Joe Shetina is a writer of fiction, screenplays, plays, reviews, essays, and poetry. He is from Chicago
There’s no shortage of relationship advice. Romance and dating are still some of the basic human experiences we are all mystified by. Everyone is looking for the answers. Everyone has an opinion.
Relationship advice usually falls into two categories: 1) relationships should be easy, and 2) relationships take work, but they’re worth it. I subscribe to both. No one ever said being in a relationship was easy, but some people act like any disagreement with their partner is a reason to cut and run. Relationships are work, but doing the work to make them work can pay off in the comfort and intimacy we deserve.
But these five “red flags” could actually be signs that your relationship is working.
Conflict isn’t necessarily bad, just as a disagreement is not necessarily a fight. In fact, being able to engage in and settle conflict is a sure way to make sure an open, honest relationship can flourish.
No two people can ever be a perfect match. There will be differences. Respecting those differences and working through them requires respectful communication.
Conflict makes so many of us uncomfortable. It should. If we’re quick to conflict, we can jump into it without thinking. It’s important to remember that conflict in a relationship is not about winning, it’s about coming to a creative solution to a problem that benefits both you and your partner.
When it comes to relationships, whether you’re “needy” or more self-possessed, we all want to be heard, understood, and respected. This is true of all relationships. Be it a friend, family member, or romantic partner, we have certain expectations of the people around us and they have expectations of us. Some of us are more comfortable communicating these needs than others.
Neediness is a concern a lot of people in relationships have. Especially early on, when you and your partner are still getting to know each other. It’s not good to rely solely on your partner for all your emotional support.
However, you and your partner should feel comfortable admitting what your needs are and when those needs are not being met.
I don’t mean blame for the sake of it. I mean blame in the sense that partners should be able to communicate with respect and compassion when a slight has occurred.
If you can’t name it, there’s no real way to correct it. This takes understanding. It also requires both partners to figure out how to keep your ego in check when having fraught conversations.
Being able to let a partner know when you’ve felt slighted or under-appreciated is important. Just as important, though, is voicing when you feel appreciated and validated by your partner. It goes both ways. This also forces you to get in touch with how you’re feeling and how you can effectively communicate it.
Talking about what makes you and your partner tick can only help you to know each other on an even deeper level.
Space is necessary for any relationship to work. Distance, physical or emotional, allows for a recharge or a cool-down if needed. Individual partners might need a different amount of space, though.
Different situations work for different relationships.
One couple may live together, one may never live together. A couple might live together but have separate rooms. Negotiating time apart is important, and that amount of time varies from couple to couple.
Emotional distance is important as well. Establishing, learning, and respecting each other’s boundaries, even if they aren’t always convenient, is part of a loving relationship.
A lot of people complain that their friends change once they enter relationships. Yeah, if your previously extroverted friend becomes suddenly timid, even fearful in front of their partner, that’s a real red flag.
But there’s nothing wrong with being changed by someone. People effect each other, in ways big and small, every day. Love can change you if you’re not afraid to let it.
I know from experience how much a good relationship can change you. In trying to understand what it meant to be a good partner, I learned how to stand my ground, advocate for myself, and learn (or at least attempt to learn) the balance between my own needs and the needs of my partner.
After years of avoiding the traumas and neuroses that make me me, I suddenly had an external reason to confront them and try to understand them. I was lucky. I had someone who was willing to do that work for themselves, too.
Even when I had fears about losing myself in my partner or making myself smaller, I had to take stock and ask myself how much of that was valid.
Real relationships can be a great opportunity for growth. But growth is uncomfortable. For some of us, it’s hard to know the difference between discomfort and harm. When is it appropriate to stand firm and when is it appropriate to bend?
I’m still finding that balance in every area of my life. Still, I think it’s better to try to change into something greater than to stay where you are.