5 Things I Learnt After A Long Term Relationship

“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give- which is everything”

Katherine Hepburn

From a young age, with exposure to young adult novels and teen coming of age movies, the one goal for a lot of people is a relationship. We are taught that if a boy is mean to you on the playground it is because he likes you. Or that if you don’t have a boyfriend in high school you’ve failed at being the John Green protagonist you always wanted to be. Thankfully, I no longer believe these things. They are ridiculous ideals that do nothing but damage your self-esteem, and no one should value themselves based on whether or not they have a partner. However, I will admit that once I did.

When I was 15 I met a boy. I was introduced to him through a friend, one thing led to another and we were together for 5 years. We went through a lot, but I won’t dive into that because this article isn’t about the relationship specifically. What I want to share with you are the 5 things I learnt when that relationship ended, in the hopes that my experiences may align with your own in one way or another.

Sometimes simply loving someone isn’t enough.

When you begin a relationship you find out a lot about your partner’s wants for the future. A lot of the time, particularly in a long term relationship, you assume their wants align with yours. Often people have a plan of how they want their life to go; a dream job, whether or not they want kids, do they want to move away or stay in their home town. When you’re 15 these things don’t matter much because it seems like those things are so far away. The last thing you’re going to think about is moving in with that person and whether they want the same future as you.

Personally, I have always had a very set plan of how my life would go, and during the course of my relationship there were definitely moments where my ex’s plan matched mine. But there were also moments where they didn’t. Sometimes people work it out and compromise, and other times they don’t. I have come to realise that that’s okay. People change, their plans and wants change. Sometimes, you don’t fit in their plan anymore, and vice versa.

I recognised this when my ex started to talk about his future as if I wasn’t in it. I can comfortably say that I always encouraged his dreams and aspirations, but I wasn’t about to change mine just to fit in with his. I loved him but sometimes simply loving someone isn’t enough. We had to want the same things for our future or else there wasn’t a future at all. Simply loving someone doesn’t mean a relationship is going to work. You have to respect their dreams and they have to respect yours and know when it is time to grow apart.

You don’t need validation from someone else to be happy.

Now, you’ll have to bear with me on this one because it’s easier said than done. As a generation, our happiness is so perpetually based on how other people perceive us. To the point where often it’s hard to remember to live for yourself and not someone else. I am, what the experts would call, a ‘people pleaser’. Often I am so obsessed with making sure that the people around me are okay that I forget to check on myself. When my friends or my partner is upset, so am I. This empathy is not in itself negative, however, it results in me making excuses for people when they treat me badly because of what they’re going through.

It becomes an cycle in which I am fixated on being validated by them. Seeking reassurance that my place in their life benefits them and makes them happy – because when they’re happy, I’m happy. In order to fully heal, I have to try and find a way of validating myself, instead of relying on someone else to tell me I’ve done something good. People aren’t always going to tell me that.

Misreading a message from someone can change my mood for a whole day, which is incredibly unhealthy. All that does is add weight and worry onto things I may already be dealing with. To make excuses for someone when they hurt my feelings because I care about them and don’t want to make matters worse for them is not okay. With my relationship this came in the form of excuses such as ‘he’s had a bad day at work’ when he would snap at me. Often I was made to feel like my feelings weren’t valid because I was being ‘sensitive’. I have to learn to stand up for myself and know that my partner’s happiness should not dictate my own. Change empathy to sympathy. However, I’m still learning to do this. Berating yourself for not being fully healed or changed does nothing but hurt your own feelings. We all deserve to be a little nicer to ourselves.

Do not let someone else take credit for your successes.

Realising this was what I like to call an epiphany moment. This is when you realise something about your relationship that you’ve never realised before. It’s the moments when you think about your past and go ‘holy shit’.

Let’s create a scenario: you’re 16, you’re writing a 1 year anniversary post for Instagram to declare your love to the world. “I love you so much; you bring out the best in me. I don’t know who I’d be without you”.

Now, I need you to look at that sentence and realise what’s wrong with it.

You’re crediting your partner for your whole person. You may not think it’s that deep, that it’s just something people say, but for me it was that deep. When I met my ex, I was a socially anxious and quite nerdy. This contrasted his cool, motorbike riding, cigarette smoking, more experienced persona. I couldn’t believe he was paying attention to me let alone actually interested in being in a relationship with me. And I would be lying if said that his outgoing nature didn’t encourage me to try new things and step out of my comfort zone.

However, then I started University, suddenly I was 2 and a half hours away from him and completely on my own. I could no longer hide behind his charismatic nature, I was forced to step out of his shadow. Without him by my side I still made new friends, joined a society, and went on new adventures.

My ex and I broke up just before my final semester of Third Year. In the following months I stepped even further outside my comfort zone; I flew to New York to make a documentary, I was the lead in a musical, and I regularly performed at open-mic nights with my friends.

I had heard through the grapevine that my ex had said something along the lines of “she wouldn’t be that confident if it weren’t for me”. And I thought no, I did all of those things without him. I made the decisions that got me to those places without his approval, encouragement or otherwise. I finally decided to stop letting someone else take credit for my successes simply because I grew as a person while I was with them. All that does is belittle how much time and energy I put into those things.

If you feel like your partner is at the centre of everything you do, take a little time to realise all the badass things you do without them. You’ll begin to hold your head a little higher, trust me.

Hanging out with couples after a break up absolutely sucks, but you can do it.

When we broke up I was living in a house of 6 and before the Christmas break only two of my housemates were in relationships. When I returned, newly single, all 5 of them had partners. This meant boyfriends and girlfriends were coming and going at all times of the day. There are two very distinct memories that come to mind on this being difficult for me.

The first was on a pub crawl for my friend’s 21st birthday. My heart swelled with joy listening to a friend gush about his girlfriend, how he couldn’t wait to propose to her because he loved her so much. I was happy for him, but this really struck a nerve. After being in a relationship where you’ve talked about those things, you feel like a part of you has been ripped away. You struggle to be happy for your friends, because you’re either jealous of what they have or just sad you don’t have someone to share that stuff with anymore. Looking back on that moment I realise how silly I was so think those things and how I’m still so happy for my friend and his relationship.

The second memory was a Friday night. I was lying on the sofa, alone, watching First Dates. One by one, each of my housemates and their partners came into the house. One couple in the kitchen, cooking and laughing as they danced to music. Another in the downstairs bedroom hanging out together. And the other three couples decided to come and join me in the living room, snuggling up on the other sofas. Occasionally you could hear the smacking of lips as they shared a quick smooch, or a giggle after a whisper. When you are the only single person, going through a fresh break up, this sucks! However, I saw that in that moment I had two options. I could go up to my bedroom, sit alone and be depressed over how lonely I felt, or I could suck it up and hang out with my friends.

No one was purposefully rubbing their relationship in my face, they were simply just enjoying their time with their partners. By sticking it out, I got to know new people, and I ended up with double the amount of friends than I did before. These people are no longer just my ‘friend’s significant other’, they are my friends too. I won’t deny it is hard when you want what someone else has, but if you push those feelings aside you can make some pretty awesome memories.

Be grateful for the time with that person, even if it didn’t work out.

This point doesn’t always apply as I know different relationships bring up different circumstances and situations for you as a person. Some relationships have nothing to be grateful for but I hope you still take something from this final epiphany of mine.

When I look back at the person I was in 2013 and then I look at the person I am now, those two people are worlds apart. Although I no longer allow myself to give the credit to my ex-boyfriend, I do acknowledge that I have grown as a person because some of the experiences we shared. There are definitely things I look back on in my relationship and recognise as negative or toxic. But there are also so many good times. When you go through a break up you focus on the bad to justify the hurt you feel. A year and a half on, I realise how many happy memories I actually have from those 5 years. I’m not suggesting we should disregard the bad to simply focus on the good, rose tinted memories never helped anybody, but for me to fully heal I have to remember that I was with my ex for a reason and that time was not wasted. We often come out of relationships saying we’ve wasted time on a person, but every experience is a chance to learn, try new things, or even simply find comfort in someone.

There is no use in looking back on something if it is not going to help us move ahead.

Words by Lauren Peters

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