First of all, let’s talk about how long it took me to come up with a title for what will be this recurring little segment. Brainstorming was less than seamless, and went a little something like this:
Em’s Ideas Featuring Alliteration:
Relationship Ramblings (not terrible, not great either)
Couple Chronicles (What is this, a newspaper?)
Duo Dilemmas (…soap opera…)
Twosome Trials (um, what?)
Manfriend’s Contributions: (“I like the rhyming idea, myself…”)
Musings & Fusings (uhhh…)
Joyce’s Choices (Sure, I’ll just change my name. No one will notice.)
And then, one morning last week, after half a latte and a breakfast burrito… it came to me.
One of the most powerful realizations I’ve had about relationships in the last few years is that the way a relationship evolves has much less to do with the things that happen to us, and much more to do with the choices we make. Pretty awesome and empowering, no? Those choices – the ones that shape my relationship and determine its direction – are the ones I want to dive into and share with you… and there’s so much to talk about. I’m overflowing with ideas! So… let’s begin, shall we?
If I had to describe my Manfriend in one word, it would be… drumroll… independent.
That quality, while sometimes frustrating and challenging to wrap my head around, is one of my favorite things about him, and it manifests itself in a thousand different ways within our relationship. One example in particular is that he likes to travel. A lot. And I don’t mean weekends in New York… we’re talkin three weeks in Eastern Europe. Or six weeks in Southeast Asia. Or two weeks in South America. You know, just because.
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that I can’t change him, just as he can’t change me. Loving him means embracing his independence and giving him the space to be him, since trying to change each other just opens the door for resentment. That means not whining or trying to “not let him” travel. It means encouraging it.
His most recent adventure was when he spent nearly two weeks in and around the UK to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin this year. It used to be a really hard thing for me to embrace his need to explore, and to not interpret his excitement to leave as an excitement to leave me. But I’ve learned to understand and appreciate how this aspect of him is so central to who he is, and it actually does a lot of good for our relationship. Stay with me.
Do I miss him when he’s off trekking the globe? Of course I do!! And in those first few days, it’s especially sad. But having said that, the physical distance gives us the space to miss each other. To strengthen our relationships with ourselves, to deepen our own understandings of who we are as individuals. To focus on the things that are important to us, outside of our relationship. To hug and kiss and… cuddle… that much more when he comes home.
Plus, for me in particular, the aloneness that distance provides allows me to stop worrying about him or about us, and instead to focus on taking care of me – a task I find especially challenging – and that benefits both me and my relationship! Because let’s face it – happy, secure people make the best partners.
For similar reasons, we have also decided to take a break from living together for the next year, and to spend that time living (very) near but not with each other. It’s a tough thing to explain to our friends and family that this is far from a “setback” in our relationship, especially since we’re living together now. Instead, we are each in a place where we recognize that giving ourselves some space to grow individually will make us stronger, happier, and more loving companions for each other.
While it’s not super easy to explain to people, this is a decision I’m really proud of. It’s the kind of choice that actively shapes our relationship, and reminds me that we are the ones who decide what kind of relationship we are in. We’ve chosen to think outside the box, and make a choice that tends to our needs as individuals first, which I believe will make us healthier, happier people, and better, more loving partners.
Have you dealt with distance in your relationship? Or, what kinds of outside-the-box decisions have you and your partner made for the sake of your relationship? I’m dying to hear!
Do the letters ‘ENFJ’ mean anything to you?
If not, I’d like you to meet the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a questionnaire that is meant to measure and assess how we perceive the world and make decisions. There are 16 personality types in all, each one represented by a four-letter combination.
My dad first introduced me to this idea as a kid, and immediately I loved it. I still remember taking the assessment and feeling blown away by how much of it resonated with me, down the the tiniest, frighteningly specific detail.
Since then, I’ve essentially forced everyone I know to take the test, I’ve read this book that uses personality types to help determine possible careers, and I even learned that one of my favorite bloggers in the whole wide world is an ENFJ like me.
The Manfriend and I are also HUGE Myers-Briggs Nerds. Like, shamelessly. The fist time we compared our types, two giant light bulbs lit up. We nodded vigorously and laughed as we read each other’s descriptions and re-read our own, and we couldn’t believe how true they were. We’ve always known how different we are, but seeing it on paper really drove that message home.
For his birthday one year, I created and framed two individual portraits of our personality types, in the style of word clouds. (Sort of.) The idea was to pay tribute to who we are as individuals, and to remind ourselves and each other that we differ, how we differ, and to celebrate those differences:
1. I am an ENFJ. In a nutshell: people-focused, supportive, sensitive, warm, organized, diplomatic.
2. He is an INTJ. In a nutshell: independent, innovative, intellectual, decisive, ambitious, confident.
3. To this day, these frames hang side by side in our foyer. We read, admire, and refer to them constantly. For that reason alone, these babies are quite possibly my proudest creations ever.
What’s your personality type? I’d love to find out! If you’ve never taken the test, here’s a quick, free online version.