4 things i've learned about relationships

I wasn’t taught very much about being in relationships growing up. 

Outside of what I was taught in youth group and what I saw role modelled, I was left to figure out how these things work on my own. It’s been a long journey of deconstructing what I was taught through the church, learning though my mistakes (so. many. mistakes.), and soaking up the example of others. After reflecting on it all, Ive begun to find some wisdom on how relationships not only work, but how they can deepen, grow, and thrive. 

So while I've vowed to never be one of those “4 Things That’ll Change Your Life!” kind of writers, here are 4 things Ive learned about relationships … and that could very well change your life (seriously): 

owning it

Im a minister of a church. My girlfriend was raised in a conservative Christian household. We've decided to not get married, we live together, and we are not currently trying to have kids. We confuse a lot of people because we aren’t following their rules and expectations about what a relationship is supposed to look like and how it’s supposed to work.  “You're a minister and you’re living together?” “Why not get married?” “What do you mean you’re not having kids?" "You know that's now how it works, right?" We get those questions a lot which usually leaves me feeling seen as less-than and illegitimate. But here’s the thing Ive come to learn: we wouldn’t work if we followed their rules and expectations. Who we are, where we’re at, what we want to do, our wounds and baggage, our goals and aspirations, and how we work together, wouldn’t exist if we tried to fit into and follow those expectations,  and conventions. And the thing about that is what we have, who we are, and where we're going isn’t worth losing just to meet someone else’s needs and expectations. So whoever you are, whatever kind of relationship you have, own it. Do what works for you and don’t let anyone else try to change that. 

its okay for things to be just okay

Maybe it's the tv shows where the couples are always happy or perhaps it’s the pastors I had growing up who talked incessantly about how great their marriages were, but I have gone into my relationships with the assumption that there were two gears to any relationship: amazing and failing. Things are either firing on all cylinders or things are falling to pieces. When things were great between us, I was confident and happy; but whenever something felt off, whenever conflict arose, or whenever we seemed to be on different pages, I'd get hit with anxiety, panic, and sound the alarms because we were about to implode. I must have been so annoying. While freaking out to a friend one day, wondering how to shift from failing to amazing he told me this: “Its okay for things to be just okay.” Its worth hearing again: its okay for things to be just ok. That was so liberating to hear. There are more gears in a relationship than just two. Ruts will come, things will be ‘just okay,’ you’ll have peaks and valleys, things will be amazing, and things will be not that great. Thats the humanity of it all. But here’s what gives me hope and strength when the gears do shift down: if the commitment, communication, and trust is there, if you are both in it and willing to do the work, you'll get through it.  You will shift into another gear and come out better than ever before. 

growing, together

It was hammered into me growing up that for a relationship to flourish and be healthy, you had to “grow together” - you had to believe the same thing, think the same way, and share the same understanding of the world. If you don't share that, they’d say, just quit before it gets even worse. I cant even guess how many relationships I ended the moment I learned they believed something about God I didn’t or that we weren’t quite on the same page politically. A year ago, my girlfriend, in the midst of this really amazing spiritual journey, began to wrestle with what the label 'Christian' really means and whether or not she could honestly wear it anymore. All those teachings I heard growing up sounded the alarms in my head because that's the label I wear. That's how I understand what it means to be human and alive in the world. What would this do to us?! Won't this hurt us as a couple and hurt my own spirituality?!  Well, no. It turns out, just the opposite happened. It made us better and it made me better. It brought us closer together by having us talk about what’s happening in our souls and how that shapes our politics, values, and how we want to live, and it challenged me with new perspectives and questions to rumble with in my own faith and spirituality. We believe in some very different things but we are both better off for it. When it comes to relationships, it's not about “growing together,” it’s about “growing, together.” That comma makes all the difference. It’s about encouraging each other on your respective journeys, challenging and inspiring each other, listening to and learning from each other’s experiences and truths, and through it all, growing, together.

2 ways to do everything

Ever have a fight with someone? It's terrible isn't it? A few years ago my girlfriend and I had our first real fight. It was my fault. I lied to her about something. What has made it especially terrible for me is that over the past couple years I've realized I didn’t just lie to her, I actually did something much worse than that: when confronted with conflict, when faced with a decision about how I needed to act, and when confronted with my shame and guilt, I chose a very particular way of doing things: I chose the way of power. I chose to control, manage, and manipulate her. Yes, because I was scared, guilty and shameful, but also so I could win, save myself, and dictate the terms of our relationship. If you’ve ever done something similar, you know here it leads: it leads to more of the same, doesn’t it? It leads to this cascading need for more power, control, management, and manipulation, which leads to more lies, which leads to the need for more power, control, management, and manipulation, which of course leads to more lies. I don't know about you, but that’s not the kind of relationship I want to have. I could have and should have when confronted with conflict gone down a very different road and chosen the way of love. I could have chosen to be honest with her, to be vulnerable with her, to respect her, to share with her, and surrender to the truth, hoping and trusting that love would be big enough to handle it. A couple months after this, when confronted with the same intersection, I tried going down the road of love and was honest with her about something that happened. I was expecting anger and conflict but all I got was gratitude and vulnerability. That's the thing about choosing the road of love. It lead to more honesty, more truth, more respect, and more love, which leads to more truth, respect, and love, which leads to more respect, truth, and love. Now thats the kind of relationship I want to have and will always strive to work towards. In our relationships, like all things, there are two ways of doing it: there’s the way of power and there’s the way of love.