Years ago I heard someone say that there are two types of relationships, start-ups or mergers. I’ve thought about it often since. It’s a generalization, but also rings so true to me. And besides being interesting to identify, I have found that little things like this can truly help you come to a deeper understanding of your relationship and in turn, learn to play to the strengths of your situation.
So what does it mean to be a starter or a merger? Well, when I heard the phrase it was in passing – but here’s what I would define it as.
In a start-up, you meet when you’re young. Maybe you’ve had a relationship or two before, but still, you’re young enough to be bright eyed and bushy tailed and endlessly optimistic about the prospects of this new venture. You’ve got energy and resources to burn. All good things in theory. But as you grow, you’re going to have to figure out how to grow together. A start-up venture doesn’t have history on it’s side so you’re figuring out every little thing as you go. Many won’t make it this way. You’ll grow in different directions and go bankrupt along the way. But if you can withstand the growing pains, keep the same end goals in mind and somehow turn a profit – you’ll be an inspiring success story. The kind that people want to model their own business (ahem, relationship) after.
In a merger, you come in to this thing with assets. You’re a little older and a little wiser. You’ve got liabilities. You’ve likely been burned by business partners before. In a merger you are two already formed entities. And you have to somehow figure out how to get these two things to join forces and be better because of it. In the worst case scenario you find out these things will never be compatible. Too many stubborn differences, the pieces just can’t fit. But in the best case scenarios, a merger brings together two already strong individuals and makes something even stronger.
I believe that a great relationship can come from either, but I love thinking about it this way.
By this point I suspect you have one of two worries surrounding Thanksgiving. What to wear and/or how to deal with family. For the former, it’s simple – this dress. I suggest no belt, so that it’s just a super soft, super swingy tunic that still feels dressy enough with a pair of heeled booties to look like you have your life together when your grandparents ask, but still comfy enough to eat seconds of pie and then inevitably nap later.
For the latter, its not going to be as simple. I am incredibly fortunate to be a member of a nuclear family that truly gets along and loves hanging out together. And for the first 20 something odd years of my life I thought this was actually normal. Turns out, its not. And once you add in extended family and in-laws (and god forbid politics) – I’m guessing there’s about 95% of you that feel at the very least a small amount of stress about seeing someone across the dinner table later this month.
Well meaning questions (like – how’s your job? when are you two finally going to get married? how long are you going to live in New York?) can range from mildly prying to downright triggering. Add in another family that’s only attached to you through a significant other and you’ve got a whole other set of tightropes to walk. All while just trying to get through dinner without spilling sweet potatoes on your new dress.
Here’s what I suggest. Set expectations for yourself before you ever step foot into the host’s house. You can control 0% of how other people behave or how they question your love life. You can control 100% of how you react to it. Give yourself a pep talk beforehand if need be. Find a sibling or partner that you’ll be there with and can be your life raft during Thanksgiving dinner. And have an escape plan. You may be obligated to attend but you’re not obligated to stay until midnight.
In general, I find that usually when people ask probing questions into your life its because they are genuinely interested or because something about your life triggers their own insecurities. When they ask a 32 year old woman when she’s thinking of starting a family, perhaps its because they’re jealous they didn’t get time when they were that age to focus on their career because they were already strapped with two kids. Or maybe it just popped into their head and so they thought why not ask. Who knows. It’s not your job to figure out their shit. It’s your job to remember what you’re grateful for and get through dessert.
Of course, if you’ve got a family that operates at a level that feels destructive, burdening or hurtful to be around – I suggest you gather up a good friend or two, book a ticket and head to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. They host a ‘Black Sheep Thanksgiving’ party each year where you can hide out in the desert by the pool and escape it all. There are some things that just aren’t healthy – and I hope you all can draw that line, however hard it would be to do so.
But for the majority of us that will grin and bear it this year when their mother in law critiques our stuffing or our grandfather makes a joke in poor taste… know that after the long weekend you can return to the great life you’ve been busy building. At least until Christmas…
Tie your life to someone else’s, spend nearly every day with them year after year – and if you don’t fight from time to time, there’s a chance that you may be a robot. The trick, of course, is to find a way to fight that doesn’t lead to all out war.
I like to think that Adam and I have gotten better at this over time, and part of that process has been defining our fights. Knowing that not every little scuffle needs to result in a three day grudge or hurt feelings has really helped in the long run. Below, the three types of fights Adam and I have, how we’ve learned to behave ourselves in each, and ultimately how we kiss and make-up.
This is when you have a lively debate over say, the greatest band of all time or whether or not you think a random law should be in effect. Aka something that doesn’t really make or break you in the long run. They’re throw aways. It’s okay if you have polar opposite opinions. But “the debate” can be sneaky because at first it’s all fun and games and then suddenly someone strikes a nerve or a friendly jab is mistaken for a real punch and bam – things escalate. Once we actually defined what a debate looks like for us, we can go from having one to being perfectly agreeable the very next moment. The trick here is to make a case for yourself without insulting the other person’s perfectly valid opinion. Meaning, just because the person doesn’t “get” your favorite Rolling Stones song doesn’t mean you should scream “Well that’s because you have horrible taste!” at them. Ultimately, just go ahead and get on with your day.
This is what we call a little skirmish, because it’s a a cuter British way of saying the word fight. “The Row” is still a fight, but like, a baby one. Say your partner hasn’t picked up their socks for the millionth time or you get hangry and snap at them for being indecisive. I believe the little things are important in a relationship, but I’m not going to live and die by Adam keeping his half of the closet tidy. There are bigger issues in this world and certainly in our lives. But if left un-mended, a row can ruin a whole day. So as soon as you see the other person wave a white flag (it could be obvious like “I’m sorry” or it could be them reaching out for a hug or cracking a joke) – just throw in the towel and let it go. Also, reminder to not always wait for them to wave the white flag. You’re on the same team, you know.
“The Real Fight”
When it’s not a debate or a row.. it’s a real fight. The ones about the big picture. The words that really need to be spoken and that really deserve to be heard. Here’s what I’ve learned about really fighting….
If at any time emotions are running too high? Hit pause. Take a deep breath or walk into another room and come back. Even go to sleep if you’re exhausted. Is anything productive ever really said past midnight? We don’t follow the rule of ‘never go to bed angry‘ but we do follow the rule of ‘never go to bed without saying I love you‘ – even we have to say it through gritted teeth. Trust me, a clear head and a new day can make all the difference in a real fight.
Choose your words carefully in a real fight. Those words that you want to just shout in the moment? You can never take them back. Ever. They can be forgiven, but sometimes not forgotten. I have a great memory and Adam knows it – so five years from now, if I want to drum up the pain of something he said during a fight and hold it over his head… I easily could. Which means it’s in everyone’s best interest if he doesn’t say them to begin with. While you’re at it though – don’t drum up things from five years ago to use in a current fight. No one can go back and change history – so focus on the present and creating concrete plans for the future. Keep words like always and never to a minimum (people rarely always or never do anything in reality) and instead focus on how their actions have made you feel or how you intended your own actions to be perceived. Be clear about why what you’re fighting about actually matters in the long term.
And perhaps most importantly – you can still be in love in a fight. I swear it’s possible. And it’s super reassuring to your partner to remind them of that. Reach out to hold their hand even when you’re really angry at each other. A small reminder that you’re not going anywhere. Or say ‘Listen – you know I love you for X and Y, but Z is really bothering me for this reason.’ That way they’re not only only hearing a laundry list of all their worst qualities.
Love is what you got you into this mess in the first place, and there’s a good chance it will get you back out again… if you can remember to look for it. So go ahead and fight. Then kiss, make-up and get ready for another round.
I was determined to share more personal stories on the blog this year and you all agreed that relationship tidbits were something you’d like to see. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day (hello lovers!) I wanted to share Adam and I’s Relationship 10 Commandments. I first heard of this idea on a podcast I listen to faithfully (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) and loved it so much. I had never written these out before, but when it came time to think of what the 10 ‘pillars’ of our relationship were – these came very easily. I don’t like to think about them as rules, more like lanes on a road. We’re racing along best when we’re keeping it steady between these 10 guidelines.
I can’t stress enough that Adam and I in no way think we have a perfect relationship. And what works for us, could be all wrong for others. Also, several of these were completely stolen from other couples that we admire or bits of wisdom we’ve heard throughout life and applied to our own relationship. But regardless, it’s a fun exercise I thought I’d share. And if you try it too (you could make one of your relationship, your family or just yourself) I want to hear what makes your list! Without further ado…
OUR RELATIONSHIP 10 COMMANDMENTS:
ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM – from the very beginning, we decided it was us against the world. We’re a team of two, trying to figure out a way to win in this crazy game of life. If I do something great I want to look back and see Adam cheering, and if he falters I want to be on the sidelines yelling ‘you got this!’.
LIVE IN AN ENVIRONMENT OF GROWTH – No relationship is perfect. Ours certainly isn’t. But if we’re always trying to make it better and trying to grow together, that means more to me than some idyllic version of #couplegoals.
TALK TO ME – honestly, communication (as it pertains to a relationship) isn’t either of our strong suits. But we both agree that communication is really crucial to a solid relationship. So it’s something we work on and remind ourselves of all the time.
SIGNATURE MOVE – A sense of routine and pattern of habits has always been super important to me. Adam has always winked at me from across crowded rooms and keeps his hand on my hip-bone until I fall asleep at night. I always link my arm through his elbow when we walk on the street. It’s a constant physical reminder that the other person is there.
ACCEPT THE WHITE FLAG – if we’re in one of those silly, bickering moments and the other person tries to break the mood (with a joke, a hug.. a white flag if you will), let them. Unless it’s some sort of major fight that you really need to work through, accept the attempt at apology and move on. Life’s too short to spend it pouting.
FRESH EYES – A lifetime is well, a long time. And I think all too often people settle in to thinking they know every single story the other person has ever told or thought the other person has ever had. I try to actively learn new things about Adam, share new things with him and generally look at him with fresh eyes.
SUNRISE/SUNSET – We try to start the day together and end it together. That means if I have to stay up late to do work, Adam stays up too. While we’re at it, we kiss good morning just like we kiss goodnight. The world can take you in a million different directions throughout the day – but at least we know we begin and end it together.
PAY IT FORWARD – The whole ‘I did the dishes so you should do the laundry’ life sounds exhausting to me. Just carry your weight. I like to think we’re both good about not keeping score. My Dad always told me ‘relationships are give and take’ and I think some years you’ve got to give more and some years you’ll need to take more. If you’re with someone that’s willing to do the same, it all comes out in the wash.
OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS – You know the saying. People can definitely evolve over time, but I think at our core we are who we are so it’s best to come to terms with that. I’m damn stubborn and Adam is slow to adopt new ideas. I suspect that when we’re 80 we’ll still be that way so best to find a way to love those aspects of each other now.
TAKE YOUR MEDICINE – I read once that couples can get common colds (your little passing everyday fights that cure quickly) or cancer (the incurable, killer kind of differences). But that most couples have, well, diabetes. A disagreement or issue that you will carry for a lifetime but that – if kept in check and treated regularly – is not really a big deal and you can still go on to live a fully happy life. Maybe you have differing political views or one of you has a tendency to be a workaholic or struggles with anxiety. Not deal breakers, but you need to recognize the diabetes, communicate (hello #3) and be sure that you’re treating the issue. We have our flare ups but we typically can see them coming and take our medicine so to speak.