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18 Truths About Long-Term Relationships

18 Truths About Long-Term Relationships

My husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary the other day by doing nothing. It’s not that we planned to do nothing. It’s not like we enjoyed a lazy day in which we spent the day in bed taking pleasure in each other’s company. It was just another day. After 21 years, our anniversary had morphed into an average day. And that’s okay with me.

Let me explain. It’s not because we have problems, or our marriage is on the rocks, or that we don’t care about anniversaries, because we do. We didn’t think about anniversaries when we got married. We didn’t think about the fact that my husband was in college to be a teacher and that most teachers start their new year mid-August. We didn’t realize that once we had children, we’d be experiencing first days of school and all that jazz around the same time. And it never fails. Almost every year, the first day of school for the kids and my husband falls on our anniversary, give or take one day.

This year was no different. After both kids finished their first days of school, after our son practiced golf for a few hours and our daughter went to Tae Kwon, after multiple phone calls and faxes between me and several doctors’ offices clearing our kids for just about everything at school, and after my husband’s full day full of 178 new students, duties as head of the math department, and other activities as the coach of various sports, we all settled in for the night.

I do admit feeling a little spoiled having the “expensive” carne asada on the grill for dinner. With several never-ending medical bills, a splurge on the good stuff – good eats and possibly a couple bottles of expensive beer to toast and homemade brownies for (me) the kids – made it feel like a first-class celebration. We also managed to share some amazing stories of the last 21 years that the kids are now old enough to hear and understand, bringing a few tears to all our eyes. I’d say our day full of everyday chaos and nothingness was everything I could hope for.

What topped it off as one of the best anniversaries ever was when my husband sneaked around the corner after dinner to surprise me with flowers. I was sure he didn’t get them, which was okay with me, but he did! They didn’t need to be big, flashy or expensive – in fact, I think they were the average grocery store kind you get when you’re in line and think, “Oh crap, I forgot our anniversary!” even though I know he didn’t forget.

Still, these flowers made me feel loved and appreciated and surprisingly wife-ish, this coming from an independent woman. It wasn’t the flowers, but his action that reminded me why our relationship continues to be strong. He’s consistent, and, yet, surprising at the same time. I’d like to say he’s vanilla ice cream – a regular guy who made my heart melt when I first saw him standing there at that pub almost 24 years ago. But when all those first feelings got mixed into real life, my ice cream guy brought and still brings everything he’s got: the hot fudge, sprinkles and cherry on top. And thankfully, we both are a little nuts!

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It’s not easy to make long-term relationships work, but these tips should help make yours last at least 21 years and hopefully many more.

1. You need to know that those crazy-in-love feelings will meet real life someday.

This doesn’t mean they go away; this just means they have to be tamed. Walking around on Cloud Nine is awesome, until you can’t get anything done at work. Or until your significant other does something that really pisses you off. This is the first time we have a “judgement day” or “Is this what I want?” moment.

“Falling in love and having a relationship are two very different things.” ~ Keanu Reeves

2. You won’t always like your partner.

It’s true. There will be moments when you’ll look at your partner’s face and wonder why you ever thought it was attractive. He or she will make you so angry, or act so silly, or be so. . . wrong, you’ll barely be able to deal with tit. And that’s okay, as long as you both know it’s “a moment.”

3. You won’t always feel attracted to your partner.

What? No way, you say in the beginning. However, it’s true. It’s usually because you’re angry. Or maybe you’re shallow. Whatever the reason, we go through phases and our partners don’t always attract us the same way as day one. It becomes an issue when this is long-standing. Try to remember what attracted you to your partner in the first place. Hint: It’s not always looks. One of the sexiest qualities of my husband is his sense of humor. (Of course, he’s pretty good-looking, too, but he’s damn funny.)

4. Your sex life won’t always be amazing.

In fact, there will be times when you have no sex life. Sometimes it comes naturally and the stars and planets align, the kids fall asleep early, your work schedules mesh or a million other things happen, and, voilà!, sex happens. Other times, you’ll have your hands full of babies, work demands or so much laundry/cooking/cleaning that you’ll be exhausted, or, as in our case, yet another heart surgery (me) that will wipe out this activity for months. That’s life.

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Intimacy, however, doesn’t have to mean sex. Just saying.

5. You’ll wonder if there’s something better out there.

Heck yeah, you will. You’ve probably seen better on social media. That’s because everyone posts the best of the best. Happy families, awesome houses, beautiful new cars, amazing vacations, perfect kids – those are the things we post. Who wants to see pictures of my 12-year-old Expedition that needs new tires? Only when I have all the surf boards on top because I’m posting that the kids are going surfing and that it’s 80 perfect degrees in perfect San Diego. It’s no wonder we think about greener grass out there. Just remember, everyone has weeds in their grass. (Trust me, in California, there’s no greener grass anywhere during this drought!)

6. You’ll hurt each other.

Meaning you’ll say stuff that you wish you could take back. Regularly. It will roll off your tongue in the heat of the moment because you know just how to hurt your partner. You know him well enough to know what stings the most. He knows your every fault, and your family’s faults and your history. Don’t think any of it is off-limits when you argue. Is this okay to do? Absolutely not. We shouldn’t try to hit hard with the zingers, but we do. It takes work to fight fair, but in the long run, it’s worth it.

7. You’re not always right; Your partner is not always wrong.

It’s really not about who’s right and who’s wrong. Don’t spend hours or energy trying to prove it. You’re wasting oxygen and minutes of your life.

8. You’ll ride the edge of trust and so will your partner.

Personally, I think Smartphones are the devil. They are the biggest cause of trust issues these days. Use them wisely. Between social media and texting, we’ve all second-guessed ourselves or our partners at least once. Long-term relationships MUST include trust. While you’re as open as possible with your partner, you will each need to have some privacy. This means trust. Just know that trust has an incredible ebb and flow in relationships.

9. You may hit that rock bottom moment when you think there’s no way this marriage will last.

Sometimes, things happen in life that change the very core of a marriage. My husband and I have two children with devastating health conditions, we’ve been through more than any parent or married couple should have to go through. Ever. I’ve had serious health issues. Some people tell my husband he’s a trooper “for sticking around”. If you’ve ever experienced a death of a parent or, worse, a child, or have gone through a catastrophic event, you know how hard it is to remain together. Only the strong marriages survive. When you hit that moment of truth, it’s not enough to simply say, “We made a vow.” You have to pull out all the punches and remember who you are to each other and who you need to be for each other.

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“Love is no assignment for cowards.” ~ Ovid

10. You need to swallow your pride. A lot.

Just get over yourself and do it. No need to say more.

11. You should be kind. All of the time.

Even if you’re mad, be a kind person. Don’t be an jerk. (Well, sometimes you have to be, but return to kindness fast). Remember that phrase “Kill ’em with kindness”? It works.

12. Understand your partner will change, develop and evolve over time. Be accepting.

Because you’ll change, develop and evolve over time, too. And you’ll expect your partner to accept you. Because life changes around us and experiences change people, you can’t expect people to stay the same. Hopefully, the two of you will evolve together.

“People change and forget to tell each other.” ~ Lillian Hellman

13. Learn to appreciate your partner’s good and bad qualities.

Don’t dwell on your partner’s faults. You don’t want her to nag on your faults all day long, so don’t do it to her. In the beginning, those faults didn’t matter so much. You were able to fall in love, weren’t you? Even if your guy leaves the toilet seat up . . . every single time he goes to the bathroom. Are you really willing to kill the relationship over a toilet seat?

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14. You’ll see each other at your worst.

If you stick around after seeing each other at the bottom most point in your lives, you’re golden. After several surgeries, my poor husband has had to help me in ways I NEVER thought he’d have to do. Totally embarrassing, but he didn’t even blink. He’s a keeper (and apparently so am I).

15. You should be eating dinner together.

Having this time together is almost a thing of the past these days with all our crazy schedules, but this is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with your partner. Talk about your day. Talk about the good and bad things. Use this time to work things out. Enjoy the senses together (sight, smell, taste).

16. You should be playing together.

Activities don’t have to be fancy or planned. Sometimes impromptu is the best. It can be as simple as walking out back to play an imaginary putting contest (as we often do when we can’t hit the course). You can include the kids or go at it alone. Enjoying activities together makes your relationship stronger.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” ~ Plato

17. You’ll always have someone to laugh at your incredibly stupid jokes.

Even if it’s a courtesy laugh.

18. You’ll grow old together.

You can freak out about gray hair together. You’ll figure out wrinkles look better on him; he’ll figure out anti-wrinkle cream is damn expensive and a necessity for you. You’ll both move a little slower or work out a little harder. Food will become a little healthier and a little more important. Money will become an issue you discuss together. You may or may not have children, but if you do, you’ll be exhausted together, overwhelmed together and utterly in love together. You’ll  start watching weird TV shows together and maybe worry more about the news together. Whatever you do, it will all be done as a unit because you’ll always be thinking as a couple.

While it’s not easy to maintain a long-term relationship, it’s certainly doable. It’s not always as happy as butterflies and unicorns and not always as exciting as March Madness, but the hard work is certainly worth it. Who else would understand my strange obsession with Converse, my 365-day-a- year love for Christmas music, and wacky humor about my defective heart? Only you, baby. Here’s to another 21 years and counting.

Featured photo credit: Ian D. Keating via flickr.com

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Missy Mitchell

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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