Relationships Are Hard: What I’ve Learned

By Barbara Pierce

Living with another person is probably one of the most difficult things to do.

Moving in with someone has advantages. It’s a way to ramping up the commitment and lower living costs. You get to enjoy more time in each other’s company, while simultaneously quadrupling your ability to compromise.

The key words are those last few words: Quadrupling your ability to compromise! Trust me, this is true.

A few months ago, I moved in with a man. We had spent a lot of time together; he was always pleasant and agreeable. I thought all would go smoothly.

I thought I knew how to live with someone. But I hit new challenges I never saw coming. There’s a lot
I’m learning.

I love the way author Sue Grafton’s character, Kinsey Milhone, describes it: “Being single can be confusing. On one hand, you yearn for the simple comfort of companionship. On the other hand, once you get used to being alone, you have to wonder why you’d ever take on the aggravation of a relationship. Other human beings have all these habits, opinions, peculiar tastes, not to mention mood disorders and attitudes that in no way coincide with the correct ones, namely yours.”

I keep reminding myself that I did want his full-time companionship. And that I chose this. It works well for me financially. And just because he does so many things in ways that are vastly different from the ways I’ve always done things (the right way of course), I need to be OK with that.

He’s used to living alone. So if he continues to act like a person who’s still living alone, that’s who he is. That’s who I chose.

We’re so different. For example, shopping together is a disaster: He has two speeds: slow and reverse. I’m fast at everything. I speed through the supermarket, quickly making choices, throwing my choice in the cart then speeding on to the next thing on my list. He leisurely strolls down each aisle, studying each item thoughtfully before deciding what to place gently in the cart. You can see why this doesn’t work.

Kind of like how we drive. If the light’s been green awhile, I speed up to get through before it changes. He slows down, preparing to stop.

And when I’ve cooked dinner and he only has complaints about what he doesn’t like, well, I chose to cook that dinner, and I should be happy he feels comfortable letting me know what he doesn’t like.

After three months of things getting worse and worse, we hit bottom. We were both miserable and acknowledged this, discussing whether we should keep living together. We agreed to split up if things didn’t change and talked about how that would work.

Since that discussion and considering alternatives, things started moving in a positive direction. We’ve both mellowed out, smoothed out the rough edges. He’s quit complaining and whining all the time and I’m finally enjoying our life together. It’s working the way I thought it would work from the beginning.

I really did want our arrangement to work out, so I began to recognize some things we needed to do differently and do them.

So, whether you’re living with a partner, a friend, family member, or stranger, here are some suggestions you might consider:

Be ready to compromise. Yes, it’s rough at first, working out how things will work between you. If you can’t compromise, live alone. Every little detail comes up for discussion.

Don’t expect each other to be enough. On a logical level, most of us understand that one person can’t meet all our needs. So why do we expect this from our romantic partner? We’re expecting one person to give us what an entire village used to provide.

I realized one of our issues was that our world was too narrow. We’re socially isolated, living in a new area, don’t know anyone. None of our friends live close. We were depending on each other to be everything and that was not realistic. We drove to spend time with our old friends and came out feeling happier. We’re cultivating new people in our new life.

Do some things together, some things apart: Doing everything together all day, every day, likely isn’t super great for either of you. Each of you needs your own interests and your own things. Spending time apart makes your time together more meaningful. A relationship needs some space to thrive. We’re finding opportunities to do things alone and as a couple.

Khali Gibran describes this balance in “The Prophet,” (written 100 years ago): “Let there be spaces in your togetherness. Let the winds of the heavens dance between you…Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.”

Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at barbarapierce06@yahoo.com.Barbara Pierce is a contributing writer for In Good Health — The Healthcare Newspaper and  a retired licensed clinical social worker. She is the author of “When You Come to the Edge: Aging.” To buy her book or contact her, send an email to barbarapierce06@yahoo.com.