D and I almost broke up back in October. We’d been living together about five years before we hit an impasse. Neither of us were getting what we needed. We weren’t exactly happy, but we weren’t unhappy either. We were just OK.

Neither of us wanted to break up, but we didn’t know how to fix things either, so we agreed to take some time apart and do some therapy. It’s been a bumpy road that we’re still traveling. For my part, I had to learn to be a stronger Candace. D has his own work to do. It’s not all better yet. Tough stuff has come up and things need to be untangled and sorted out.

It’s been a painful – but often empowering – process. I like to think I’m not just going through this for me or us. I hope other couples can learn from my story (I say “my” not “our” because I’m telling it from my perspective. D has his own story).

One thing our therapist and the books she’s assigned me to read agree on is that love isn’t random. We are deliberate. We look for someone to “complete” us. For example, I’m someone who was always surrounded by family. I’m the middle of three kids. Additionally, I grew up with half a dozen cousins right in my neighborhood. I was never alone. I didn’t now how to be alone. I moved across the country for college in part to try life on my own. There, I met D, who was an only child. He has no trouble going solo. He often went mountain biking or skiing or golfing alone. See how we complete each other? I admire D’s independence and he probably admired my ability to depend on other people.

The problem begins a few years into a relationship, the experts say. Those qualities we once admired start to drive us crazy because we don’t understand them. After work each day, I’d hurry to the gym, so I’d be exercised and showered by the time D got home. Little did I know D would have preferred that I give him some space after he got home. But I didn’t know that because 1.) he never told me and 2.) I don’t want the same thing.

But it’s pretty clear how little tweaks and some understanding would have changed the outcome. And that’s what I’m learning now. It’s not that relationships go sour after 7 years, it’s that we need to learn how to communicate our needs. Don’t ever assume your partner wants the same thing.

My therapist also taught me that we can’t expect our partner to be our everything. Knowing that now, I cringe when I hear a girlfriend or wife say, “He’s my best friend.”

Noooo! He can’t be your best friend. You need friends because expecting one person to be your best friend/roommate/co-parent/cheerleader/exercise buddy/confidant/tennis partner is too much pressure on one person. My therapist says those relationships self-destruct because it’s too intense. It’s all or nothing, so diversify!

As hard as the last six months have been, I wouldn’t change a thing. I think the year or two before we decided to do something dramatic was so much more exhausting. Now I can go to bed each night, thinking, “Today I did all I can do.” I couldn’t say that before. The instability and uncertainty was grading on me, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

So I challenge you to ask yourself if you’ve done all you can today. Are you really happy or just not unhappy? If you’re feeling just OK or a little insecure, explore those feelings, have a conversation. Tell your partner what you need. And know that couples therapy isn’t about changing yourself or forcing a relationship to work. It’s about learning and understanding yourself and your partner better. Sometimes just understanding why he does the things he does is enough to accept it.

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