Relationship Real Talk


I mentioned recently that Garrett and I just celebrated our 7 year anniversary. When friends and co-workers asked how we were going to celebrate, I jokingly responded “By staying together, obviously.” Gifts are not either our “love languages” (HA!) so it was no surprise that we didn’t run out and shower each other with material things, but I have honestly begun to realize that this year, more than any year, staying together really was the big gift.

That sounds a bit dramatic when I reread it, and I don’t mean to mislead you like we are on the precipice of a dramatic breakup, because we are not. I REPEAT, NOT BREAKING UP AT ALL. But what I will say is that during the seven years of highs and lows this has been the hardest year of our relationship. Like in all capital letters. And it is for a multitude of reasons, none of which need to be detailed here mostly because they will be tedious and boring to just about everyone who isn’t me or Garrett, but it has been a working year. And I feel like people don’t really talk very often about those working years — but they are the most important aren’t they?

I am firmly in the camp that we’re doing okay if we are able to say “Yes, things are hard but we are working on them.” And I am even more firmly in the camp of — HEY LET’S TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT WHAT TO DO WHEN THINGS GET HARD. But then again, I like to talk about lots of things, so that’s probably not a surprise.

My mom always likes to remind me of that Buddhist Proverb that says “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” And I feel like I have come across a number of things lately that have given me great food for thought and perspective about my life and my relationship. In an effort to do a little more talking about the hard stuff and not just post glossy photos about stuff when it is easy and awesome, I thought I’d share a few things I found useful lately:

  • I particularly enjoyed this post of Jennie’s about questions and answers. As someone who likes to always feel capable (that was my nice way of calling myself a Control Freak) I don’t do well with long periods of time full of lingering questions. But I am starting to realize that it can be helpful sometimes to just sit with them.
  • Also, when I read Liz’s AWESOME POST yesterday (seriously, go read it immediately, I can wait) about the singular task of juggling your careers and relationships I found myself letting out an enormous sigh of relief. I often let my work life get sorely out of balance (not only with my day job, but all of my other crazy endeavors.) And I found it really comforting and simple to read about this one approach. Of course at first I was like “WHO THE HELL DOES THIS GUY THINK HE IS?” But I honestly think that the whole post is just full of really smart thinking.
  • And lastly, I know I have already regaled you with fascinating quotes from Rules of Civility, but there is just one more that I have to get off of my chest because it really spoke to me. And to this time in my life, really:

If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us…then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.


I MEAN HOW TRUE IS THAT? I just loved that quote.

The highs and the lows are worth it.
The question years and the answer years are worth it.
Figuring out how to prioritize your family life is worth it.
But man, they don’t call it commitment for nothing, right?

I would love to hear your relationship philosophies and strategies. How do you balance that in your own life, or even if just in abstract? I love to read gems of wisdom that I can tuck in my back pocket for when I am ready to listen and who knows, maybe it will be just what someone else needs to hear as well. ๐Ÿ™‚

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43 Responses to Relationship Real Talk

  1. Abby says:

    For me? Own my shitty behavior and APOLOGIZE for it when it happens. That and being open about feelings rather than let it simmer and fester have really been necessary in my marriage, especially this year as I go through one of the most stressful parts of a doctoral degree. Communication is so, so important. (BTW, I’m mostly a lurker, but I love your blog!)

    • Holly says:

      Well thanks for de-lurking Abby! :)Owning shitty behavior is always hard, but worthwhile, I think. It took me an embarrassingly long time to learn to do that.

  2. OHMYGOD the line โ€œWhose job is least important today? Who can take the hit and leave early?โ€ from your friend’s post hit home so so hard. I immediately sent that post to Sean.

    Most days I feel like I have two full time jobs: The one that I get paid for and another thankless job – Maintaining & keeping alive a long distance relationship that’s been on and off for 12 years.

    I am with you 100% on this!

  3. Jesabes says:

    Happy Seven Years! I know a lot of people say the seventh year of marriage is the hardest. We’ve been married 5 1/2 years, so I’m a little nervous to see. I’m hoping maybe that since we’ve been together 8 years it’s already behind us! The seventh year was very hard, but there’s no way to really know if that was it, or just two kids two and under (though it has crossed my mind maybe that’s WHY marriage gets harder around seven years – you have a lot of obligations at that point). Here’s to hoping you (and I!) don’t have another seven year itch after you get married!

  4. Carol says:

    I’ve learned the power of silence. It’s a good way to get my husband to talk more and it stops me from saying something I may later regret.
    Also, I try to make an effort to discuss only what we’re actually discussing and not bring up that annoying thing he did 6 months ago. That is hard for me, but makes our talks/arguments more productive if I’m not throwing every little thing into the mix.
    Another thing I do is mentally weigh the consequences of what it would take for me to “win” an argument. I plan to spend the rest of my life with this guy, so does it really matter that we can’t agree on a paint color (for example). And yes, we really did have a fight about paint colors. Twice.
    We had one really, really tough patch a couple of years ago and making it through that was worth it, although completely sucking at the time.

    • Holly says:

      I am also an argument “winner” — I don’t know, it’s part of my personality, there is ALWAYS A WINNER. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I agree, you must weigh the consequences. And btw, I totally can relate about paint colors. And also, ahem, all of our walls are still white.

  5. Mariah says:

    Oh, also, you asked for advice. Not that I have a whole lot of relationship wisdom, but we find it works to have a quick knock-down drag out yelling match (without name calling and harsh insults, obviously) which gets things out in the open. Then we leave the argument and move on. No dragging stuff up from the past. It’s also helpful to realize that your partner is more important to you than your pride… I’m still working on that.

  6. LizScott says:

    Oh, HEY, thanks! Appreciated the love ๐Ÿ™‚

    And, also: YES. Working years. Right. That phrase feels really right to me. I once heard a quote about marriage [feel free to sub: ‘Committed, Long Term Relationship’ ;)]: “Marriage is what keeps you together until you fall back in love.” Not that, you know, you’re not in love during the working years, but that idea of being committed even when it’s hard, because of the faith that it won’t ALWAYS be hard. Because it will.

    • Holly says:

      Love that quote. But it also, consequently made me think a lot about the difference between Marriage and being in a Committed, Long Term Relationship and reinforces my desire to actually BE married. Which, by the way, is probably a completely different post but I spent a long time (prior to and in this relationship) thinking that I didn’t care too much about getting married. “The piece of paper” and all that. But for this very reason (and so many others really) I think the celebration of such a commitment and the ceremonious act of such CAN BE such an anchor in tough times.

      Anyway…Cliffs Notes: I LIKE.

  7. Linda Sand says:

    Traditionally the seventh year is the hardest. That’s the year my husband and I split up–for a whole six days. That’s all the longer it took for us to realize how much we really loved each other and wanted to be together enough to work out the problems. We’ve now been married forty-five years so getting back together was obviously the right thing to do. Congratulations on surviving your seventh year. You’ll find the work to be worth it.

  8. Ellen says:

    My best advice: Treat each other kindly. Even when it isn’t your first impulse to do so. I’m 37 and one of those freaks that married my high school sweetheart. You can bet your sweet bippy we’ve changed and morphed into different people than when we were 16. But by always being kind to one another it never makes the other person feel left out or mistreated. And believe me sister, we’ve fallen out of love with one another at different times many times. But it always comes back around and since we’ve been kind to one another through the out of love spells, well, it’s pretty seamless to fall back in love.
    Thanks, as always, Holly.

    • LizScott says:

      An old boyfriend once told me: “If you want to be loved, be lovable” — a nice variation on “be kind”. It goes a long way

    • Holly says:

      When we first got together, Garrett and I made a few ground rules for our relationship and one of them was to never fight ugly. No matter what. Not *exactly* being kind, but more of a Be Kind While Fighting Too. I will tell you what, we have had many disagreements in our relationship that have gotten heated, but I honestly feel like the fact that we can still be kind while fighting has really kept us from every haven’t resentment over old issues. Kindness is so simple, but also so powerful.

  9. Miriel says:

    Okay so first of all, when you said “seven years” I was like ohhh, yep, makes perfect sense, because apparently seven years is one of The Hard Years and I am excellent at being self-satisfied in other people’s knowledge. (Because that’s a thing, right? The seven year itch or something?)

    But speaking of being self-satisfied in other people’s knowledge, the best advice I have ever heard about making marriage work is from my dad (and my parents have been married for 31 years, so they’ve got some street cred), who says that the key to staying together is to approach every obstacle not asking “are we going to get through this?” but instead asking: “HOW are we going to get through this?” Working on the presumption that there IS a solution, that there IS a way to work it out, and that you are committed to finding it together, makes a lot of sense to me when you’re in a relationship that you have decided is going to be The Relationship for you–it’s an expression of your commitment and an acknowledgement of the work that it takes to honor that commitment.

    • Holly says:

      This appeals to the little linguistic nerd inside of me. Also, it is fantastic advice. Your parents seem rad, and I am not surprised by that one bit. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. sizzle says:

    I thought I commented here earlier but now I’m not seeing it. Hmmm. What did I say? I’m thankful for this post. I try to be honest about my relationship ups and downs because so many people comment that they have been there too when I do post about it (yet not that many people talk honestly about the hard times which makes it so much easier to convince yourself that your relationship isn’t as “good” as everyone else’s). Lately I have been avoiding blogging because my relationship has been rocky and I feel embarrassed to admit that since we’re supposed to be blissed out newlyweds. But this has been one hell of a year and I’m trying to find my footing after all the highs and lows.

    We have gone to couple’s counseling which helped us learn how to talk to one another. There have been times when we have tried so hard to understand each other but all our buttons are pushed and we can’t hear with our hearts what the person is saying. We get up every day and choose each other because love is a choice. We talk things out, even when they are hard. It sucks to be stuck in the mucky yuck of not getting along but I try to tell myself it’s just a hurdle, that we’re learning to trust each other more and be better partners to each other. Love/relationships are not easy. I’ve let go of the fantasy that easy means it’s right. I try to own my shit and work on my stuff. It’s a lifelong lesson in learning to love, really.

    • Holly says:

      I actually thought about you while I was writing this post because you are so raw and honest about your own relationship and I just think it is courageous and awesome. And you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned “learning to love.” When you involve someone else, it IS a process, and it totally can be hard at times. And it doesn’t make it any easier when everyone acts like they were just born knowing how to do it just right. xo

  11. Mariah says:

    Bummer, my comment earlier didn’t show up either!

    I know I said congrats on the 7 years! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Also, it’s completely okay to be honest about the “working” years. I like that term. The working years are what drive both of your roots down and intertwine with each other. They’re years of growth.

    I actually worry about those whose relationships are all rainbows and flying unicorns. Like life in general, those who struggle under (or even just carry) their burdens are so much more grounded.

    My husband and I are going on 5 years of marriage this December, and we’re not big gift givers either. I don’t have tons of advice, but I do know it’s helpful to value your partner more than your pride (still working on that). Also, it works for us to yell and scream, as long as we are not calling names or throwing insults. We find a good knock-down, drag out gets all the feelings out in the open and dealt with. None of this unresolved, hard feelings, sweep it under the rug stuff for us.

    Oh, it’s completely okay to be honest about the working years and how it gets hard. But be careful whom you talk to about everything and remember details aren’t necessary! A general rule of thumb I always use is never say anything bad about your spouse/partner. (Sorry, we’ve had a situation close to us lately where they’ve been taking a while to adjust to life after marriage, which is normal!, but it seems the whole family knows the ins and outs of every spat they have. Eek, not healthy.)

    Anyway, I wrote more this time than last time, so let’s hope this is the last time I have to write this! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Holly says:

      Sorry about my AGGRESSIVE spam filter. Jeeeeeeez louise. You think it would get it by now! lol

      Thanks for weighing in though, and the advice. I love the roots metaphor. So true!

      • Mariah B says:

        You’re welcome. That’s what I try to tell myself when I’m struggling with something. “I’m a better person because of this… right?” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. My main philosophy is that relationships should be easy.

    I feel like I always heard growing up, like in movies and whatnot, “Marriage is hard,” and I remember being legit concerned that it would be something I could not hack. I thought, I won’t be able to do it, if it’s really as hard as everyone says.

    But the funny thing is, my parents (they who fought A LOT) always said relationships should be easy. Work, yes, but not HARD. No one likes things that are hard! You like things that are a challenge. You like things that take hard WORK, maybe, but hard? I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but I attribute something that’s “hard” as being something I don’t want to do (see: run another half-marathon, for example.) (Kidding.)

    It’s not like I’m saying people should want an easy relationship, in that they want the person they’re with to just agree with them on everything (see your quote above), but yeah, by and large, a relationship should be easy.

    (And you know our current situation, which has incidentally made me give pause to my long-standing belief that relationships should be easy, but you know what? I still more or less stand by it. We both want the same things for each other, our family, and while times ARE rough right now, I’m happy that at least my relationship is easy for me to navigate.)

    • Holly says:

      My mom always uses an expression about life that it should be effort but not a struggle. I think there is something to it. In life. In relationships. In so many things. Sometimes I find it hard to differentiate between effort and struggle, but all in all I think it’s a good approach.

  13. Madison L. says:

    I really appreciate this post, and all the comments! I’m a newly married person, though I’ve been with my husband for seven years already. So, we’re in this strange in-between of being honeymoon-y and also comfortable enough that we sometimes take our frustrations out on each other. Correction: I often times take my frustrations out on him… that’s what you do with the people you love the most, right? Because you know they aren’t going to leave you just because you said something snarky about the way they hang up wet towels (I believe the exact quote was, “As the person who will likely be purchasing our towels for the rest of our lives this is something that is really important to me.” Sheesh…)?

    We haven’t hit any big snags yet, but I know they may come some day. For that reason, I’m already practicing saying sorry as quick as I can and am thankful that he’s rarely rattled. He mostly just takes my sudden bursts of shittiness with an understanding that it will be over soon. What an angel.

  14. Erin says:

    Short version: I’ve had to learn to SHUT MY FREAKING MOUTH and BUILD MYSELF A FILTER! Also? I’ve learned that I do not always have to WIN the argument. I’ve learned to be okay with letting him THINK he won the disagreement (even though in my head, I ALWAYS WIN). ๐Ÿ™‚

    Long(er) version: I was single for almost 5 years before my current relationship started. I had CHOSEN to be single for that long, because I was working on ME during that time. So when we got together, and when we moved in together, I had to learn how to live WITH him; his routines, quirks and likes/dislikes. As much as I loved him (and so many things about him), I realized there were things I DISLIKED. The newness of the relationship eventually wore off and that ever-amazing-I-still-think-about-it-HULKSMASH-SEX-APPEAL was disappearing. Dun dun dunโ€ฆ

    I quickly realized that a lot of the things I disliked were tied up in my old insecurities and control issues. But, it wasnโ€™t just me having doubts. We both went through a period of about 3 months where neither one of us was sure the relationship was worth fighting for. We treated each other like SHIT.

    He decided we were worth fighting for before I did. But eventually I also realized that it was worth it. I let go of the baggage (most of it, canโ€™t say insecurity doesnโ€™t creep up every now and again). As another commenter wrote, I had to “own my shitty behavior.” I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and worked on โ€œmyselfโ€ EVEN MORE so that โ€œweโ€ might work. We still have issues, of course, but we are more secure and confident in โ€œUS.โ€ Weโ€™ll never agree on everything (or anything, it feels like sometimes), but I think weโ€™ve come a long way in 2.5 years in terms of growing together as a couple.

  15. Cami Sebern says:

    Congratulations to you and Garrett on 7 years. Tom and I are heading quickly to #29. Whew the ride has been a quick one. I have no advice for you as you seem to be doing just fine, but I do love a good quote and this is my new fave and I think it could apply to any relationship bumpy or smooth …”Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.” From the movie; Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

  16. Mal says:

    Is this because you shrank Garrett’s sweater? ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Erica says:

    Oh man. Tough relationship times blow. And career/relationship/family stuff is a different puzzle for everyone. I read Liz’s blog post and I agree… Someone has to take the career hit. I’m sending you good vibes to get through it!

  18. Stephanie says:

    This is a great post with lots of great advice. Thank you Holly and everyone who commented for being so honest without being dramatic. Life is hard married or not so there will always be the working moments or years. Eric and I were dating 7 years before we got married and have been married 5 years. I will tell you with no question last year was a WORKING year. Moving to a new country, two toddlers under 2 and not speaking the language of the said country….holy hell it was rough. But our relationship wasn’t. It was the only sane thing we had. That is the beauty of what everyone is saying IT IS WORTH IT. It makes the working years bearable and the good years FREAKING GREAT. My only advice is when you feel overwhelmed remember that you are on the same team and try to cheer each other on.

  19. Holly says:

    We just celebrated our 20th anniversary, and some of those years were pretty lean, relationship wise, but I just want to tell you that it’s getting *through* those years together that makes your love really deep and the bond so strong. When you come to the other side (and you will) it feels very sweet indeed.

  20. Tamara says:

    Infertility, pregnancy and new babyhood have made the first two years of my marriage a total minefield and it’s been just recently that I’ve had to remind myself that if I’m feeling resentful because of some perceived lack on Seth’s part, I need to examine my own role in the equation. Meaning, if I am pissed because I feel like I’m the only person who cares about being somewhere on time and have to slave drive Seth into getting ready, I need to let go and decide if whipping everyone into shape is making getting to wherever we’re going on time worth it. Does that make sense? Basically if I’m unhappy and making Seth unhappy and we’re just getting to a dinner 15 minutes late, is that ok? (I hate being late so much, but hate playing Seth’s “mommy” even more.)

  21. AndreAnna says:

    I know this is trite, but we NEVER EVER go to bed mad.

    We’re on year 8 of marriage, 10 of being together, and I can promise you this: no matter what has happened, or even if we DIDN’T MEAN IT, we still said sorry before bed.

    And more often than not, saying your sorry in the dark of night opens the flood gates of forgiveness and then the sleep dries it up.

    I love you guys. Like a unicorn loves rainbows.

  22. Maureen says:

    Lots of great advice here! I’ve been married almost 19 years, and one of the things that is beneficial for us, I don’t expect my husband to read my mind, I tell him what I want and need. The other thing, I grew up in a family where I felt they were often kinder to complete strangers than they were to each other. I always keep that in the back of my mind, that the man I have chosen to spend my life with deserves the kindest treatment from me, and familiarity should never breed contempt.

  23. AustinGirl says:

    Whenever my (MUCH beloved) husband does something that irks me, I think “He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for ME”. It helps me keep things in perspective, and not blow things out of proportion.(ahem…which I might be inclined to do on occasion)
    When I say that in my head, it gives me permission to disengage from how mad he’s made me by being (gasp!!) a normal, flawed-yet-wonderful, human being. Then I get to focus on how darn great he is (perfect for ME…mistakes and flaws and all)and how lucky I am to have such a great person in my life.
    Naturally, I can say all of this, because I am a perfect princess who has NEVER gotten on his nerves, or tried to drive him out of his mind. Never ever. Not me!!

  24. Liz says:

    Thank you for being honest and writing about what can be difficult. I find that in my groups of girls I have tried to talk about how to get through things like who does what to resolve issues or who in their relationship apologizes first and it seems that they aren’t willing to admit they fight. Well my husband and I fight and are still trying to work out how to fight fair and who gives and forgives. I appreciate reading honestly other people admitting it’s not always easy.

  25. K says:

    I’ve just been sitting on this entry since you first posted it and I have absolutely nothing to contribute other than to say that it is probably one of my favorites of yours. I love it.

  26. Michelle says:

    Interestingly enough, I just rented “The Five Year Engagement” a couple nights ago. . .and my boyfriend watched it with me. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I “got” what was happening, and I “got” that it wasn’t supposed to be necessarily a rom-com…….and then I saw how potent it was. If you haven’t seen it, you SHOULD. There are chords struck that really hit home, and I was not ashamed to give that movie some tears as they did not go for the cheap sucker-punch (you know……”The Notebook”? Need I say more?). Just see it. I am almost to year five with my dude and have been at a bit of a crossroads lately. Maybe it’s something in the air? But just wanted you to know I GET IT. And I’m glad you have plenty of people around you that “get it”, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  28. erin says:

    I loved this post. You hit it head on and I also love the links. (I found my way over here by San’s blog, The In Between is Mine).


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