Relationships are work. Have you heard this expression before? It’s absolutely true. But what is relationship work? Does it mean that sometimes you’re supposed to be unhappy in a relationship? Does it mean that you should avoid relationships that are too easy? It wasn’t until I was an adult that I bothered to understand what any of this means, exactly. Since then, there are some things I’ve learned about what relationship work is and what it isn’t.
The basic idea of relationship work is taking the time to be fully present with another human being. Relationships are like friendships with some extra sauciness, in that you’ve got someone who is there for you and who makes you feel special and desirable and awesome. It’s your job to communicate with your partner about what being there for you means, and what makes you feel special, desirable, and awesome.
You also have to do your part to find out what makes your beloved feel that way, too. Learn what makes that person happy, what they enjoy doing, how they like to be cared for, et cetera, and then act on those things. It’s not your job to make them happy, but you should put time into helping increase their happiness.
Relationship work is also about compromise. You might want to spend your weekend nights quietly watching movies on the couch, but your partner might want to rage at a party: The work here would be finding a solution that makes both of you happy. Either you separate for a night, or you take turns doing what each person wants to do.
Over time, those compromises can increase. You learn that you cannot create a perfect partner—you have to enjoy the qualities you love and learn to accept the ones you don’t (within reason—more on that in a second).
Be open to dating all kinds of people, but have a few ironclad deal-breakers in your head (misogyny, racism, and cheating are ones that instantly come to mind). While relationships are important to nurture, they are always back-outable. Be discerning.
Relationship work is about having an argument with your partner and not letting the entire relationship go up in flames as a result. Some fights are worth leaving a relationship over (like if there is any intimidation or physical violence), but most arguments are a great way to learn to get through a conflict with another human being and be OK afterwards.
Relationship work is not about putting up with being unhappy because you love a person. Part of love is handling some difficult patches, but they aren’t ALL supposed to be difficult patches. Love doesn’t happen in spite of a person’s behavior—it happens because of it.
Part of a relationship is continuing to see someone with new, adoring eyes even if you’ve been with them a long time. It’s treating someone like you’re on a first date, even if it’s your 50th date.
Don’t rush into “playing house” in a romantic relationship, acting as if you are 10 years into a long marriage, but don’t immediately dismiss a partner over a quirk like weird sneezing, either.
Always remember that you should be getting as much (or more) out of a relationship as you are putting into it. Learning how to work a relationship is important, but it’s even more important to know when to walk away from one that is more trouble than it’s worth.
Relationship work pays off as you learn to live comfortably beside the person you chose to be with.