11 Things I Learned About Making a Relationship Work

Date: Nov 3, 2022

7 years of marriage, 18 years together, and hopefully a lifetime more ahead.

It's crazy to think my wife and I have known each other for 18 years.

I have literally spent half my life with this person. I have grown distant with some friends and even relatives, but here we are, still facing life's challenges together.

We officially got together on November 29, 2004 - teenagers who were just happy to share their college lives with a partner. After graduating, we faced plenty more challenges, but ultimately decided that we were staying together. Exactly 11 years after we first got together, we said our "I do's" in front of family, friends, and God. 

And now, almost 7 years since our blessed union, I'm surprised we still have a lot to learn about each other.

Knowing November is going to get crazy busy for the both of us, we decided to celebrate our anniversary in advance. After almost four hours of talking, I'd like to share some things I learned from our conversation. Since 11 is a number that resonates with us, here are 11 things I learned (and still learning!) about relationships: 

1. You almost never get it the first time around.

The idea of "love at first sight" is always romantic. It's one of the key ingredients to any love story. 

While Che and I have been together for so long, it doesn't mean that we knew we were "destined" to be together to this day. Heck, we didn't even start with "at first sight" - I had to make her look at me.

I was the creepy "kuya" who always had two umbrellas in his bag so that I'd have one to offer her if it rains. I always tried to be present if she might need my help on anything. I made it clear that I liked her, but I genuinely wanted to be her friend. She eventually saw me in a different light, which led to where we are now. 

People have this idea that you have to wait for "the right one" when getting into a relationship, but the fact is you would never even know that a person is right or wrong if you never gave them a chance. Take a risk. Make mistakes. Don't wait for a supernatural sign before deciding one person is worth it. 

2. You will always look for what you don't have.

I believe that people are naturally curious. We like to learn about things that we don't know. When we're in a relationship, a long-term one at that, we tend to believe that we've squeezed out everything about our partner and eventually enjoy the company of others.

It's practically why a lot of marriages are riddled with infidelity. Some people get excited about feelings they get from others that they never experience with their partners.

During a brief breakup we had more than a decade ago, I met someone who made my heart flutter. She appreciated all my cheesy moves and even complimented my looks. During my relationship with Che at the time, those cheesy moves were a big reason why we broke up in the first place, and both she and I would say my physical appearance has never been my best quality. But this girl made me feel special in ways that I didn't feel with Che.

However, that doesn't mean I was treated less. Che made me feel special in other ways. She was the rock I'd lean on in my moments of weakness. She made me feel significant because of how strong she becomes after seeking comfort from me. She pulled me into her world so that I'd laugh at things she finds funny and share her frustrations at the things that make her life difficult.

She made an effort to make me a part of her life as much as I wanted her to be part of mine.

People can say that we could do better than each other, and that may be true. There will always be someone better. It's just up to you if you want to just constantly keep on looking or if you want to be happy with what you have.

3. "Giving space" and "letting go" tread a very thin line.

I tend to be overreactive. If you ask me for something, I'll give you that and more, just to make sure you get what you want. It worked well for my professional career but for love, not much.

When Che and I first broke up, it was because she felt our relationship was too intertwined that she didn't have her own identity. Being new to the corporate world, she just started to find herself as she met people who know her as "just Che" and not "Che, Voltaire's girlfriend." 

At the time, I couldn't understand it, which hurt me deeply, because I thought I was doing everything right. After spending a few months apart, we got back together. At the time, I made a conscious effort to give her the space she needed. Later, she would ask to break up again. After two days and two important consultations with people closest to me, I bravely met up with Che to ask her to make a choice right then and there - break up and end any kind of relationship we may have, or stay together and just keep working to fix what may be broken. She chose the latter.

During our recent date, she revealed that the space I gave her was too much that it led to a very confusing time for her. The short leash we had before is now too long that it led us to be comfortable with too much space. She may not know anymore what she wanted, or maybe I was just being a prick for choosing to give her too much space.

If ever you're caught in this situation, try to check in with your partner from time to time. If you're the one who asked for space, let your partner know that he or she is becoming more distant than expected. If you're the one giving space, ask if he or she feels neglected. We surprisingly survived it, but our relationship apparently came really close to failing because of this.

4. Honesty is important, but knowing when you should be honest is another skill altogether.

We spent most of our youth together, but we still had fun in our own times. During our conversation, we revealed a few stories we thought we'd take to our graves.

We've always been honest with each other, but we held off on a few stories for fear that we would hurt the other or be judged differently. However, we're at the point in our adult relationship where our juvenile mishaps are mere stories and we ourselves have gotten over the emotions that troubled us that kept us from sharing it with each other back then. We know for certain that our emotional and mental states are in a good enough place to process these revelations properly.

The problem with honesty is you sometimes succumb to the guilt that you feel and just pour out everything to try to make yourself feel better. Acting on emotions is never a good thing.

For us, we dealt with our issues in our own ways. Now, years after we have settled them, we can be sincerely honest with each other because we can have a completely rational conversation about it. 

5. Have a support system around you.

I've always appreciated the people around me, but I never realized how much they helped me go through a lot of tough times. Whether it was in the form of distractions or serious conversations, these people kept me sane, happy, and grounded. 

Most of my "Ride or Die" boys.

Che wasn't as extroverted as I was, and even her friends were my friends. She had to rediscover how to trust a person other than me when we broke up, as she didn't have the same support system that I did. 

While one of the perks of having a partner is always having a person to do everything with, you have to make sure that you spare some time for your friends. 

With or without a partner, it's important to keep friends who you can truly trust. The things that we kept from each other all these years were safely kept by some of our respective friends, and it might have stayed that way if we hadn't decided to let it off our chests that one night.

These people will help keep you from making an overly emotional decision over a silly mistake until you can get your head right and make the best decision for yourself. They help keep your individuality when you're in a relationship. 

You must never lose who you are because of your relationship with your partner. Remember that your partner fell for you for who you are, so don't ever lose that great person. Hence, remember to do "me-things" even if you are in a committed, healthy relationship. 

6. Being open about your life goals is essential in knowing how to support each other.

It's easy to tell your partner that you support him or her, but unless you actually know what each of you is doing, it's just words.

I can confidently say that whatever I do now is geared towards supporting Che precisely because she always makes it a point to share her career plans with me. We always try to talk about what we want to achieve for our family in the future so that we can try and prepare for what we need to do.

I salute couples who are both career driven and still have time to be present for their kids. My parents had to sacrifice a lot of time with us to be able to provide a comfortable life for me and my siblings. My mom sacrificed personal relationships to try and be there for us as soon as her work is done. My wife and I are experiencing it a bit over the recent months, but I’m thankful that our five-year-old can understand that there’s work to be done and he has to wait for a bit to play. 

Sacrifices always need to be made if you are to keep a long-term relationship. Even our kid understands it. Finding a proper compromise and never holding it over your partner’s head is also a key to making such sacrifices work. This way, both of you can pursue personal goals knowing that you are both genuinely cheering each other on. 

7. A genuine interest in your partner's daily life can help you do something about their physical, mental, or emotional well-being.

Nobody wants to show weakness to anyone because it’s an invitation for others to take advantage of you. These days, you never really know who’s going through something, and at some point, it just becomes too much to handle for them. 

I did not graduate with a degree in communications or advertising, nor did I have a career in the field. But knowing how stressful the job is, I’ve always tried to listen to Che and tried to understand how it is making her life difficult. Obviously, I can’t help her do her job, but having me as an outlet helps her release all the emotions she bottled up before it blows up. Having learned about her job, I can also offer some surface-level insights that she might consider. For those that I cannot, I would always push her to her support system (see #5).

I’ve personally endured dark days as well. I keep saying “I’m OK!” but there was a stretch in the past couple of months when I couldn’t smile as truly as I wanted to. I didn’t know how to handle it, and one night, Che just asked me if I was OK and I just said “I don’t know.” She’s not a licensed psychiatrist or anything and she knows how stubborn I can get. But she truly did want to help me. She trusted me enough to handle it the way I wanted and let me do what I think I needed to do. She helped me compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings and later checked up on me again to see if I have improved. 

The little signs of distress or trouble are never going to be obvious if you and your partner choose to live your lives separately. While we do strive to keep our individuality, we try to be in the loop of what’s going on in each of our lives constantly. 

8. Every relationship is different, and only you and your partner can make it work. 

Everything I’m writing here is generally based on our own experiences in our relationship. I try to make it as general as possible, but I understand that different people have different personalities. 

We’ve offered our advice to people who asked for it. For those who listened, some had a happy ending while others went from bad to worse. Some considered our points but ultimately ended up happy despite not following our advice. I’ve also had the pleasure of telling some people “I told you so” for suffering longer than they should have because they didn’t heed our warnings. 

While I’m not an expert on anything, keeping this 18-year relationship has to account for something, so I try to share what I can with those who ask for my opinion. However, at the end of the day, there’s no better person to help you make your relationship work than your partner. 

9. You will always learn something new no matter how long you've been together as long as you keep communicating.

More than anything, I’ve always enjoyed conversations with people. I’m always fascinated by how people are living their lives. 

Being together for seven years under the same roof and constantly sharing stories, I was almost certain that I know my wife through and through. However, even during the pandemic, I was still learning new things and stories about her. As we talked endlessly during our date, I was just surprised that there were even more things to unpack from our past.

Growing up, my parents used to tell us stories about the time they dated, and it really resonated with me. Whenever I pursued a relationship, it was always with the thought that I was going to grow old with that person so that I could share our memories with our children. 

I’m happy to know that after 18 years together, I’m still able to confirm that I pursued the right person. 

10. Never be too comfortable.

With any relationship, you sometimes get to become more comfortable with each other as time passes. However, there are times when one party becomes too comfortable and would often forget about the things that made the relationship work in the first place.

It could be the conversations, the romance, the adventures together, or anything else that sparked your feelings for each other. I am guilty of this. I feel like I’ve lost the ability to surprise my wife as I did during our early dating life. It doesn’t help that we live in the same house and mostly work from home. 

However, more than losing one aspect of our early relationship, I feel like it’s evolved into a different one. Since becoming parents, our priorities have shifted drastically. Our kid has become the center of our decision-making process. Of course, that doesn’t excuse neglecting the needs of my partner.

Our kid changed our lives for the better in more ways than one.

When we feel that we are too caught up in the things that we do, we usually try to spend time with each other to have some honest conversations about life. It’s been our love language all throughout our relationship.

We both understand that we’re not the teenagers that we were when we first got together, and our needs have changed. While we don’t give each other goosebumps like we used to, we watch Korean Dramas to just remind us of those feelings. 

The closer and more comfortable you get with your partner, the more you feel security and stability with that person. But relationships require constant work, and security without effort could eventually turn to neglect. 

11. Fairy tales and movies are nice, but real life doesn't have ending credits at your happiest time.

What we like about watching movies and Korean dramas is the fact that you see the protagonists meet, watch how they navigate through conflicts, and later see how they overcome the odds and be together. Every story has an ending, and we enjoy those stories while they last.  

However, real life doesn’t have ending credits while you live it. 

Unlike Disney princesses, your own love story doesn’t end when you get married to the “Prince Charming” of your life. We constantly have to deal with adult problems be it in our personal or professional lives. 

While we’re far from being the cheesy K-Drama couple with back hugs, tears, and montage-worthy trips together, I’m happy that my wife is someone who’s a perfect partner for dealing with real-life problems that dramas and movies seem to shove under the rug. We can be romantic, but it’s not a daily thing - and that’s ok. 

What’s important is that I get to wake up every morning feeling happy that no curtains have fallen in the story that we keep writing together.