04.03.12 Love

On Being a Good Partner

BY Jen Tobin

Every day I walk through the world and make conscious choices.  The white scarf or the striped one?  The  iced coffee or the Mocha?  Turn left or right?  Take a nap or do the laundry?  Love my husband or walk away.

That last one is obviously the biggest of the choices, but to me, choosing to stay in my marriage is always a conscious decision.  I wasn’t forced here, nor am I any sort of victim.  I made a conscious choice to spend my life with this man (who’s truly amazing, by the way) and I renew that choice almost daily.

I hear many of my friends, as they are exiting their relationships, tell me they just weren’t in love with their partner anymore.  I suppose I know what that feels like.  I drove around quite a bit before stopping at what is now my committed relationship.  I remember the feeling of boredom and restlessness when something just wasn’t working out.

But here’s what I want to share:  What I’ve learned is that staying in love is a verb.  It’s an action and it’s a choice.

I’m one of those annoying people who claims to have a near perfect relationship.  To me, a “perfect” relationship contains several things: Respect, adoration, safety and selflessness.  These are just a few of the key elements that make it all “work”.

When I met my husband, we were doing improv comedy together in a small troupe in Los Angeles.  When I saw him perform, I instantly thought he was one of the best improvisers I had ever seen.  I simultaneously respected him and was ridiculously intimidated by him.  (He thinks that’s hilarious.)  As I got to know him, he constantly expressed his kindness and patience in his everyday actions.  He asked about my dog when she was sick; he opened doors for me (and still does, almost five years later).  He teaches Junior High history, sometimes to kids who have severe emotional issues and he manages to maintain his composure.  On paper he’s sounding pretty great and you’re thinking, “Well, sure…it’s easy to love that guy…”  And most days, you’re right.  But in five years, there have been times when things seemed stagnant.  Times where his watching his 90th episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 got on my nerves so hard, I snapped at him that if I heard that theme song one more time I would lose my crap.  Moments where I was thinking, “Is this it? Is this all we’re doing?” But my answer was and is always the same: an unwavering, “Yes.  And that’s okay.”

I believe we have to decide what we want.  Do we want to be constantly chasing the high of that new thing or do we want to have commitment?  Commitment means making a choice everyday to stay and give it all you’ve got.  Commitment means embracing thoughtfulness and selflessness – to go out of your way to make them lunch in the morning, to always kiss them hello and goodnight.  It’s remembering to hold hands in the street and say “I love you” even when you aren’t feeling it as gigantically as you were when you said, “I do”.   It’s choosing to love that person when they’re tired and cranky and stubborn.  It’s embracing the entire person and not making a list of things you’d change about them.

Here’s the thing: If you have a list of things you’d change about them, they aren’t for you.  Let them find someone who will love them for those things.  Don’t they deserve that?  I think I finally grew up the moment I came to that realization.  I had been with someone for three years and struggled with “how they were.”  We were constantly fighting and I never felt adored or emotionally safe.  I was always trying to get him to be how I thought he should be.  The day I decided I would love him enough to not be with him was the day I realized I was mature enough to walk away. I understood something on a deeper level and realized I would now be capable of finding a love that could make it.  Sometimes you can love someone and not be with them…and sometimes you can be with someone and have a few bad days and not leave.  But the distinction lies in the core of the elements I listed above.  Do I respect this person?  Am I capable of being thoughtful and not making a checklist of my selfless actions versus theirs?  Am I safe physically and emotionally?  Do I respect who they are and how they show up in the world?  I think asking these questions and aligning yourself with someone who shares your values is a good start to being with the right person.

At the end of the day, it’s better to be alone than to be with someone who treats you poorly.  And staying in a committed relationship isn’t as important as being emotionally or physically safe.  I would never tell someone who was being abused in either way to make the choice everyday to stay in that.   But if you have respect and adoration and safety, to me anyway, you’re halfway there.  Be mature enough to embrace that commitment means you accept the boring days and the broke days and the days that he watches Star Wars for the one-millionth time and love him for that.   Because in the end, he loves you and makes you coffee every morning and embraces your faults without complaint, too.   The simplicity of the golden rule applies and if you want to get it, you’ve got to give it.  So how can you be better in your relationship?  Let me know… I’d like to hear about it.

Jen Tobin is a writer and instructor of massage therapy living in Los Angeles.  She has a daughter and a husband and a few dogs from Taiwan.  You can follow her blog at www.savingitall.wordpress.com.


  • Bri

    How could I be better? I could stop believing that I am selfless, that there isn’t much room for change on my part. I wake up everyday with a chip on my shoulder: where’s that romance we started with? I fix my gaze at my boyfriend and implore him to look at me, look at me like he desires me…like he looked at me on our very first date. 

    I’m still so young. There is still so much mystery in love and the pursuit of companionship, and that’s okay. I’ll probably return to my wicked ways tomorrow, but every once in a while, I’m finding myself at an emotional crossroads…one where I realize that I deflect 90% of my own issues, faults, and misdoings and project it onto this wonderful guy. I allow myself to feel like an un-adored victim all too often. I want more sex. I want him to ask me more questions. I want him to notice the effort one puts into getting ready to go out for the night. When I finally have moments of clarity, I can only detect whining. I’m insecure and that’s something I need to work on. 

    • Jen

      Thanks so much for sharing…I think it’s a process, seeing how we are in intimate relationships and how WE can make them better instead of always looking to the other person.  Ultimately, it takes both people to make it work, but looking to others to make us happy never works.  I love what you wrote.  Thanks, Bri!

  • Sarah_089

    My boyfriend of over 3 years broke up with me three months ago, and I would say that I classed him as my partner. It was both of our first long term, committed relationships, and we were fully aware that it would be a learning experience for the both of us. He broke up with me out of the blue, but it had become clear now that he was obviously thinking about it for a while, which is something I have had a hard time dealing with.
    My mother sat me down and told me that she thought I put in a lot more effort than he did, especially within the last year of our relationship, when he had moved on hour away for a year of work. I could understand where she was coming from, and realised that perhaps I had put too much pressure on him to maintain the relationship we had before in the present. But he had issues with saying “I love you” and found it hard to talk about his emotions. I accepted that, but him moving away made it clear that it was a much bigger issue than I first realised, and our relationship had become more like a friendship with benefits rather than something fully of love and compassion.
    He tells me now that he simply fell out of love, but I think because I never truly accepted that he loved me as I loved him, it has made me fearful of my own expectations, and also that I have pushed away a man who met all my expectations and more. Unfortunately the break up was not amicable, and hasn’t been nice at all. He refuses to explain himself and refuses to listen to what I have to say, and has apparently moved on to a new woman within just 10 weeks.

    I don’t know what the future will bring, and I don’t know how I will feel in the coming months, but right now I feel that perhaps my expectations pushed away the man for me. I suppose only time will tell.

    • Jen Tobin

      I’m sorry to hear about the break up and how it all went down….I think it’s important, though, to differentiate between standards and expectations.  You have standards for yourself in terms of who you’re willing to share your life with…and then not expect anything, really.   If you find someone who meets your standards (honest, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, sober, etc/.) you may find there’s no need for expectations in the relationship.  Expectations, I have found, are a product of your standards not being met.  And without knowing him or you, I’d bet you deserve better.  xoxoxo

  • Aleuqar

    I absolutely love this! 

    • Jen Tobin

      Thank you!  🙂

  • Pat

    Thank you for writing this. I have been with my fiance for a little over a year, and we are at a crossroads. I have brought us there. Her issues with me are selfishness, poor communication, and basically not making her feel special.
    Reading this has very much helped me. Thank you

    • Jen

      I’m glad this helped in some way. Being good to each other, communicating well and not holding grudges are important to the success of a relationship. Xo

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