When I think back over the last two decades of my life, there is certainly a lot of ground to cover, which would be a lot easier to do if I had been sober for the first part of it. 20 years ago, I was a mess – just entering my teens… 13 years old and anything but carefree. It was the start of two of the most tumultuous years of my life, even to date. I was completely lost, cycling through a vicious downward spiral.
I was self-destructive, had been committed to inpatient therapy twice, lost my grandfather, was expelled from school, was assigned to an adolescent offenders’ program, completed 150 hours of court-ordered community service, and was on probation with the youth corrections department. All that even before the holidays. By the time I turned 14, I was angry. I felt alone and I didn’t know how to make myself care about the future.
Most of that year is a blur and what isn’t was spent in two different juvenile detention centers and serving a sentence in a state-run court-mandated military training camp. In the middle of all that, I managed to maintain an A-average despite missing and sleeping through more school than I probably attended. Two days after I graduated the military program, I walked into a new school and sat down in my third period English II class.
Sitting quietly in my desk, I felt out the scene. So many different people – sheltered kids wearing “popular kid” clothes, having “popular kid” conversations – and I was out of place. But across the room, I could feel his energy almost forcing my eyes to give him my attention. I had no idea how far that stare would go, but less than four years later, he was my husband.
I’ve always been incredibly capable and confident in my talents. I had always shown a lot of promise, but I also was always extremely troubled and surrounded by enablers. I normally found it damn near impossible to show much restraint, but his presence changed my entire perspective and outlook on life.
He took me out on a date for the first time 19 years ago today, 36 days before my 15th birthday. Since then, we have loved one another. We have hurt one another. We have left one another. We have forgiven one another. We sacrificed our youth together to raise children together. We’ve threatened one another. We’ve praised one another. We have taught one another. We have learned from one another. We have grown closer. We have grown apart. We have laughed together. We have separated and we have reconciled. We’ve changed.
I’ve experienced so much of life’s ups and downs in the last two decades that I think I’ve selectively created a mental block to forget some of it. Our relationship has survived a lot and our relationship has cultivated a lot in the 19 years since it began. Because of this, I’ve come across a few lessons along the way.
- Be clear about what you need, what you aren’t willing to go without, and what you aren’t willing to accept. Be clear if and when those things change over time.
- “Everything happens for a reason” is just something people say to make themselves feel better about the shit they don’t understand. Some things just happen because, life. Free will. Emotions. Alcohol? I’m just saying – reasonless shit happens.
- No matter how much you love someone, that love will never change them. Regardless of how awesome you are, no one will ever be anything for you that they aren’t ready to be.
- No matter how much someone loves you, they will still be human and there will never come a time when forgiveness becomes unnecessary.
- The ability to be vulnerable is essential. No one will ever be happy with someone if they have to keep their guard up. Honesty will never be at its peak in a relationship where vulnerability is seen as a weakness or used as a weapon.
- No one is responsible for the degree of another person’s happiness, or sadness. Marriage is a commitment through sickness and health… sometimes – no matter how great of a partner you may be – that sickness happens to be manic highs and depression.
- The process of falling in love is an important one – if you’re too afraid to allow someone to be aware that you’re falling in love with them, you aren’t ready for a real relationship.
- If you aren’t willing to spend energy continually getting to know your partner and accepting their changes and phases throughout life without judgment, suspicion, and criticism, you aren’t ready for a real relationship.
- Relationships without trust and freedom are miserable and pointless. No one wants to spend their life proving their loyalty, defending their character, or answering questions about their integrity. No one. If you can’t trust, leave. You aren’t ready for a real relationship.
- If the focus of your arguments is usually who is right and who is wrong rather than how to resolve the problem, your relationship is a waste of time. Also, every disagreement does not qualify as an argument.
- Compromise is healthy, but not to the extent that the contributions by each person to the relationship are thrown out of balance.
- It’s not hard to find someone who will love you because you’re there. Recognize the one who loves you because you’re you.
- Partners are not possessions. Ownership of people is called slavery, not marriage.
- Not all hurt is intentional, even when it seems careless. Sometimes, successful relationships require that you put your feelings – and your pride – aside long enough to see that there are situations in which the intent is more relevant than the action.
- People cannot fix other people; nevertheless, people will try anyway. And it will annoy the shit out of the one who’s seen as broken.
- Understanding everything about a person is not nearly as important as understanding that person’s need to be entirely themselves… even when that means accepting that you might never fully understand them.
- The greatest ways to express love are through support and attention. Encourage your lover to push forward when they doubt themselves and be sure to notice the little things about them. This alone will keep the butterflies alive.
- Without communication, everything will fall apart. Say what you mean and don’t hide your feelings. Sometimes that is going to lead to some brutal truths and some challenging arguments, but being fake in marriage only creates a fake marriage. Nobody wants that.
- A relationship without passion and intimacy will always be at risk for failure. Sex is not the only way to physically express affection… never stop studying your partner’s love language.
I’ve seen way too many people give relationship advice as though relationships are always beautiful and everyone is always working together for the greater good. That’s bullshit. Relationships are messy. They can be pretty damn ugly at times. You’re not always working together. Sometimes neither of you will even want to be around one another. That’s the reality of sharing your life with someone. There are days you will question your sanity in even allowing yourself to get “stuck” with your spouse.
Those days never permanently end, but over time when you do it right, you figure it out and you keep moving forward. I appreciate the fact that I have a man in my life who has always valued my place in his world and who understands the necessary existence of the “worses” just as much as he does the “betters” that we experience. It’s been 19 years and we are still figuring it out, but we’re still in it forever… and that’s all I could ever really ask for.