Learning to Love Openly

My boyfriend is fantastic.  

If you would have asked me a month ago, I would have told you how tumultuous our relationship has been.  I probably would have complained about a number of things that bothers me about Keith and basked in a glow of self-righteousness.  Would it have been right of me?  No.  But I would have done it anyway.  I did do it anyway.  (Please, Universe, forgive my mistakes.)

But today, if you ask me today – I would gush about how great he is.  About how little tiny things melt my heart.  About how great of a father he is, how great of a man he is, how generous and benevolent and caring he is.  It’s a much different tune than I would have sang a month ago.

So why the big, glaring change?  What’s so different now than a month ago?  Honestly, truthfully, very little.  The things that drove me nuts a month ago still drive me nuts today.  Keith is a very sensitive man, and not in the, “Oh honey you had a hard day, here’s a bouquet of flowers,” kind of way.  He’s sensitive in the terribly defensive way.  He has a temper, and it’s quick.  He judges people’s political views.  His communication skills are awful and he’s a terrible at making plans.  He lacks an amount of self-awareness.  He rarely does his dishes.

Keith and I are very different.  I have no political views.  I’ll spill my soul to anyone with an open ear and I’m great a planning.  I ALWAYS do my dishes – and immediately.  

In exploring our differences, I was ready to throw in the towel.  Relationships cannot survive without communication.  Keith doesn’t communicate.  Even when he does, he has no idea how he feels so our conversations are limited anyway.  I was fed up; I was tired of being the one to push for a connection; I was done.  

We decided that, before we called it quits, we should read a book or two together and give it a solid effort.  The book has been helpful, but even more helpful has been my meditation, my prayer, and my yoga.  In exploring my relationship with God, in asking for perseverance and strength to continue moving forward, I have been granted a wonderful gift.  Although I knew on a surface level that I would never be able to change Keith, I didn’t truly understand what this meant until I schlepped myself off to a cabin in the woods for several days to reflect on my life.  

This was just a few days after the largest fight Keith and I have had – the one where, I was pretty sure, was going to end it.  As I sat in my cabin that first night, having spent 8 hours meditating and praying and reading and breathing, I finally understood:  I was never going to change Keith.  I had a choice to make:  either leave the relationship, or love Keith as he is.  

Everyone says that.  Everyone knows that.  But until you truly feel it to the bottom of your soul, until you actually let go of that desire to have something else that this person is not – you never really fully understand it.  

Honestly, I had to think for a long time about whether or not I really wanted to keep trying, given the circumstances.  Keith is not religious, he’s not spiritual, he’s not anything.  The things that are most important to me, that most resonate with my soul, are foreign to him.  This was the hardest concept to grasp – that we might never be able to have a spiritual conversation.  Was this really important to me?  What requirements do I really need out of a life partner?  Spirituality and God is the most important thing in my life…  Is it necessary to share that number one priority with your spouse?

I spent a lot of time praying and a lot of time thinking on this topic for the next three days.  I wasn’t sure if I needed that in a relationship or not, but I did know that I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet.  Something was telling me to give it another shot, but with a different attitude – one of acceptance, one of love, no matter what the situation.

Since I made that switch – to love fully, completely – our relationship has improved.  It was not revolutionary and it certainly was not overnight.  I’ve struggled making myself uncomfortable, sharing my stories of spirituality and prayer and yoga with Keith, knowing he might not fully agree or understand.  I’ve made myself completely open and available – I stopped shutting down, I stopped talking to others about his faults, I started to pick out the things I like about him and celebrating those moments.  I started taking responsibility for the things I wanted done – like the dishes – and let everything else fall to the wayside.  

Making this switch has been incredibly rewarding.  Nothing really about Keith has changed at all – but my perception of him sure has.  Keith still has the same habits that used to drive me crazy, but (in my better moments) they are small reminders of the work I need to do on myself and my ability to love without fail.  I am not always successful – I still sometimes get upset when the dishes aren’t done, or when Keith jumps to the defense – but I’ve learned to forgive myself for my weak moments and extend that love to myself as well.

So, why put forth the effort for Keith?  Why, when there seems to be no connecting factor in the first place?

Because all relationships take work.  I know that.  I get that.  But even more so because…

Because Keith is a good man.  Keith is a great man.  Keith has no ill-intentioned bone in his body.  He is always placing someone else first before himself – whether it’s me, his parents, his son, clients at work, or even just a person in the street.  I can count on Keith.  I know in my heart, without a doubt, that if I ever needed anything he would jump to help me achieve it.  He supports my wildest dreams, even if he doesn’t understand them.  He listens to me ramble on about my passions, even if he doesn’t share them.  He reads books with me and he practices gratitude and he makes light of moments when I’m overly serious.  Keith is a great parent. He would never betray me and he would never leave me, barring a few severe instances.  The faults that he does have, he realizes and, as of recent, has been actively working on them.  

And Keith does little things every day to remind me that he loves me.  He doesn’t shower me with compliments or gifts, but he’ll make me tea if I ask.  He let me take the one car garage for my car.  He gave me full possession of the detached garage to convert into my own yoga studio.  In his free time, he offers to do projects that are important to me – he built me shelves for the hall closet, he built me a garden, he painted the dining room.  He isn’t a talker, but when I was having the worst dental pain of my life and couldn’t stop crying, he didn’t try to tell me it would get better or give me hope – he just held me and let me cry.

I am more than honored that Keith decided to invite me into his life, and I’m even happier that I made the decision to love from an open heart.  Our relationship is, currently, better than it’s ever been.  We are finally enjoying each others’ company again, and not just in superficial ways – we are learning to love better, to love freer, together.  I am enjoying sharing my journey with him, and he’s been slowly reciprocating at his own rate.

All long relationships are difficult.  I never expected that I would have to put forth so much effort – that the product of a good relationship might not be the person you are with (well I’m sure picking a good one helps – I think I got that down), but also how you treat and view the relationship.  This was not the model I grew up with and this was not what I expected – but it’s better than ever, and I could not be more satisfied.  I look forward to learning and exploring many more years with Keith.  

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