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The 5 key ingredients of our eighteen year relationship

Wow.  Eighteen years.

How does time fly by so quickly?  I mean, we’ve been together longer than either of us lived with our parents!

When we first met at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, I (Annie) was a hyperactive theatre geek with an amazingly huge afro of hair (seriously…imagine me as the love child of Andie MacDowell, Julia Roberts, and Julia Louis Dreyfus and you begin to understand my ’90’s do) and Curtis was a sweet, thoughtful, all-of-160 lbs-soaking-wet guitarist with a general knack for making women swoon with his music.

I walked into the theatre department one day and saw him holding court at our long rehearsal table, guitar in hand, and with fingers flying over the strings as he played Starry Starry Night.  He was surround by a sea of women – literally, A SEA! – mooning over him and cajoling, “Play an Indigo Girls song, Curt” with their syrupy sweet voices.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating this scene a teeny bit.  But I remember sneering and thinking, “Who’s that guy?”

And then, soon enough, I too was morphing into a smitten kitten with this hunky musician.

We started dating a couple of months after.  We both graduated and moved from Tacoma to San Francisco.  Broke up (for all of 24 hours).  Moved from San Francisco to Seattle.  Got married.  And generally settled into a lifetime together.

You learn a lot about a person, and yourself, over almost two decades.  And we have gotten a lot of practice using some key ingredients to survive and thrive in our long-term relationship (and they also happen to work like gangbusters in our business partnership):

  • Attraction is necessary.  But it’s being your word that’s sexy as hell.  As they say, “Beauty fades.”  And it’s even more true in a long-term relationship.  You met when you were both young people full of vim and vigor.  And now there are cracks around his eyes.  And your stomach seems to have lost its fight with gravity.  I mean, he falls asleep in front of the TV with his hands down his pants like Al Bundy!  Luckily, it truly doesn’t matter.  Because the sexiest, most attractive moments of a relationship show when you come through for each other.  When you do what you said you would.  When you hold yourself accountable for your mistakes.  When you start a project that seems like it might fail but move forward anyway.  When you know that the team you’ve created is stronger than any outside distraction or force.
  • It really doesn’t matter who takes out the trash.  Really.  It used to send me 0-60 when I would ask Curt to take the trash out and it would just sit there for days (sound familiar, ladies?).  A battle of wills would unfold…but I was the only one in the battle.  I wondered why it mattered so much to me.  Is it about respect?  Is it about taking care of each other?  And then, one day, Curt told me he would rather clean the toilet than take out the trash.  It dawned on me that it didn’t bother me to take the trash out.  But I HATED cleaning the toilet.  We decided that I would always take the trash out and he would always clean the toilet and, viola, like magic my problem disappeared.  The key?  There’s no need to make a point.  You don’t need to be right.  No one does.  You just need to figure out what can be negotiated and compromised.  Compromise is NOT a four letter word.  It’s a way to set the importance of the relationship above anything else.
  • Emotions are valid.  Whether or not you use your emotions effectively is up to you.  It’s impossible, no matter your gender, to go through life never feeling emotional.  Emotions are what make us so human and relatable to each other.  But emotions also have a shelf-life.  Too often, we hold onto emotions because we think that by holding on to them, we can somehow prove we are right.  Or we can transform the emotion into a weapon.  My business coach saw the Dalai Lama speak a few years ago, and when asked what emotions we should rid ourselves of, the Dalai Lama answered, “There are no wrong emotions.  It’s simply a matter of whether or not an emotion has served its purpose for you.”  This is where using effective emotion comes in.  The next time you feel driven by anger or sadness at your partner, ask yourself – What does this emotion want from me?  What does it accomplish?  How has it gone past its usefulness?  If you cannot take an immediate, effective action such as talking to your partner about the hurt or the upset, then you must let it go.  Let me tell you – it’s 100%, amazingly freeing.
  • Give your partner good information. There is zero usefulness in being a mind-reader (unless you are a fortune-teller or mystic and then, well, my bad).  Or believing that real love or commitment means that someone else is going to read your mind, and work off of that information.  My grandmother was the queen of this.  If you could anticipate how she was feeling or what she was thinking, this proved to her you loved her.  Misread her?  You wouldn’t hear the end of it.  Good information means you name the feeling or emotion that’s underneath an upset, and you speak the truth to your partner in the moment.  You don’t expect your parter to guess if it’s their fault or if you are just having a bad day.  You own it and name it, and take accountability.  Or ask for help if it’s appropriate.
  • Opposites do attract.  And there’s a genius reason why.  You know that thing your partner does that just drives you nuts?  For instance, Curt talks very slowly and deliberately because he processes information at a very deep level.  I often talk quickly and off the top of my head.  If I ask him a question when we’re meeting, he often takes about a minute to respond to me.  It used to be that my patience would fail me and I would begin to get upset.  Why don’t you answer me?  Hello, are you listening?  It would drive me crazy.  Curt feels something similar when we’re out at parties where he doesn’t know anyone – I turn into a social butterfly and he works hard to blend into the wallpaper.  He hates it when I ask him if he’s having a good time.  But here’s the genius in our pairing.  The part of us that drives the other person crazy is actually that missing piece that will help us derive our deepest learning about ourselves.  Curt centers me, grounds me, roots me back to myself when my head starts soaring off into the clouds.  I give Curt a jump-start when he needs it, motivate him to take action when he would rather hide and see his possibilities when he feels stuck.  A great team requires diverse thought and experience.  So embrace your partner’s differences, don’t shame them.

This week’s #TuneTuesday clearly highlights our bonus key ingredient – music.  This is one of the first songs we learned together.  Music that launched a love story.  And set us up for a whole lifetime of growning and learning together:

~~ Aloha, joy and music ~~

Annie + Curtis

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#TuneTuesday Request Made Possible By:

Curtie Bear

(he would kill me if he knew his nickname was out on the interewebs!)