Updated: Nov 8, 2021
Dames and I will be married for Five years in July; March marked the sixth anniversary of our first date. My over-the-top 5th anniversary celebratory mood has slowly transitioned. I thought about the heartfelt things I would write to commemorate this milestone. How awesome he is and how lucky I am to be so deeply loved by the sweetest man I know. This is not the heartfelt speech; this is my reflection on how we got to this moment. Currently, I am somber about our anniversary approaching this summer. Many partnerships ended during the Covid-19 pandemic, ours flourished. Are we privileged, why are we flourishing when many are on the brink of termination?
What makes someone married; happily married? What is it even to be married-a legal document, a marriage certificate? I am not being cynical nor am I degrading the institution of marriage, I strongly believe in it and all it stands for. There are times though I feel the word itself is overused, the meaning slowing eroding.
I habitually refer to Dames as my husband, while having lunch with a friend recently, she pointed out, he has a name you know, or you mean your partner. I chuckled at the statement; I mean Damion would be thrilled to hear someone say that. I have been my ‘husbanding’ him since the day we said I do on July 30. When I went home though the thinker in me pondered over the statement-my partner for hours, I went down a rabbit hole that evening crafting a definition of partnership and partnering. I wrestled with myself, why are we so focused on marriage and less on partnership. The partnership makes the marriage; marriage is essentially partnership. What a profound revelation that was to me. Partnership is the essence of it all.
We spend years planning and dreaming of weddings, white dresses, venues, all the magic that comes with a wedding day, how do we invest in our partnerships? How much time and resources do we invest on strengthen the core or what a marriage should be?
As has become customary since Covid, Dames and I usually stay up late talking-because we both WFH-bye bye commute, I broached the topic to him, Babe, I said, If you replaced the word ‘our marriage’ with ‘our partnership’, would anything change for you? He responded in a matter of fact tone- no why would it, you’ve always been my partner from the day I asked you to be my girlfriend? Hmm, I thought and continued but what is your definition of a partnership. Exactly what it means, he responded amusingly. What are you getting at he asking, I want to know if we realize that partnership and marriage is the same thing or am I the one on the slow bus? Babe, I think everyone knows they are the same thing, what I think you want to get at is why are partnerships overlooked and we glamourize the marriage and the wedding day.
Yass! He always gets the thoughts out of my head when I cannot seem to find the words. Why don’t we glamourize partnerships then? Is it because they do not come with white dresses and whimsical venues? Or religion taught us that we should not? I think it is because if we are being honest partnerships are work, there is nothing glamorous about work. The heartbeat of a partnership is active, open, honest, vulnerable communication and respect- that is hard work.
When I moved to Jamaica in 2017, I struggled with adjusting to my new normal and internalized it all. A month after I moved Dominica was struck by Hurricane Maria and I had not spoken to my parents in over a week, the night of the hurricane I could not sleep, the day after I could not stop crying. Part of me was lucky I escaped it, part of me was guilty I was not there to help my parents. Dames and I would have a lot of disagreements, I internalized what was going on with me, he took it personally. If he complained I did not listen to understand, I heard and became defensive. It was a vicious cycle. After a huge argument one day we decided to go to couples counselling-to this day is one of the best decisions we have ever made in our partnership. We marked it down as a monthly date- the price for the sessions was about what we would pay on a Friday night Lyme. We went to counselling every month for just under two years. What those sessions did for us drastically changed the way Dames and I communicate with each other. Through counselling we altered our communication style from a listening to respond; to a listening to understand without any defensiveness. Listening to acknowledge my partners feelings changed every aspect of our relationship and in my opinion is responsible for the genuine love and respect in our partnership today.
I will always remember, Dames expressed something I constantly do that aggravated him. I was prepared to fire shots and yell, but you do things to aggravate me to! The therapist calmly asked me to repeat what I heard Damion say, I was caught off guard, I slowed down and repeated what he said. He then asked, how did he say that made him feel? I had no idea because I was crafting my response in my head. I repeatedly did something that made my partner feel hurt and no matter how many times he tried to express it to me I could not understand because I was busy crafting a hurtful response in my mind. What a life changer this was to me, to us.
We learn to communicate as children from our parents, as a young adult born and raised in the West Indies by West Indian parents, communicating feelings and vulnerabilities was not something taught or discussed ever-at -all. It was a do as I say, don’t talk back to me and a general lack of accountability for wrong doings by our parents. We were cultured to navigate being held accountable and pass along the blame to the next person. Vulnerability in men was not visible as a child growing up. So much so as a young girl I cannot recall ever thinking that men can have their feelings hurt too.
It was an unlearning and re learning communicating 101. Men have feelings, things we say to them can hurt. They require the same grace as we do to be vulnerable, sensitive, fragile. They need to be understood the same way we want to. My partner is a human being with feelings just like I me. I may be more expressive and dramatic, but he feels the same emotions. What a real game changer that was for our partnership.
We have made it a daily routine to communicate about everything in a non-defensive, free from any judgement way. If I make him feel uncomfortable, it is not my job to take these feelings away from him- he has a right to feel what he feels. It is my job to acknowledge my role in how he feels, understand why he felt that way and work on adjusting my behavior. We practice our ‘I need to be vulnerable with you’ when we want to discuss sore points, nothing is off the table and defensiveness is not allowed in our love room. These are hands down the best most intimate conversations of our partnership.
What blossomed from us learning new communication tools was a less defensive, non-argumentative partnership. It became safe to honestly express raw feelings and discuss hard truths. Open communication laid the foundation for a deeper connection in all aspects of our relationship. Our friendship blossomed. I jokingly say the argument which led us to counselling was the best thing that could ever happen to us. It is the reason why we WFH together everyday in the same space, take lunch at the same time, go for a walk together after work and cuddle in bed and talk and never get tired or bored of each other. It is the reason why we disagree, talk about it and move on, why we don’t raise our voices at each other, why we can be with each other all day and converse about any and everything, why we’re still friends and happily partnered.
I am no expert on marriages or partnerships, but after 6 years of this love what I know for sure is you work on your partnership. If you actively learn to communicate without judgement without defensiveness, if you allow your partner to feel safe to express their inner truth and you listen to understand and actively do better, I guarantee you will experience the most magical partnership. It is not easy, unlearning communication styles that no longer serve you takes time, effort, a deliberate will to want to do better- it is work, hard, grueling, deliberate work, but the rewards are magical. Probably that is the true magic of marriages, maybe this is the happily-ever-after. Unadulterated vulnerability and visibility of exactly who you are in a judgement free zone and still unconditionally loved, admired and respected.
Happy 5th anniversary to my partner!!
"Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life"
I highly recommend these books for couples: