I was talking with my friend Wendy the other day, and she asked a question Lee & I consistently hear:
"How do you guys have such a strong relationship?"
Lee & I have been together since 2001. I was 23 and she was 35 when we met. She seems to have stayed the same age and I've slowly matured to catch up with her.
It was love at first sight and has grown steadily stronger over the years. Part of that strength comes from trials. We’ve certainly had massive disagreements over the years, and in the sorting out of those arguments we’ve developed a deep commitment to each other.
I’ll talk about three of the things I think have been important in becoming and staying a strong couple.
First, a disagreement. Without going into the details, a few years into our relationship we got into a massive fight over something neither of us can remember. I headed off to file for divorce and a Mexican peso saved our marriage. The story is both hilarious and heartbreaking, and I still can’t tell it without shame or laughter bubbling up inside.
As the dust settled and we realized we’d weathered the storm, we were forced to face an important question: Did we really want to commit to each other?
After that fight, we sat down and made a commitment: “From here on out, divorce is off the table. You can sleep a night on the couch, you can get as angry as you want, hell, you can light out for the Territories for days if you have to, but divorce does not get mentioned. We’re staying together.”
Once that commitment was made, we started behaving differently. With that total safety net of our partner being there at the end of the day, no matter what, our relationship strengthened.
Sure, sure, that’s what wedding vows are for. I think they’re mostly bullshit ritual and they fairly obviously don’t work to keep people together. The quiet commitment to each other outside of the public view once a major storm has been weathered has been far more powerful than any public vows.
After deep commitment, the next thing that’s kept us strong as a couple is remaining independent. Lee is (as of August 2017) a 52 year old woman with her own life as an artist, both graphic and martial, and a business owner with insights and experience I’ll never have.
I have my own path I’m proud to walk and that isn’t appropriate for Lee. Instead of forcing the other person to participate or even be a strap-hanger in each other’s lives, we’ve realized that having our own lives, our own bailiwicks, is vital to our happiness as a couple.
We each have our own pursuits that are ours to explore, at our own pace and leisure. The privacy and agency of having our own demesnes has been one of the healthiest ways we can support each other. While we occasionally invite the other into our world, we live joyously in the idea that being different and living unique lives is vital to being happy.
Finally, we loosely use an idea I call, “Strength of Feeling.” It’s simple, and works like this: For any given issue or argument that becomes a real point of contention, we think about how strongly we each feel about it. We assign that a number between 1 and 10. 1 means we couldn’t give less of a shit, 10 means we’ll fight to the death for it.
Once we share that number with the other person, it can make the decision far easier. If Lee is a 3 and I’m a 7 on an issue, it’s a no brainer. Usually that’s how it works; one of us feels far stronger about it than the other.
As anyone who's been around us knows, Lee & I love to debate just about everything. Strength of Feeling helps puts many of these debates in perspective.
If we find ourselves defending an idea hotly, “Strength of Feeling” becomes a useful arbiter, and many times I’ve realized I’m pushing super hard on a “2” just to prove a point and keep my fragile ego intact. Admitting that you don’t actually need to win an argument means you can defuse an awful lot of potential disasters quickly and easily.
Those 3 ideas offer a general scope of how we’ve stayed happily together since March 24th, 2001. Hopefully some of these lessons we’ve learned can help you.
If you have anything you feel has really helped strengthen your relationship with your sweetie, please post to comments below. Sharing information is one of the best ways we Paleo Treats blog readers can help each other, and each contribution is appreciated greatly!
Nik & Lee
Too much reading...
How about dessert?