When I was seventeen, I fell in love for the first time. When that relationship ended two years later, I emerged with a level of calm that surprised my family and friends. In retrospect, I realize that I had already grieved for and was surrendering my attachment to the relationship while I was still in it. Months prior to the breakup, I began detaching myself, untangling my world from his, and working to reclaim the parts of my identity I had sacrificed for co-dependence.
When I got married, I thought that my days of dating and heartbreak were finally over. I had found my person. But what I also found, years into my relationship, is that heartbreak is inevitable in any relationship. Even married couples will break each other’s hearts — but you can learn how to repair and heal them together.
Here are three things to remember about love in the long-term:
Over time, your needs change. Your wants change. Even your identity may change. What you want or expect for the future could completely transform with the discovery of new ideas and passions.
Change can be scary when you’re in a relationship, arousing fears of leaving or being left behind, outgrowing one another, or becoming incompatible. But the reality is, not changing can be risky too, and can lead to stagnancy and complacency. Nobody wants a boring, stagnant relationship. At least change opens the door to new and exciting experiences, where treasured memories can be created.
Instead of being afraid of change, think of it as an invitation to evolve and grow alongside each other. Trust that it can bring you closer and understand that growing pains are not only a normal part of adjusting to something new, but an indicator that you are awake and alive to your relationship. By being committed to growing and changing, you and your partner will be better prepared to meet and fall in love with the different iterations of each other over the course of your relationship.
"Most people are going to have two or three marriages or committed relationships in their adult life. Some of us will have them with the same person." — Esther Perel, MA, LMFT
Human beings are hardwired for adaptation. We continue to create, calibrate and recalibrate a relationship that works for us, as many times as we need to. Love is not a contract, and there is always uncertainty in any relationship. But despite this uncertainty, we can still find ways to feel safe and secure in a loving relationship, because adaptability is woven into our biology.
Our innate adaptability translates into our relationships. What may feel disorienting, unsettling, or frightening now won’t always feel that way. Your gifts, skills and talents had to be learned and practiced — so does resilience. Perhaps, like me, you had a devastating first heartbreak that felt unsurvivable. But here you are, alive, and maybe even with a couple more heartbreaks in your back pocket. Remember all of the times you’ve adapted in the past, and be open to your strength. Adaptation is always possible.
“I don't pay attention to the world ending. It has ended for me many times and began again in the morning.” ― Nayyirah Waheed
I believe our partners are some of our greatest teachers. They can expose wounds we thought were healed, and trigger unhealthy learned behaviours in a way that only those closest to us can. There’s something so special about showing all sides of ourselves to another person, and knowing they’ll stay by our side. Ironically, it’s the people we feel safest with who are most often on the receiving end of what I call our “inner three-year-old”.
While we may consistently show up for our friends and colleagues with curiosity, kindness and humour, sometimes our partners get left with the grumpy scraps leftover at the end of the day. And no one wants grumpy scraps! If they’re hungry enough, they’ll accept them, but that can create a new norm in the relationship that doesn’t work for anyone. So check in with one another. Set aside intentional time to talk about what would enrich, add joy, and bring lightness and connection to your shared lives together. Just as we will break each other’s hearts over and over again throughout a relationship, we can also nurture, heal and fall in love with each other, again and again.
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