Relationships Are Only as Strong as the Individual Within

My girlfriend and I had an argument recently. Ever since we adopted our pet chicken, she’s been constantly spending more time with it to the point where I started to feel neglected.

It wasn’t a full-blown argument; we rarely get those now, but if anything, it was a honest realization of where our relationship was headed.

Many people treat relationships as a do-once-and-forget kind of deal. You put in the effort initially, spend as much time as is required on dates and lengthy conversations, but once the relationship is established, refuse to put in any additional effort. Date nights become ‘just another dinner,’ and spending time together begins to feel routine; and before you know it, you’d rather do the things you like, or do the things you don’t like but have to (work), because it’s assumed your partner will still be there at day’s end.

That’s what happened to us. Most of our time together in our relationship has been to travel — on some days, we’d explore the Batu Caves of Kuala Lumpur, on others, we’d take the small Bangka boats to the coast of Boracay, and occasionally, we’d visit the Wat Arun temple of Bangkok. Every day was an adventure and we ate exotically — in the alleyways of China, at the street stalls of Taiwan, inside the food centers of Singapore, and we traveled — riding our moped alongside the rivers of Vietnam, sitting in the populous MRTs of Hong Kong, and bus-hopping across the border of Cambodia.

So when you compare our experiences from before to now, back in the States living under my parent’s roof, in a culture that we once grew up in but no longer feels familiar, all the while struggling to stay true to our paths despite the many different expectations and responsibilities, it’s easy to see the present as lackluster and routine.

Instead of focusing on what we have, we’ve found ourselves focusing more on what we had; which is to say is a terrible way to live, if all we ever look forward to is the past.

So while our relationship remains strong, it feels shaky, because we know without a doubt as we’ve seen in similar situations with friends and family, that the path we’re headed towards — if we continue taking each other for granted, if continue to focus our efforts on something other than our relationship, we’ll drift further and further apart. We’ll still love each other, but it will no longer the kind of romantic I’m-in-love-with-you love, but rather the familial kind you share with friends and family.

And we don’t want that. We desperately don’t want that.

I used to say, relationships are only as strong as the individual within, but now I realize that relationships are only as strong as the efforts of the individuals within. To make a relationship work, you can’t just elevate yourself — you have to elevate each other. If your partner is struggling, has flaws, it’s not your responsibility to fix those flaws. But it is your responsibility to encourage and support them in fixing those flaws. Only by helping your partner succeed while elevating yourself will make the relationship stronger.

Relationships, like everything, require nurture. They’re only as meaningful as you make it them to be, and whether you think the relationship is over, or just beginning, you’re right.

Why Going Above and Beyond to Do Everything for Your Partner Is Toxic to the Relationship

One of the things I value most about my relationship is being transparent; when you’re open and fully honest with your partner, even if it means feeling vulnerable at times, you allow for the relationship to deepen.

So anytime we feel good or bad about something, we share, even if we know it’ll hurt. Which is why last night, I brought up how I felt: after coming back to the States, having traveled together all over Southeast Asia, our relationship no longer felt as strong as it had been before.

Was it from the lack of novelty, I wondered, from having gone from one country’s sights to the next to suddenly being stuck at home, under my parent’s roof much less?

Was it from the difficulties of readapting to a culture once familiar, now felt foreign?

Was it from the pressures of friends and family silently encouraging us to get married and have kids like everyone else?

We talked for hours; this wasn’t a conversation that happened just once, but throughout the course of many days of many weeks — we wanted to know why we felt this way despite still feeling so enormously in love. And as with how most relationship struggles seem at first — silly, but with underlying issues, we pinpointed ours to the building of a chicken coop.

A few weeks ago, we adopted a chicken. Not knowing where it came from — having found it dropped in our backyard with its legs paralyzed, we decided to take care of it. Our neighbors didn’t know where it came from and no shelter could afford to care for a chicken that couldn’t walk, so we decided to build it a chicken coop to give it an actual home.

The plan was my girlfriend’s and I wanted to support her, but somehow, somewhere along the journey, it became me that was designing and building the coop; on most days, my girlfriend would be out watching over and caring for Owl (our chicken), while I put the plan in action.

But I didn’t want to. I had responsibilities of my own and building a coop was the last of my priorities. But I did anyways, because I thought that’s what you do in a relationship — you support your partner in doing what they want.

But that’s precisely where I was wrong — building it for her, thinking that I was supporting her, was simply denying her of the responsibilities that comes with accomplishing goals.

I took away her opportunities to learn and to grow from the experience. But worse, I took away her confidence, the confidence she could’ve had from doing what she never believed she could.

It was simply entitled thinking on my part — by taking over her responsibilities, I implied that she was incapable of doing so on her own, that she had to rely on me in order to achieve anything, which is every bit inaccurate, and undeniably patronizing and unfair.

She’s one of the strongest people I know; before we were even together, she had already traveled Southeast Asia on her own, wrote and inspired thousands of others through her writing, transformed her body through exercise — it’s part of the reason why I fell for her in the first place: her strong-willed character and her desire to grow attracted me. So what does that say I’m doing to our relationship, if not sabotaging it, by taking away the very qualities I found in her to be attractive in the first place?

Supporting your partner is a must, but when you go above and beyond and do everything for them, you’re denying them of the growth they deserve. And when that happens, the entire relationship weakens: sooner or later, the person that is growing most from having taken the bulk of the responsibilities burns out; they feel burdened and unappreciated. The other person, robbed of their responsibilities feel unfulfilled and undeserving of their partners. And from there, the differences in opinions and values cause a rift, often a permanent one.

All the lessons learned in life are from the struggles we overcome. Relationships are the same. You might think you’re helping by taking full responsibilities for her problems, but in the end it only serves to hurt her. If you want to love, show encouragement and support — guide her, but don’t do the work yourself. Relationships are only as strong as the individuals within and that means allowing your partner to grow too.