoy the comfort of your space, your safety, and having everything you need within your immediate reach. You have too much of value to risk over your own hubris.
3. Be honest about your fears. Communicate them to your partner. They fester if gone unchecked.
If something scares you, tell your partner. For me, it was an intense breakup that collapsed my living situation. I knew that living with someone I loved again would not happen for a long time. I gave myself permission to feel this. I communicated that taking this step was off the table. Not every couple has the same goals- kids, marriage, spirituality- what have you. Don’t lead anyone on. If you adore your girlfriend of x years, but know that kids aren’t for you, give her some choices and address your fear. This can pave the road to compromise.
4. Recognize the fluidity of your partner’s identity.
As we age, we align ourselves with different hobbies, habits, and nuanced roles. It is natural to change to some extent. It is also natural to experience a difficult period or transition over the course of a relationship, if not multiple. Being able to weather the tides of time speaks volumes about your partnership. Love means taking a backseat sometimes to your partner’s own development. Especially when you know that when it’s your turn, they will be there washing the dishes while you’re freaking out over your graduate school thesis.
5. Celebrate your teamwork.
Make a big deal out of the little victories. Minimize the conflict by spotlighting the positives. You will begin to feel very empowered together, allowing you to explore things out of your comfort zones which is stimulating and healthy for your relationship. Excitement, laughter, and synchronicity are the ingredients that will keep you drunk on your love for each other.
6. Address a specific behavior, not your significant other’s overall character.
Do not give into the temptation to assassinate your partner’s character. We’ve all heard the biting “You are so lazy. Your place is a mess.” or “Don’t be stupid.” The only thing this will accomplish is having your partner wonder why you are even with them, and could even reinforce the behaviors. Keep resentment out of your arguments or you will rot your relationship from the inside out.
7. Stay excited.
You’ve found each other in this aggressive, expensive world. You get to cuddle someone in bed when its cold and rainy. You have a best friend and mate rolled into one extremely fallible super-human. Treasure that. Remain excited about being together. After all, making this work is an alchemy, and you’re doing it. You’re in love.