The Relationship Advice I Most Wish I Would Have Received
[Read this post on Medium]
When I was 9 I moved to a new school district and turned ten in July before starting at my new school.
That was the year I met my wife.
It sounds super weird to put it that way, but it’s true.
Obviously, she wasn’t my wife at the time, but she would be, sooner than anyone could have realized.
She had gone to that school already for several years., and was cute, sweet, and musically talented. I had swooned, in whatever way a 5th-grader swoons, when I heard her sing a Helen Reddy song for the school talent show. I can hear it in my mind to this day. (Check out Helen’s much-inferior version here.)
She says we met that year. I, like everyone else in the school, knew who she was, though I don’t remember meeting her that year. But her memory on these things is much better than mine, so if she says we met, we met. I remember really getting to know her when we had an English class together in 7th grade. We actually became friends that year.
*That was 42 years ago, and life has been one never-ending joy after another ever since. (Mmmmm…no.)
We started dating our senior year of high school and married not even two full years after graduation, so we were married by the time we were 19.
In case you don’t know this, let me just be really honest. There is no such thing as a relationship where people get married that young and don’t end up with some significant issues. You don’t know who you are yet as individuals. It’s like you’re each married to a child. Each partner becomes a parent to the other. But partners are supposed to be two equal parties who have chosen each other, not two children who still need someone to parent them. And because you’re still both just kids, you are bad parents to each other and end up hurting each other in some of the same ways bad parents hurt children, and many more!
We then, like most couples, and certainly like nearly all couples who meet/marry young, have been through some very difficult things.
In February, we will celebrate our 35th anniversary.
Many people hear our “met-in-grade-school-dating-in-high-school story and get hyper-romantic ideas about how we must be soul mates or otherwise perfect for each other. As I have explained above, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And there is one thing I wish someone could have told us when we were younger, trying to work out our challenges together. It seems so simple, but would have been so true, and maybe so helpful.
Cut each other some slack.
So that’s one of the things I now say most to my clients who see me in couples counseling.
Cut each other some slack. You’re both good people. You both care about each other and about the relationship. Not only that, but you’re up to your neck in the stresses of the world — jobs and kids and money and in-laws and trying to make your way. Resist the urge to believe that the person who is by your side does not have your back. Even when it seems like it, refuse to believe your partner isn’t a good person with a good heart and good intentions.
People say, “But Dave, what if my partner doesn’t have my back? What if they really aren’t a good person?”
This is possible, but not likely. Far more likely is the stresses you are both under keep bringing out the very parts of each other that are hurting both of you and that you are both critical of in the other person.
If in fact your partner is not a good person, does not mean well for you, that’s an entirely different situation, and you have to deal with that differently. But be careful before you assume this.
So cut each other some slack. Give each other a break. Refuse to believe your partner doesn’t mean well for you and for your relationship. You can work on realizing these things while still acknowledging and working on the particular ways you have hurt each other.
A little kindness goes a very long way.