Ofttimes my wife and I are asked “how do you make your relationship work?” I understand where the question comes from – Noel and I don’t have the most common of marriages – but in all honesty what makes our relationship work are the same two elements that make any relationship work: trust and communication.
I get the feeling that a lot of people these days think interacting over Twitter or Facebook is communication. I disagree, and think that deeper, more substantial back-and-forth exchanges are essential for any relationship to truly work, whether it’s a friendship, purely sexual, or a marriage. That doesn’t mean that every night we sit down and talk about the universe’s “big questions” – though occasionally we do – what I mean is that clear communication of wants, needs, and goals is important, from all sides.Dr. Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist who runs the Sexplanations YouTube channel, has a concept that I think translates very well outside of the bedroom: a “will, want, won’t” list. What life experiences are you willing to try? What goals and moments do you want to achieve? What is completely off the table? I don’t mean to say that each partner has to completely align on each, but I feel there should be a healthy overlap. And, once communicated, that starts a conversation that can continue and evolve throughout the relationship. Talk about what excites you, what frightens you, and what questions you have about life and the world. Really communicate with each other, often; don’t just send texts and Snapchats.
Please note that I’m not saying “just communicate more and all is well.” Communication is both opportunity to be vulnerable, which is difficult for some, and it has to be a two-way street, which is difficult for some relationships. Is it okay to have topics which aren’t discussed? Of course. But from my perspective it is far better to have a mutual understanding of why those topics aren’t brought up, rather than just quiet acceptance.
The second point, trust, can be a difficult one for many, and even myself sometimes. Here’s where we start getting into too-much-information territory, so I take no offense if readers bow out at this point.
I have full faith and confidence, trust, that my wife will never willingly or knowingly do anything to threaten or damage our relationship. There may be moments of stress or of unintended consequences, but I know that she always has us, our friendship, and our marriage as top priority.
Do I mind when she flirts with other people? Absolutely not. It makes me smile that other people find her attractive, and I know that she’ll always come home to me. Everyone gets different things out of every relationship and I know there are experiences she wants to try that I’m not the right partner for.
Does she get upset when I flirt with other people? Absolutely not. It makes her smile to see me happy in more situations, and she knows I will always come home to her. All of my relationships are different and I know there are experiences that in fit other relationships better than my marriage.
Before I get a flood of angry or accusatory emails, I want to say that I’m using the term “relationship” very broadly. A platonic friendship is a relationship. A back-and-forth flirting friendship is a relationship. Fooling around is a relationship. The occasional “booty call” is a relationship. Long-term, in-depth emotional connections are relationships. Words and their definitions are important, so I want to be clear: I’m talking about any and every type of relationship between people.
I also want to talk about the difference between jealousy and envy before I continue. When I talk about jealousy, I mean a possessive passion, anger that someone else has something you want. When I mention envy, I refer to a more specific feeling of “I want that too,” without the possessiveness of jealousy.
Used in a situation, I am envious of someone who has an ice cream cone, so long as it’s chocolate. I would like one too, but I don’t feel bad that they have one. Now, had that been the last ice cream cone on the whole beach I may be jealous instead, if that makes sense.
I used to call myself a jealous person, one who coveted what others had and was angry about the things I didn’t. After years of reflection though, I came to the realization that I wasn’t actually mad that someone else had something, I was more sad that I didn’t also have it.
Are there times when jealousy still rears up? Absolutely – it’s a human emotion. If my wife is gone all night with a special friend, I’ll feel a pang, like “I wish she were out with me instead” but I try to take a step back, examine why exactly I’m feeling that way, and whether the feeling is rational or not. Does her having a night on the town mean she and I can’t have one the following weekend? Absolutely not. Does her spending time with someone else mean she loves me “less?” Again, no way.
I may ultimately feel envy, because I don’t happen to be out and about with someone, but it’s not possessive – there’s no fear that she won’t come back, or that she’ll do something we’ll regret.
One of the big moments of communication, that we return to with some frequency, has been an mutual understanding of our limits when it comes to other people and other relationships. What I’m comfortable with her doing with others, or possibly doing, is different that what she’s comfortable with me doing. I can’t look at it in terms of “more” or “less” – it’s about trust. I know she’s not going to do something that makes me uncomfortable, and she knows the same for me.
It is on that foundation of trust and communication that we have built our friendship, our marriage, and our life together. Similarly, it’s how I’ve tried to build all of my friendships and other relationships.
I’m not some relationship guru who knows all, who is satisfied all the time when it comes to interpersonal relationships, and who is always the perfect friend, partner, or husband, don’t get me wrong. It’s taken me a long road not just to get to where at am now but also to understand how I got here, and what I can work on improving – not only about myself but about my life in general.
Someone recently told me “adult friendships are two people saying ‘we should totally hang out more’ until one of you dies.” While I do have some friendships, particularly my oldest ones, that are more tenuous and less substantive as I want, I hope that I can have more meaningful, long-lasting connections with people moving forward, and it’s my hope that my friends have that kind of deep-seated connection with others as well.
It’s my hope that somewhere within this ramble you have found something useful, something you can take for yourself and apply it to your own life. The relationship my wife and I have isn’t for everyone, nor is it for every couple, but it works for us and identifying why and how it works has been very satisfying, moving, and bonding.