I met my boyfriend when I was 16, and we started dating a few months later (check out this post about our lovestory). Right now, I'm 27. Some simple math will tell you that we've been together for over ten years, and in those ten years, I've learned a thing or two about relationships. Or, well, about our relationship. After all, not all relationships are the same. But you might read something useful, or recognize something and not feel so alone. Read on to learn about the 10 things I've learned during 10 years with my boyfriend! :-) This will be a long read, so prepare.
1) How to deal with disagreements or fights.
When you just start dating, you don't really have future fights on your mind. You will fight, though, trust me on that. There will be moments when your priorities don't align, when small things become big things, when one of you two acts like an asshole or when life in general throws you curveballs. When that happens, try to not engage in a fight until your feelings have cooled down enough to be rational. This is important, because otherwise you will end up fighting about details rather than discussing the big picture and looking for a solution. Also, allow your partner to do the same. Not everyone needs the same amount of cool-down-time, and fights should be based on mutual respect for each other's boundaries. Don't force someone to engage when they aren't ready to do so.
Then, ask yourself whether the issue at hand is worth the fight, because this should not just be about venting, or about affirming your authority. And if you feel like the problem is big enough to start a fight about, keep your priorities straight. This isn't about winners or losers or about coming out on top - remember: you two love each other. You are on the same team, and you want the other person to be happy. When you keep this in mind, your fight will always be constructive rather than destructive.
this was a very serious fight
2) You don't always have to go 50/50
Relationships are about supporting one another, not about always splitting the bill 50/50, whether it comes to household chores or to paying for dinner. This isn't a business, this is family. Of course, that doesn't mean that you should give and give without expecting anything in return. Just trust your partner to show their support at their own time rather than demanding it at your convenience. If you base your relationship on calculations and quid pro quo rather than trust and respect, you will lose some of the magic in the process. And if you have a hard time trusting your partner to be there for you when it comes down to it, maybe you have to reassess your relationship altogether rather than bullying them into giving back. If you feel like your relationship is fundamentally unbalanced and you are being taken advantage of, I refer you to lesson number 1.
3) Keep fighting to break down those walls
One of the most difficult balances to strike, is the one between a right to privacy versus knowing your partner through and through. Most people have some things they are ashamed of, or things they just don't feel comfortable sharing. Maybe you've been hurt before, and you just want everything to be perfect this time around. Thing is, you've got to let people in. Talking about your flaws, insecurities, or secrets will bring you closer, and it will force you and your partner to assess whether your love is real, or whether you just love an idealized version of each other. My boyfriend is not someone who enjoys being vulnerable, so sometimes I have to forcefully push him out of his comfort zone. It's not an easy thing to do, but it has always resulted in our relationship becoming even deeper. Tread with care, though, you can't force someone to trust you.
trust me, that hat looks great on you
4) Learn to recognize - and cope with - differences
You will not always have the same dreams. You will not always think about things the same way. You will not always feel the same way. You will not always have the same priorities, or like the same things. You are two different people, and you do not need to be in perfect agreement all the time to make a great couple. Allow your significant other some room to be a person rather than brushing over the things that make you two unique.
I'm an extrovert, he's an introvert
5) Don't allow yourself to feel superior - or inferior
Throughout life, you are the person you know the very best. Your longtime partner probably comes second. I sometimes feel like my boyfriend is part of me, just because that feeling of closeness compares to nothing else (except maybe having a kid). And you know that saying, "we are our own worst critics"? Yeah, in my experience I can also be pretty critical of my boyfriend. I'm a perfectionist, and I set myself some very high standards. That can be bothersome in its own right, but it gets especially annoying when I do the same to my boyfriend. Comparing him to me, and being annoyed whenever he does not measure up to the unrealistic standards I set for myself, that's just a bad idea all around. There's a difference between knowing you deserve a great guy, and not cutting your great guy some slack from time to time.
my halloween costumes are generally superior, though
6) Be an adult, and demand the same in return
As much as you should cut people some slack: I'm a responsible adult. I deal with stuff, I handle my shit. People can count on me. I expect the same from my boyfriend. If you are not mature enough to take care of yourself, you are not ready to be in a serious relationship. When your significant other is acting immature, you don't have to just accept that shit because you "love them".
7) Talk about finances
This is something people (and romcoms) don't prepare you for: money is important in a relationship. We aren't just a romantic unit, we also share a household, and a future. My boyfriend and I have a shared bank account for groceries, bills and all the purchases that benefit our family unit. We both make contributions to this account, proportionate to our monthly income. I know that this point sort of contradicts what I said about things not having to be 50/50, but that was about the small stuff, not about the household. Your household is like a small business, and it needs clear management to thrive. This eliminates frustrations about money. And believe me, you will fight over money if you don't make clear arrangements. My boyfriend is a spender and I am a saver, so keeping our personal finances as separate as possible really is the best solution. Also, we live in the 21st century, man, and I don't see why two people should totally merge their finances. Or their facebook accounts, for that matter.
8) Don't forget why you fell in love
At first, you like everything about your partner. Later on, you get to know their flaws. Even later on, you can easily slip into taking the good things for granted, and only noticing the negatives. That's the downside to feeling like your partner is an extension of yourself: you forget about their wonderful individuality, the thing that drew you in in the first place. Take a conscious step back to notice their sense of humour, their keen wit, their giving nature, their beautiful way of phrasing things - just listing up all the things that made you fall in love in the first place will probably want to pinch yourself about how lucky you are to have landed such a catch.
we fell in love because we are both made up of equal parts goofy and annoyed
9) Accept their flaws - and yours
Like I said, I'm a perfectionist. So many points in this list boil down to me being a perfectionist. But people aren't perfect. Your lover isn't perfect. The longer you spend with someone, the better you get to know them. Makes sense, right? But being in a relationship also makes you do a lot of introspection, because your partner will push back when you're being an asshole, and vice versa. Everytime you have a disagreement with your partner, you will reassess your priorities: is this really important to me, or am I just holding on to old baggage? Point is: you will know yourself - and your partner - better than you did before. You will not like everything, and that's completely okey. No one ever said that relationships should be rainbows and butterflies all the time. You're allowed to be a dick from time to time, and so is your partner. And in the end, it all comes down to my last point.
10) Know your priorities
My list sounds very negative: being annoyed with one another, accepting their flaws, not expecting them to be your soulmate in that romantic ideal way. But hidden beneath all of that talk about not expecting too much is my own set of priorities. I don't care if my boyfriend loves the same movies as I do, and I know that he can be a douche from time to time. It bothers me that he can't cook (like, at all). But for me, the most important thing about our relationship boils down to four things: we have a lot of fun together, I find him attractive, I trust him to be there for me, whenever, and I know that he loves me, flaws and all. That's all. And as long as those four things are true, all the other small things are just that: small things.