Photo: Thanasis Zovoilis (Getty Images).
A true test of how long your relationship will last is how you both respond to adversity. Any couple can blissfully meander their way through the good times, but what happens when you’ve lost your job and you’ve been eating baked beans and tuna for dinner three weeks in a row? Will she still want to kiss you when you’ve got bean juice in your beard and you smell like a fishing vessel?
My girlfriend Soph and I have been together for a decade now, so our relationship has been host to a wide variety of bullsh*t. Some of that bullsh*t has been laid down by our own shovels, while some of it has also been thrown all over our metaphorical lawn by outside parties. Family troubles, problems with our friends and career woes have made each of our lives more difficult at various points, but through each of these issues we have managed to come out the other side intact.
So how have we managed it? How has our relationship survived the aforementioned bullsh*t? While neither of us have got it down to an exact science, we have proven pretty successful at surviving stress, managing to keep our relationship going in spite of the external forces that drag us down. So now, inspired by the Amazon Originals series Catastrophe, which, as its name suggests, revolves around a couple attempting to navigate their way through the various catastrophic incidents that make up our lives, here are the methods we have employed that have allowed us to do so:
Be as honest as possible
There are unimportant, mundane white lies you tell one another in a relationship in order to make your partner feel better. This is fine. For instance, a few months ago I purchased an expensive red jacket, which I had suspected might look ridiculous in a “Michael Jackson in ‘Thriller'” kind of way, but I went ahead with it anyway in the belief that I could slap the right pair of jeans on and somehow make it work. I put it on and showed it to Soph, and her response was “that’s… nice.” Each of those ellipses lasted roughly 5 seconds, as I watched the cogs in her head visibly turn in order to formulate a response that a) wouldn’t hurt my feelings but b) would ensure that she’d never have to stand next to me while I was wearing that jacket. After I interrogated her for a little while, she admitted to me that the jacket “looked like menstruation.” I haven’t wore the jacket since that day.
White lies are understandable (even if I can almost always tell that Soph is lying), but as a general rule I’ve found that it’s much more beneficial if you’re as honest with one another as possible. A recurring problem that couples seem to have is that they let their problems fester internally, and eventually they find themselves in a situation where they’ve been telling little untruths throughout the duration of their relationship, to the point where they’ve backed themselves in a corner and no longer feel as though they can be honest with one another about certain topics.
While Soph and I don’t dunk on one another day in and day out to the point where our collective self-esteem could fit into the shell of a walnut, by keeping things truthful we both know where we stand with one another. This means that when we each face a stressful situation in our lives, we can lay our cards on the table and face it head on, rather than one person attempting to downplay the situation by pretending that everything is fine. In that way, we’re more capable of working as a team, but it also means that I don’t get to wear jackets that look like they’ve been varnished with dried blood. It’s swings and roundabouts, really.
Ask what you can do to help the situation
As much as we’d all secretly prefer it, there isn’t a way to make our significant others completely cater to our whims when we’re down. If we’re having problems at work we would probably love to just slither home, collapse into bed and have our partner hand feed us until we feel capable of returning to society, but we have adult responsibilities that require us to not lackadaisically collapse in front of every hurdle that’s placed before us.
Now this might not be much of a revelation, but I’ve learned that the best way to make Soph happier when she’s going through a tough time is to simply ask what I can do to make the situation easier for her. She’s a tough cookie, so most of the time she’ll tell me that she doesn’t need help or that she can deal with the problem by herself, but asking the question at least lets her know that she doesn’t have to be stressed out alone if she doesn’t want to be.
Without specific instructions on how to help her with whatever she’s going through, I’ll then turn to impotently buying her gifts in a desperate attempt to make her happy again. This doesn’t work, of course, but at least it lets her know I’m thinking of her. The last time she was feeling down I bought her a bouquet of flowers and a game for her PS4, which, I must say, was a good boyfriend move – not only did it help her feel better during a difficult time period, but it also means that I now own a new PS4 game.
Don’t be a black hole of emotion
Usually when I’m having a rough time my natural urge is to keep all of those negative thoughts tucked away inside my brain until they eventually evolve into a good ol’ fashioned nervous breakdown. However, as the years have gone by I’ve learned that’s really not best for our relationship. While you may think that keeping problems to yourself prevents your significant other from being burdened with your issues, in reality it’ll just lead to her repeatedly asking you “what’s wrong?” until you eventually snap in half with stress.
I’m a pretty frequent worrier, so if I truly opened up to Soph every time I felt nervous about something then she’d leave me within the week. While this would be counter-productive, opening up every now and again and making an effort to not come across as a black hole of emotion has served me well, as Soph can then think of solutions to help me solve a problem that I wouldn’t have thought of by myself.
I’ve encouraged her to do the same, and while she does, I have a tendency to make things worse sometimes as a result of being super-opinionated. I might think I’m helping at the time, but she understandably doesn’t enjoy when her problems are greeted by my micromanagement. In the end, though, she knows that I’m just trying to support her in the way that she supports me, which is how our relationship has stayed strong for over a decade.
Strong, like a wall. A wall of bricks made out of love and stress and anxiety.