My partner Andreas and I celebrated our 15th hookupiversary last New Year’s. Next year will be our 10th wedding anniversary. People, that’s starting to feel like a pretty long time. I remember being 22, already chewed up and spit out by two dysfunctional long-term relationships, feeling like I was already so old and jaded and damaged. (Oh, sweet baby Ariel! Adorable!)
15 years later, we’ve had a lot of time to figure out what works best for us in our relationship. About five years in, we realized that our relationship responsibilities generally fell into these job titles:
I was the Director of Logistics. He was the VP of Emotional Support.
Like any job titles, our responsibilities have shifted and grown over the years. Andreas is a better traveler than I am, so when we travel he is totally Director of Logistics. As I’ve mellowed out and become less histrionic, I’ve become less dependent on his Emotional Support services. (Less freaking out: always a good thing for the entire Fetzllings family enterprise!)
In finding these roles, we had to work through what felt complimentary and what just felt, well, co-dependent. How could we make the most of our strengths, and when were we just filling in for the other’s weaknesses? Certainly early on, we did a lot more compensating for each other’s failings. As mentioned, I was certainly known more for my emotional outbursts and neediness. Even at 22, I was ambitious and organized… but lordy was I fucking fragile. Andreas, bless him, was a bit of a walking organizational catastrophe, known for being a human embodiment of Mercury in Retrograde. But even at 21, he was already emotionally solid, grounded, stable, and fluent in emotional language. (Lesbian moms, man. The rumors are true!)
The first few years, I’m sure we used each other more as crutches for our own failings, but we grew out of whatever co-dependence we had. After years of being coworkers at our relationship enterprise, we started learning each other’s tricks over gossip at the water filter. He talked me down from a lot of the bad emotional habits I’d picked up during my first two relationships, and I taught him in the ways of my own life philosophy and key to organizational sanity, “A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place.”
We learned from each other’s skills, and so eventually became less of each other’s crutches, and more just as each other’s foundations. We also learned how to work constructively with each other’s limitations, constructively shifting personal shortcomings into our collective betterment.
Collective betterment wtf?
Wait, what does that even mean? “Collective betterment”? Clearly, I grew up with therapy-speak as my native tongue, but I actually do mean something by that. Here’s an example: I get deep joy out of figuring out the right places for things in our home. There has to be a place for everything! I have special strategies for getting rid of stuff, so there’s a place for the new stuff to go. Organizing is a happy place for me.
Andreas, meanwhile, is a creature of habit. He locks the door when he pumps the gas, because he locks the door every time he gets out of the car because that’s what you do: YOU LOCK THE DOOR. He’s still spacey at times, but he’s compensated by getting his habits down. This means that, once we get his habituated habits aligned with my organizational systems, we hit a domestic sweet spot:
“Should we keep this kitchen utensil in this drawer, or in this flower-pot next to the oven?” I ask.
“The flower-pot,” he says, and I know that from then until the end of time, that utensil will be in that fucking flower-pot.
If the flower-pot disappeared, Andreas would probably still put the utensil where the flower-pot had stood, just hoping it would hover there suspended in the space where it always is. See? Once we got our systems down? Sweet magic! His habitual, at-times spacey nature wasn’t a bug — it was a FEATURE.
In this same way, I think Andreas is like, “Yes, totally be a professional blogger because it keeps on your stupid dramaz pointed at the internet instead of my face. That’s awesome.” I still have my histrionic moments — it’s just that now instead of getting all worked up and over-dramatic over my relationship, I get wickedly bent out of shape over community management and reader complaints, where learning to deal constructively with those challenges has turned into a career. The overly-emotionally-invested girlfriend wasn’t a bug… she was a feature once she built a career to pour it into. (The fact that I’m using a corporate organizational metaphor to describe the love of my life should tell you all you need to know, really.)
Are the job titles still accurate?
So, yes: we’ve certainly both learned from each other’s skills. We’ve learned how to effectively channel each other’s shortcomings… But those original job titles remain. On a certain level, no matter how great he gets at his Executive Logistical Skills, I’ll always be the bossy-faced managerial type in the house. At this point, my logistical skills are just part of my personality. And while I’m a more emotionally grounded than I used to be, Dre’s generally the one whose blood pressure is lower. He’ll always be the more patient parent and the better listener and supporter. That’s just who he is. Our relationship may have shifted over the past 15 years, but the job titles are still accurate.
How do you complement your partner’s strengths? How do you compensate for their weaknesses? How are you learning from each other’s relationship skills?