What does it mean to be in a relationship?

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Someone recently asked me what it means to be in a romantic relationship with someone. I have to say, I was really thrown off by that question because I had never really thought about it.  You have the conversation where you both agree that you are exclusively in a relationship with one another, that person then receives the “official title” of girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other/partner. But, what does that mean? How do you define that?  Trust me, I struggled with this. I am no relationship expert by any means. I’m not married, but I do love talking to my married friends about their relationships. I do a lot of reading on the topic of relationships too because it does fascinate me, but it is very clear I know nothing about them. I’m learning, like most of us are.  Here is how I would define being in a healthy relationship with someone:

  • Being with someone who knows your flaws and accepts them as is. Sure, they may be super annoying and frustrating but they know it is who you are and tolerate those flaws for all the good qualities you do possess. The reverse is also true; you accept their flaws without trying to change them.
  • On the other hand, if you do want to work on something about yourself, your partner is the person you trust the most to help you with that. This person makes you want to be the best version of yourself.
  • Your partner should challenge your thinking. They will make you consider other possibilities that you never considered. You will not always agree, but if you can at least consider the other person’s perspective I believe that is a good partnership.
  • Over time, this person becomes your best friend and your confidant. The person you trust with your innermost thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears.
  • You will both have good and bad days; when the other person is feeling weak the other person needs to help them be strong. If you are both weak you need to support each other the best you can. The longer you are with someone the more shit you will go through; you need to be able to support each other.
  • You are with someone whom you can laugh with about really stupid stuff and have inside jokes with that no one understands.
  • When you enter into a relationship, you should be able to picture future with them. If you cannot, get the fuck out.
  • You should feel comfortable communicating your wants, needs, and desires to them. If communication is broken (as I have learned from past relationships) the relationship is broken.
  • You feel safe arguing with them. Again, you won’t always agree but you need to know that a person isn’t going to bring up something from the past in a desperate attempt to hurt you.
  • Hell, you just feel safe with them. A healthy partnership should bring about some amount of peace in your life.
  • There will still be moments where you just suck as people. Someone will say something out of frustration, the other’s feelings will be hurt but you will work through it. Have grace for your partner and understand that sometimes they screw up and so will you. Apologize, work through it, and move on.

These are just some general things that I think need to be part of a relationship. I don’t think you can define what every relationship looks like. I recently read The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook by Ellen McCarthy. Everyone has different advice for relationships, but defining them is another thing. I think the underlying message I would take from the book is that a solid, healthy relationship is one built on mutual respect, trust, compromise, appreciation, laughter, and love.

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