Sunday, February 5, 2012

23 years and counting

Q and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday -- we've been together 23 years.  It feels like just yesterday we met, and yet I can't imagine life without him.  I could say that our relationship works because of how wonderful Q is.  I could describe my initial attraction to him, and how kind and supportive he was to me, a total stranger.  I could then enumerate his many fine qualities (and a very long post it would be!).  This would be a tale of how I met my perfect partner and now we are living happily ever after.  We see that story so often in movies, but it is only part of the truth.  The real story of any successful relationship is how the two people involved built a strong and satisfying relationship that stands the test of time.  I am fortunate because Q and I have worked together to create just such a relationship.

Our relationship is supported by a strong foundation of intimacy.  We enjoy spending time together and sharing our experiences with each other, building what John Gottman calls "love maps."  When we first moved in together, Q was a bit worried about how we would get along.  We'd spent five years as a long-distance couple, seeing each other only every two or three weeks.  Now we were going to live in the same apartment, both of us predominantly working from home, being together virtually all day, every day.  Would we get tired of each other?  Nope.  It turns out that no matter how much time we spend together, we never get enough of each other.  Why?  Because we not only love each other, but we also like each other.  We're best friends, and friendship is the cornerstone of a good relationship.
Sand castling in New Jersey (1989)

As with any good friendship, we care about each other and think well of each other.  I sing his praises constantly, and he thinks I hung the moon. We not only see each other positively, we also express our love and admiration frequently.  There is rarely a day in which we don't say "I love you", not just once, but often.  (Now we can even do that via text message!)  In fact, one of our half-joking lines is, "Have I told you recently how much I love you?"  We are physically demonstrative, as well; more than one person has noted how often we reach out to each other to hold hands or hug.  In addition, we thank each other regularly; I am a firm believer in the importance of recognizing the contributions of others, and in expressing gratitude.  Whether is it a simple "thank you for unloading the dishwasher" or a heartfelt "you earned big points for all the work you did on that renovation project", we make sure to acknowledge each other's efforts.  In short, we express a lot of positive feelings toward each other on a regular (near-continual) basis.

We also strive to have a fair and equitable relationship.  It is important to both of us that we share power and contribute equally in all areas of our relationship.  We share responsibility for the household chores, each of us taking on cleaning, cooking, and shopping tasks.  (Our version of fighting over chores is, "Hey, don't do that -- I said I would do it!")  On a larger scale, we have each moved for the other's career; luckily this could be managed without tremendous cost to our career goals.  We make decisions jointly; for any major decision, we talk through the options until we are both satisfied with our final choice. While our relationship has elements of imbalance at times (when I'm grading exams, Q takes on a greater load of chores, for example), I think it ends up being an egalitarian relationship overall. 

That doesn't mean we don't have conflicts; we have our share of disagreements and sometimes even fights.  But we manage conflict well and know how to fight fairly.  We talk out our difficulties rather than burying our disagreements and creating festering resentment.  (We really do strive to follow the rule of not going to bed angry.) We try to express our feelings honestly but without being hurtful.  Since we have created a strong basis of love and trust, we are able to speak openly without fear of being rejected and listen without feeling attacked.  In other words, we communicate effectively, in part because of our strong foundation of intimacy and affection, and that helps us manage conflict without damaging our relationship.

There is now quite a bit of research on the factors that contribute to successful relationships.  But before I knew much about this research, Q and I fortunately managed to build a relationship that hews closely to the key findings of these studies.  Our relationship mirrors the scientific principles that have been identified as fundamental to successful and happy relationships.  Given the sturdy framework we have built of affection, intimacy, equality, and communication, these 23 years are just the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship.  Here's to our future, Q!  Have I told you recently how much I love you?

The card Q designed for our 20th anniversary

Want to read more about the science of close relationships so that you can build a satisfying, long-lasting relationship?  Check out my earlier post, How to build a satisfying, long-lasting relationship (through science!).

Gottman, J. M & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. 


  1. Congrats to you and Q!

    I am curious what event defines the start of these 23 years. First date? First kiss? Moving in together? Or something more personal that I'd prefer you not define? ; )

  2. Good question! We made an early decision to have the anniversary be from our first date. I suppose we could have started from the day we met, but the first date was the beginning of our romantic relationship, so it seemed appropriate. Plus, it was a really nice first date! Thanks for stopping by and reading.