9 Lessons I’ve Learned From My 9 Year Relationship

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Photo Credit: Deposit Photos
by Demetria Jackson

In February, my partner and I celebrated 9 years together.

For those of you already doing the math in your head - yes, that means we were high school sweethearts.

The thing about being high school sweethearts is that you grow up together and in that process you, of course, make a lot of mistakes. You’re both trying to figure out what adulthood looks like for you, as an individual, and then also trying to compare it with what adulthood looks like for you as a person in a long-term relationship. It’s a hard, trying process; but it’s worth it.

What I’m most thankful for is all of the amazing lessons that I have learned throughout this 9 year process. I am now more in love with my partner, than I was when I was 16 years old and I know that he feels the same.

With that said, here are 9 lessons I’ve learned from my 9 year relationship:

1. Commit to unlearning everything you think you know about love
Everything that you have learned about love has come from a source external to your being. (Deep right?). Think about it, everything that you’ve learned about love has come to you in the form of a movie, a book, a magazine, a family member, multiple family members, friends, tv shows, the internet, co-workers, consumer driven holidays (ahem...Valentine’s Day). Need I say more? When you commit to unlearning everything you think you know about love, that’s when you allow your own experiences and your own truth about what love looks like in your life to come forward. It’s also when you’ll realize that you can only understand what love means by committing to a daily practice of loving yourself first. Then you can love others from your overflow.

Also - side note - unlearn everything you think you know about relationships. I’m speaking from my experience with my partner in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship and this is what works for us. Think about what works for you and act accordingly :).

2. Being in a relationship is a daily practice
Being in a relationship is not something that you can just selectively decide when you’ll attend to it. Like a plant, a pet, a baby, an exercise routine… it’s something that needs constant attention. Daily attention.

3. Communication is key
Communication is the key to success in any relationship. Whether your current relationship, or ideal relationship looks just like mine (or nothing like mine), the one thing that will remain the same is the importance of communication. So, spend some time understanding how and why you communicate with your partner the way you do. Reflect on your needs and don’t be afraid to share it openly and honestly with them. There’s nothing worse than miscommunication or no communication in a relationship.

4. Space is divine
Allowing opportunities for space in your relationship is so important. However you configure what that “space” looks like is completely up to you.
Maybe it’s taking 15 minutes to yourself when you come home from work without interacting with your partner. (Like me).

Maybe it’s creating intentional space for your partner to consent or dissent with a decision that you want to make. (I need to get better at this.)

Maybe it’s intentionally having opposite work schedules for one or two or even three days out of the week so that you have some space away from each other.

The point is, sometimes it can be so easy to lose yourself in a relationship and prioritizing intentional space for yourself can help you to reconnect and make you feel at home in and part of the relationship.

5. Work on yourself so that you can hold space for the other person when they need you to
One of the things I love to work on is myself because I have come to understand that I cannot possibly be there for anyone else in my life (partner, friend, stranger, co-worker) if I am not taking care of myself first. When you’re not taking care of yourself you are more self-involved which means that your ego is running your life. When your ego is in charge and your partner has a bad day, you don’t even recognize that your partner is having a bad day and somehow you always manage to put the focus back on you. When you’re taking care of yourself and your ego is in check and your partner is having a bad day, you, first, recognize that they’re having a bad day and you’re able to hold the space for them until they’re able to hold it for themselves.

Examples? Maybe you’ll reschedule some meetings so that you can attend to them. Maybe you’ll feed them - cook them a really amazing meal. You’ll take on their chores or you’ll clean for them. You’ll just do the nice things that are helpful, without needing to be praised for it. Your focus and your energy is on service.

6. Be aware of and constantly check the power dynamics and privilege that you bring into the relationship
The privilege that you were born with or acquired over a period of time affects the way that you navigate this world that we live in. Therefore, it will affect how you interact with your partner, the problems that you have, how you work through problems, how you communicate, and more. For example, if you were raised in a two-parent loving household and your partner grew up in an abusive two-parent household, the way you view relationships and your part in it will change drastically and you might need to compromise a few things in order to make your partner feel safe.

Here’s another example: if you grew up rarely ever having to ask for the consent or permission of another person to do what you want to do, then you will likely repeat similar behaviours in your relationship with your partner. Having a firm grasp on your privilege and understanding how it affects the way you communicate and interact with individuals, especially those whom you love, will go a long way.

Bottom line: privilege is always the elephant in the room. Deal with it and do it responsibly.

7. Always keep the humanity in the room
It’s really easy to get into attack mode whenever you get into an argument with your partner. Think about this: any attempt to focus solely on or reduce an individual to the parts that you dislike about them is, in effect, stripping them of their humanity. So, in order to keep the humanity in the room you must constantly remind yourself that the person you are having a problem with at that moment is a whole person who is as deserving of the preservation of their humanity as you are. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be angry and that you can’t call them out on their actions. It means that you are humble enough to accept that they are a person, just like you, who has made a mistake. When you come to the table with that kind of energy, magic happens.

8. Pedestals are meant to be broken
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again...stop putting your partner on a pedestal. Stop putting everyone on a pedestal. They will never be able to live up to your imagined expectations of them. Keep the humanity in the room and give them the space they need to make mistakes. If you don’t, they will fall anyway and they will fall harder than you would’ve ever imagined. They will mess up so badly that you won’t even begin to know how to repair the damage done. So take my word for it - take them off the pedestal.

9. Sometimes you have to let people hit their bottom
When people bottom out in a relationship, it sucks, but it can also be a really beautiful opportunity for growth. When my partner hit his bottom, it was an opportunity for me to give more love, support and compassion than I thought I was built for. It also forced me to reevaluate my life and be really honest with myself, which led me to hit my proverbial bottom. So, sometimes you have to let people hit their bottom because when they do, the best things often come out on the other side.

Demetria Jackson is a start-up coach and accountability strategist for creative entrepreneurs worldwide. Learn more about her practice.

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