What We’ve Learned in 17 Years as a College Couple
We met and fell in love when we were 16. This was 17 years ago. After school we had a long-distance relationship for only 7 months, because it was terrible for us not to be together. Since then we spent almost 24/7 together. After nine years we married. We wrote down 9 insights what we have learned in close to two decades together that helped us to grow as an individual and as a couple.
1. Beware projection
Only people who are very close to you can hurt you the most. But be aware if you spend a lot of time with the same person, the beloved one often becomes a mirror of your own problems and inner conflicts. So before you complain, ask yourself if it is really the partner, or is it something inside yourself?
2. There is a difference between love and desire
Desire drives the first months or years of a relationship almost automatically. But if you look at it from a chemical way, the brain simply is on drugs and the longer the relationship lasts the lesser the effect. After 3 years at the latest the hormonal firework is over. Love instead, grows from day to day. The longer the relationship lasts the bigger the love becomes. It is like a fine thread or rubber band (we will come back to this later) that becomes thicker and thicker over the years if it is nourished by trust, honesty, compassion, support, acceptance and friendship. Desire is still strong, but on different, more conscious and evolved level, full of respect.
3. You don’t need the same hobbies, but you need to have the same values and a similar vision for life
When we met with sweet 16 we were completely different. We haven’t had neither the same music taste, similar hobbies, similar way of dressing ourselves nor the same friends. But very early we figured out that we share the same values and that we see ourselves very similar in the future. So we always created a relationship on the foundation of this shared values and visions.
4. There is not the all perfect partner from the beginning
Love and relationships have to grow. It is an interplay from both sides and you are shaping each other. A healthy relationship is not about changing the partner the way you like it, it is more like accepting the partner as it is and communicating!
5. Learn the transactional analysis by Eríc Berne
Communication is key and knowing the pitfalls of communication are essential for a long lasting relationship. The transactional analysis by Eríc Berne is a must read. You have to make sure, that you are communicating on the same level. We for example have the rule not go to bed when we are still arguing and in all the years we did it only once and it sucked. For us laughing together helps to end most of our discussions.
6. A good relationship is about co-commitment and not co-dependency
At the beginning of most relationships one partner stands above the other one. One partner seems to love the other partner more or seems to have more life experience and so on… But to build a long lasting relationship at one point you have to respect and communicate on the same level. It is the shift from co-dependency to co-commitment. You are deciding together how the perfect relationship would look for both of you. Wich values you want to follow and what outcome you want as a couple from the future. This is very important, because otherwise on partner is draining a lot of energy from the other one.
7. The seven-year itch is real
We have our own theory about it, for us it came after 6 years and we verified it with all the long term couples we know. There are only a handful to be honest 😉 So, we believe in the beginning of a relationship people are very often not really honest about themselves. This is totally normal, because you want to present yourself in the best possible light. But after around 6-7 years, when the chemical effect is long gone, the early little lies and idealized behaviors start to crumble. Maybe the partner does not love football as much as said in the beginning, or has an unfulfilled sexual dream which is not communicated out of fear, or something more trivial like the partner does not like the best friends dinner parties or morning yoga. We have observed that after 6-7 years the tension peaks because of this and some couples are able to use this to make a clean slate and finally build on this more honest fundament and other relationships cannot handle it and break up.
8. Couples break up during phases of personal growth or change
We call it the Sari & Geri rubber band theory. We believe couples always break up during phases of personal growth or change. And whether the couple is able to master the challenge depends on the gap between the two partners and the thickness of the rubber band. A life-changing event can be, for example, graduation from school, a new job, a first child, the start of self-employment or, in a negative way, a trauma. Anything that shakes the previous stability because you can no longer meet the new challenges with the old mindset. Either the couple manages to get back to the same level of communication, so that the rubber band is relieved again, or the life paths diverge and the rubber band tears. In our relationship we have experienced a lot of these moments, especially during our twenties, sometimes one partner was earlier to evolve to the next level sometimes the other one.
9. Trust your gut and don’t listen too much to others
We are always amused by self-appointed relationship experts or dating coaches and if you ask about their current relationship status they a) does not have one or b) never had a long term relationship before. But hey, they know how it is 😉 Do not listen to your friends as well, if it simply does not feel right for you. Make your own experiences. You as a couple decide what suits you and what doesn’t. For us for example, we are both very stubborn and therefore very temperamental. When we fight, things can fly threw the room or we scream at each other. But that’s okay, maybe not for you but for us. Because afterwards we can laugh together and fall in each others arms. Rules and responsibility areas have helped a lot, private and business wise. Same goes for spending 24/7 together. For us the best way to live. Loving and working together, for us since over 10 years as entrepreneurs, no problem. So if we can give you one important advice: Listen to your heart and develop the strength to follow it.
In a nutshell
Communication is key and co-commiting that you both want the same from life and want to follow the same value set. That someone loves you the way you are with all your flaws is precious! Don’t give up too early. At some point you always have to decide for a great relationship, it is nothing that comes to you automatically! Love sometimes hurts and it is not always fun. It is a lot of work but so much worth it 🙂