In short, there’s really only one necessary step in training your significant other.
Step One: NOPE
As a woman, single and sorta-looking, I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “I’m still training my husband [wife] [boyfriend] [girlfriend].”
CRINGE. SHUDDER. HISS.
Because the following are things that can and should be trained: pets, skills, muscles, hair, plants. An adult human is not one of those things. Now don’t get me wrong, if you have the trainer/trainee relationship and that works for you, then more power to you and that role-playing synergy. Thank God you two found each other.
But the mentality that someone should pick the closest prototype to their perfect partner with expectations to shape and groom them into that perfect partner is an idea I hope can be quickly eradicated from our social-majority thought. Not only is it unfair to the “trainer” because they are obviously settling and compromising their standards, but it is abusive for the “trainee” to live under constant scrutiny and judgement from the person that should love them the most, unconditionally. The “trainee” has the right to be themselves, relax and be comfortable in the intimacy of home.
Therefore, I offer this alternative title:
Learning Love Together: Five Tips to Starting a New Relationship off Right
- Get Real. No One is Perfect.
There’s a thing I like to call the Prince Charming Syndrome. It involves being exposed to stories and movies that illustrate some perfect romance, budding with a delicious tension, finally blooming into a flawless, uncomplicated union, and they lived happily ever after.
Coming from a single-parent home, I didn’t have a daily relationship to set the bar for me. Really, my only examples of marriage or any long-term relationship included my married-and-divorced-three-times mother; my godparents, who remained married but lived separately for several years and argued – both earnestly and jokingly – incessantly; and…The Huxtables. So, if it isn’t obvious, my perception of life partnerships was a bit skewed. With Hollywood as my standard, I suffered from that Prince Charming Syndrome. And swiftly abandoned every relationship that required any effort or working through issues. By the time I had developed a relationship work ethic, my marriage of almost ten years was beyond my own repair. All affection was a distant memory and my vision of the future was 180 degrees away from his. So I valiantly galloped off into an opposing sunset.
The more I put myself out there, post-divorce, embarking on a spree of great and not-so-great dates, I realized, everyone is different and no one is flawless – no one is a particular upgrade or downgrade from my once-spouse.
Everyone comes from issues, passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, and everyone internalizes, suffers from, responds to, and exhibits those characteristics differently. Some people are aware of those traits, others are not. Some issues lay dormant for years, awakening with a specific trigger, while others rear their ugly heads early and often and speak louder than words. And depending on how those negative qualities land in the significant others’ world (don’t forget the significant other comes along with their own cocktail of problems), the possibilities for volatile mixtures are endless.
So then what?
Be introspective. Take the time and energy to know yourself.
And be thoughtful. Take the time and energy to know your significant other.
- Learning Each Other Takes Time and Communication.
Team projects in the workplace involve a handful of key factors that make or break the outcome: intentional leadership, setting expectations, proactive communication. This directly translates into relationships.
The success of every relationship hinges upon this openness. I know, this is a typical date-killer, the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. But really, I don’t want my time wasted and I don’t want to waste someone else’s time either. It’s OK to set boundaries, timelines, communication norms and preferences, and be clear about what you hope this developing relationship looks like. Letting your new partner know ahead of time, “I don’t text every day,” or “I’m more of a caller than a texter,” or “I’m not ready to fall in love, but I want to get to know you better,” are all very reasonable things to say on a first date – better yet, before the first date. If your relationship is lacking these basics, as time moves on, resentment will infect your partnership and slowly eat away every fiber of your connection.
Proactive communication and setting expectations are not things that happen naturally or automatically, either. Someone has to take the lead. Ideally, both partners would happily co-pilot their Ship of Love as it pulls out of Infatuation Harbor. However, this might not be both partners’ forte. If the responsibility falls more on one side than the other, make sure this too is communicated and accepted. If not, it could easily be another foothold for resentment; where one partner feels they are doing all the work to maintain the health of the relationship and the other is absent at the helm.
Set the tone early so that unrealistic expectations are not assumed, feelings are not hurt, and your new relationship doesn’t implode in the first month.
- Honoring Each Other Takes Selflessness.
In order to truly honor your partner, you have to bend sometimes. Yes, compromise. When I was a kid and my godmother would resolve spats between my brother and me, she would say, “You guys have to compromise.” It felt like slander. An expletive. Profanity. I want what I want when I want it even if it’s not my toy. Gimme! But she was right. Compromise is the only way to resolve partnership issues. However, unlike childhood squabbles, the compromise cannot take place out of guilt or because Auntie said so. In a relationship, it must be done with love, compassion and selflessness. If not, enter that sepsis of bitterness once again. Honoring your significant other means selflessly compromising, and doing it with joy, not obligation.
- There is Give-and-Take
OK, let’s face it: adulating is hard. There are things are just a big fat huge annoying pain to do. Like sorting dirty laundry. Washing it. Drying it. Folding it. And putting it away. Ironing. Dishes. Putting away dishes. Sweeping. Mopping. Vacuuming. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. Even worse, they all have to be done over and over and over again. The absolute worst thing is when you’re in a relationship and you’re still doing everything despite this partner that can’t seem to help. Or this partner that not only doesn’t help but makes things worse, i.e. putting dirty dishes near the sink rather than in the sink or dumping dirty laundry on the floor rather than in the hamper. These little annoying things can set your soul ablaze with rage, or give you one more opportunity to remember that no one is perfect, you can proactively communicate, set realistic expectations, and lovingly compromise.
Let’s take the latter. Perhaps you hate doing laundry but don’t mind the dishes? Trade. Instead of expecting your partner to perform perfectly the thing they avoid the most, set your expectation to, “This is my job,” and release them from the responsibility. Allow them to take over something that you equally abhor. Better yet, if your hate is mutual and one of the things that draws you together, alternate days and make it a game. Reward yourselves with a romantic game or some QT alone when all the chores are done.
- It’s OK to Say, “This Isn’t Right.”
A lot of us are raised to avoid rejection conversations (why many people go ghost when something in the relationship has turned them off; it’s just easier – inconsiderate, but easier) or to do it as politely and delicately as possible (which is just annoying if you’re the one getting dumped). But guess what? It’s OK – no, more than OK – it’s healthy to speak up and say, “This isn’t working for me.”
It’s OK to voice a situation where your partner has made you feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to work through that breakdown or if the situation is unforgivable and you’re just done. The point here is that you have the power and the right to stand up for what you want to get out of your relationship. And if it’s not working, it. Is. O. K. You don’t get Brownie points for putting up with a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. Stand up for yourself. An unhealthy relationship is not better than being alone.
I recently decided to make a list of must-haves and a list of deal breakers. If we make the same lists for homes, vehicles, other big parts of our life that require both a significant investment and a considerable commitment, then why not do it for the person we expect to share our beds, meals, hearts, and life with for eternity? To be clear, this is not a check list with boxes and dating is not a job interview. But it is valid to outline characteristics you hope your partner will possess, as well as a list of things for which you absolutely will not settle. Don’t make exceptions that ultimately force you to smile through your misery or slowly waste away until nothing of your soul remains. Don’t sell yourself short. You owe it to yourself to be fully loved and fully happy; and your partner deserves it too. If you make too many exceptions and excuses, you’re condemning both of you to an unfair compromise that will crumble your life force and extinguish your zest.
At the top of my list: ability to show unconditional love. Unconditional because I want to be able to relax with my partner, be vulnerable and open with zero fear of judgement or abandonment.
And I don’t want to be improved. I’m not a puppy. I’m not a professor. I do not want to train or be trained. I just want to walk alongside someone and be cherished. Don’t we all?