This month marked 21 years since I told my husband I'd be his girlfriend for sure. I had just turned sixteen. We married when I was 20. In June, we had been married 16 years. I used to share those numbers at every opportunity that arose. I'd share it like an accomplishment for which I should receive an award. Yet, most of the time it was taken as some kind of impossible feat we had managed to pull off. "You two are so sweet." "You were made for each other." "You've got such a great man/woman." Those are the comments we get, and to be honest, I'd get angry sometimes at those assumptions. Then, we get the questions about how we do it. Do we argue/fight? Do we disagree? Do we aggravate each other? How do I get someone to stay with me?
I am most definitely not qualified to give relationship advice. Simply because I haven't bailed on my husband, and he hasn't bailed on me, doesn't mean things have been, are, or will be fabulous. I suppose we are both pretty loyal people by nature. That might be one thing that has helped us remain married. We have some common interests. We have children. We also respect others who are at least attempting to live consciously. We are also friends. Long time friends. You know, the kind of friend you have that you'd forgive for almost any act of offensive and even harmful results to you or others. You just know each other that well. You know where actions and behaviors come from. You know when someone is acting from a place of self control or out of control.
I come from a "broken" home. My parents divorced when I was eight. I have spent most of my life lamenting their split. It created a lot of uncomfortable and sad moments for me and my siblings/step-siblings. However, in my experiences of the past year, I have come to realize that my parents divorce wasn't the fault of one of them in particular. It takes two to make or end a relationship. I released so much of the fear, anger, and sadness in my heart around my first nuclear family not making it. I opened to more fully embrace a broader definition of nuclear family and even release arbitrary expectations I had put on myself as someone's wife. Self sacrifice can only go so far in a relationship before it turns what should be a mutual compromise into an unhealthy harboring of hurt feelings and disappointment. For the first time, I understood in the depths of my soul why my parents' relationship didn't stand in the storm. It was an incredible moment of healing for me.
People tell me and ask me about John being my soulmate. I have always answered that I guessed he was, and I still do. What I understand now is that he wasn't my first soulmate, he isn't my only one, and he isn't the last one. He is one of many persons of all genders with whom I have a soul contract. The following quote is from an article that explains soul contracts and sacred contracts, which I have come to firmly believe in on both the intellectual and spiritual levels. It just makes sense to me given my personal experiences and interpersonal ones as well.
These are people who become key to the progressions in life like your parents, certain friends, romantic partners, spouses, and siblings. These souls can also be people that you only know for a brief time but who have an impact on your life and open up opportunities related to your Sacred Contract.
I don't know for how long I will have a deep connection with anyone with whom I have a soul contract. It is something we, hopefully, will mutually decide if we have respected one another and have continued to make an effort to see the other's wholeness as an individual.
Being married is a tremendous amount of hard work. It's an agreement between two people to devote themselves to making a life with one another and always consider the other in making decisions that involve everyone living under their roof. It sometimes requires us to delay our own ideas, druthers, or even comfort for the sake of the couple/family as a whole. It demands open communication and when that isn't in place, things will be guaranteed to be extremely unhappy or fall to shambles. In order to maintain a romantic relationship with someone, you MUST respect them. You MUST make an effort to be a witness to their life, emotions, and dreams. You MUST be willing to meld them with your own where you can. You MUST be willing to bare witness to the others erotic and explore it with them. Otherwise, if we cannot make exceptions for our partners, or we do not feel seen, wanted, or respected by them, some action needs to happen.
In this life, I have loved a number of soulmates. I still love them and always will. I will love them for what they taught me. I will love them for the time they spent with me, and their willingness to see me beyond what the average person opens up to seeing. I will be grateful for what I share with them.
I've realized that love isn't something that should be controlled. We all need to feel wanted and cared for, and we can all find that if we open ourselves to loving and being loved. We cannot force another to accept our love or force someone to love us. That's the beauty of it. "It hurts so good." Those individuals we grow to love have to be ready to accept what we are offering. The need is there in all of us, but it is the want that matters when it comes to love. It is the want and the ability to acknowledge that one is worthy of another's love. If those things aren't there, there's a forcing involved, and the relationship will be strained.
After years with someone, sometimes complacency can occur. One, the other, or both of you can become too satisfied with how you've formed your life together that you fail to see the reality of your own or your partner's feelings. Depending upon the personalities in the relationship, one partner can feel like things are going well and the other like they are drowning. Blindness to the others reality can occur. It can alternatively result in arguments that go nowhere. If we are living life on autopilot, we won't understand what is happening, proper communication won't occur, and the relationship will be unfulfilling or end in an unhealthy way. If you choose to make a life with someone, be willing to learn yourself enough to know when you need to open a channel of frank, respectful communication and when it is time to walk away out of love for the other and yourself.
In this world, there are too many strained and contrived relationships. There are too many that should have never resulted in marriage and many more that ended needlessly. There's so much heartache in this world that none of us should endure a relationship as a martyr. If we are going to raise the next generation to be strong, independent, comfortable, and unembarrassed to love, we have to show them that love means many things. Love is the ultimate strength. Mothers and fathers shouldn't preach contempt for one or the other to their children. If they at one time cared enough for each other to make a life and to have children, they should continue to respect each other if at all possible. Again, it takes two. If the partner is unwilling to act in a way that allows friendliness, it isn't something that should be taken out on children.
I don't know what the future holds for my family. What I hope is that I have partnered with someone who will always remain my friend and someone who I can always hold the deepest respect for. I think I have. I also have to trust myself enough to not be so self sacrificing that I become sad and stifled, or so bent on my own desires that I sacrifice the good of my family and the person I partnered with. I pray that my partner will do the same. What I want people to know who think things are perfect just because you can give a big number of years, or because you've been with someone since you were a teen to know is that it isn't cute. It isn't always happiness and roses. Many times, it isn't even sweet. What I also want to say is that is okay. We're all growing. Sometimes we grow together. Sometimes we need to grow apart. The most important thing is that we do our best to live consciously, and acknowledge the Divinity in others. We have to see our impact on others. We have to try to understand ourselves. We must have a deep desire to share ourselves, but to also provide the nonjudgmental arms for another to be vulnerable in. None of these things are easy. It's all hard work. Relationships are hard work. If one lasts many years, it isn't a coincidence or a fluke. It isn't a fairytale. It isn't guaranteed to last another day.
Think of it this way. Our paths cross like a web. Some of our paths will be connected always. Some only briefly. Yet, each thread is needed for the whole design to appear. We need each and every person in our lives. They offer us a piece of themselves as a lesson to cherish whether hard or simple, devastating or sublime. Be thankful. Be thankful and grow in your personal understanding. Grow in your ability to act from a loving place in all areas of your life. Do this, and you will find your many soulmates and have a life filled with love. As bittersweet as that might be, it is our truth.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.