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  • jeniferfoster2

How do you love...

Updated: Jul 4, 2023


“People call these things "imperfections," but they're not. That's the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds.” (Good Will Hunting)


When I was in Roatan, one day diving, I noticed two fish swimming together. They garnered my attention because of how different they were: a trumpet fish and a parrot fish. (I did not take the above picture, I didn't have a camera with me that day off). The trumpet fish is long and thin. It’s easily mistaken for a long piece of coral, gently blowing in the surge. Its mouth is long and extended, ending in a bit of a horn-like image – no doubt the reason for its name. This particular trumpetfish was a gentle yellow. The parrotfish in turn was round and toothy. Its colors were blue and purple. It swam along with its goofy grin; the trumpetfish gently brushing its back as they swam. I imagined that they had a love for all times – two opposites attracting, being the yin and yang of the sea.


Watching these fish has gotten me to think about who we let in to our “weird little world(s)” and how much do we let people in?


Way back in the day, fairly soon after college, I used to teach about healthy relationships to kids in middle school and high school. The curriculum taught that there were four ingredients to a healthy relationship: communication, trust, respect and boundaries. It seems so simple. Ah, if life were so easy! I mean, I still agree that these are the keystones to a healthy relationship, but keeping a relationship healthy takes a lot of work.


Of course, if I’m honest, there are times when I drive myself crazy. So, it would be absolutely impossible for someone else not to drive me a little bonkers. On one hand, the idea of those four keystones to relationships seem quite simple, but in reality, it’s anything but.

I think for me, the hardest is communication. When I get angry, I can shut down. I have no interest in communication. Also, I have realized more and more that there is a vulnerability with communication, and that is what trips me up. The weird thing is, I’ve been in this relationship for almost eighteen years. We aren’t exactly new at this. So, why does communicating feel so darn risky?


I have a friend of mine recently that was laughing at me. She says, “you’re a therapist, you are supposed to know how to communicate.” She isn’t wrong. The sad thing is I do KNOW how to communicate. The reality is though, that I don’t always choose to do that thing I know I could do.


But, why? History. History has a way of showing back up, right? Even when we know that this person is different. We know that we are not our parents. I know I’m capable of having a vulnerable conversation. Yet, it is easy to revert to old habits.


The truth is, though, without risk, there is no reward. Nothing changes if I am unable to voice my opinion. The interesting part of this is that professionally, I am perfectly capable of having difficult conversations. In fact, in the past, I have been told, by numerous people that they appreciate my ability to be honest and diplomatic. In the past, I’ve had some very difficult conversations with staff, with clients, with bosses. Yet, it does not feel as terrifying as having a tough conversation with my boyfriend. Now, that is scary!

With friends and clients I’ve seen all different types of relationships. I’ve seen ones that are seemingly easy. A friend of mine told me that his relationship with his wife of thirty years was “love at first sight.” He said they were so much alike that the relationship just made sense. I’ve also seen extremely abusive relationships: where one person takes advantage of the other. I’ve seen one person who manipulates, isolates and gaslights the other. I’ve seen physical abuse and mental abuse. I’ve seen relationships where people just grow apart over time: where nothing is particularly wrong, the people have just changed in opposite directions. I’ve seen relationships where people have cheated or simply stop respecting each other.


To be honest, I’m quite jaded. I’ve seen many relationships fall apart. My parents divorced when I was in college, and many people I’m close with are divorced. But, I also know that relationships where both people care about the other can work if both people continue to put the effort in. I guess the question sometimes comes down to whether you believe that your partner has the best of intentions or not?


That is where it is becomes challenging, right? Because, you must trust that your partner has your best interest. But, those of us who have any sort of history, whether from biological family or past relationships, have difficulty with trust – because often in the past we should not have trusted the other person, but did. Also, depending on our own history, we might not be the best judge. Research shows that we are attracted to what we know. So, if you grew up in an unhealthy household, we’re more likely to be attracted to people who have similar qualities. That isn’t to say that is inevitable; only that we’re more likely to.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I think the answer is that if you both care about each other, and are willing to put the work in, then there is something worth holding on to, or at least trying.

I know I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Sometimes I say things that are hurtful. Sometimes I only half-listen to my partner. Sometimes I take my frustrations from life out on him. And, I know that he does the same. So, can I forgive those issues? From the get-go, he has been willing to listen to me. He doesn’t always agree with me and he sometimes can be downright pig-headed. But, he respects me and my opinion. Are we perfect? Heck no. But, we’re willing to work on it, and consider the other person.

My one other thing is appreciation. One thing I realized during the pandemic was that I was getting frustrated with him for bothering me when I was trying to work. But, then I started thinking about which I’d care about when I’m on my deathbed, and I realized my priorities were out whack. But, it’s easy to take your partner for granted. It’s easier to forget that there might come a day when that person is no longer there. When that happens, will you be satisfied with how you acted throughout your time together? At the end of the day, we can’t control anyone else. We can only control ourselves. Are you proud of how you love?

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