For 9 months I abstained from romantic relationships.
It’s a choice I made after stepping out of my longest romantic relationship (over 3 years) and my most committed (we were engaged).
Our relationship in many ways had been a fairytale. I first saw her across a dance floor and was drawn to her immediately.
We were friends for a while. My crush was apparent to both of us. Her attraction took more time to develop.
We had an intense first date in a far off city. That left both of us wondering if this thing was going to happen. After all, we lived across the country from one another.
And then I showed up on her doorstep with flowers two days later. Saying I was moving to her city if she’d have me.
She said yes and the fairy tale began.
But of course, there was a lot that wasn’t very magical. I had to work hard to adapt to her. Her diet. Her need for quiet. For things to always be a certain way.
We ignored the things that didn’t make sense. Like how differently we felt about having kids. Like how we fought when we played music together. Like how loud and messy I tend to be and how super neat she wanted everything.
We thought our love was enough. And it was… until it wasn’t.
Now after some time and space to reflect I can see ‘some’ of the mistakes I made.
And a lot of them had to do with how we never really found the rhythm to our relationship. This rhythm is something people don’t talk about a lot.
They talk about polarity and compatibility. They talk about good sex and communication but the rhythm is something else entirely.
EACH RELATIONSHIP HAS A RHYTHM
There’s your rhythm. The way you do life, laundry, shopping, eating. It’s more than just the method or process. It’s the beat to your life.
And then there’s your partner’s rhythm. The way they clean a kitchen, cook dinner, decide which movie to watch on Netflix.
And then there’s the rhythm of the relationship. How we do laundry, talk about our days, decide when to have sex, and dream about the future.
This is the rhythm that determines how a relationship works. It determines what gets talked about, what values are prioritized, and eventually what creates the feeling of a relationship.
But if you’re like most people, you never find this rhythm, because you don’t know how to create it. Instead, you’re probably doing one of three things
- One of you is fully adapting to the other’s rhythm:
This is a lot of what I did in my last relationship.
She didn’t eat gluten so I didn’t. She didn’t like watching scary movies so we never did. She needed quiet time at certain hours so I tried to be quiet.
In my mind, I was being chivalrous. I was loving her. But what I was really doing was denying my own needs. Until my needs came knocking like an angry loan shark.
Now it might be that one of you just has more of a rhythm to their life. That’s ok. You can use one person’s rhythm as more of a baseline. But you can’t just go by one person’s rhythm. At least most of us can’t. Because while it may work for that one person, it probably won’t work for the relationship.
And even if it does, one person adapting to another is a hallmark of codependency which makes for a deep but also very unhealthy connection.
So if one of you has a more established routine it’s ok to start there, but you have to find a way to adapt, to modulate, to include what the other partner needs and wants.
If you’re the more routine oriented person, the transition will be hard. You don’t have to change everything but it’s important to make space for the new rhythm to emerge.
If you’re not making space, you might be doing this instead . . .
- You’re both compromising all the time
This is another mistake I made later on. I mean luckily we realized we had to shift our dynamic. I owned up to pretending not to have needs. But then instead of owning what I wanted, we simply tried to find a middle ground.
This may seem like the obvious solution. You don’t like Thai food, I don’t like Indian, so we’ll get tacos instead.
And while it may make sense logically, the rhythm of a relationship isn’t simply the halfway point between your beat and mine.
Over time you’ll both end up unhappy. You’ll be eating Tacos and dreaming of pad Thai, while I dream of a fluffy dosa floating on a cloud.
There’s a time and a place for compromise but what makes a relationship workable isn’t just splitting the difference. It’s about each of you really owning what each of you wants: to feel, experience, do, and embody. And then working to create a rhythm that has those needs and desires met on a regular basis.
This can be hard for many people to accept. Especially if you’re the partner who’s used to giving in and setting aside your needs. It’s vulnerable to say I want this.
I’d like if we went for a walk together after work, I’d like you to buy me flowers every week. I don’t want to go on vacation with your family. I don’t want to watch TV while we eat dinner.
Owning what you want is scary. Because you might not get it. Because it may create conflict. But without that honesty, you can’t find the rhythm of the relationship and you can’t see if it has the potential to last long term.
Then again even if your relationship has lasted a while it’s still possible to lose the rhythm. This leads me to the 3rd place relationship rhythms go to die. . .
- One or both of you has become resigned or victimized by the pattern of your relationship
This happens when one or both of you have created a rhythm that doesn’t work. Or you’re still following a rhythm that once worked but isn’t’ serving you anymore. Then, instead of addressing what’s not working you simply decide that it can’t be any different.
This happens a lot with people who have kids or for people who have been in a relationship for a while.
This happened to me about 2 years into my last relationship. I gave up on having the kind of sex life I wanted, I resigned myself to having a partner who was ambiguous about having kids, and I gave up on being able to feel heard when we fought.
It would be easy to blame my partner for this but my giving up wasn’t on her. Sure she contributed to our dynamic but it was really all about me just not advocating for myself anymore. I stopped sharing what I needed in an attempt to maintain a peace that wasn’t that peaceful, to begin with.
You see, a relationship rhythm isn’t the same as a relationship rut. It’s not a default position your relationship gets stuck into like the way you can’t help humming holiday carols in December. It’s not something that you just fall into. It’s active. It’s something you have to actively discover and bring life to.
A relationship rhythm is an act of creation.
You and your partner have to birth it together. You have to create it. And you can either do it unconsciously (like so many people do) out of old habits, childhood wounds, and baggage.
Or you can create it out of love, possibility, and innovation.
So if you want Indian and you partner wants Thai, maybe you find a farmers market that has a great booth for each. Or maybe you cook a meal at home that starts with thom kha soup and dosa and moves on to a fusion curry dish.
You don’t compromise and you don’t give up. You find what the needs are at the very foundation and create something that satisfies them both.
You create a rhythm that is something unique to the two of you. And then you see how that feels.
Because that’s really what makes a relationship work. It’s not the cuteness of one of your smiles or the ability of one of you to cook gourmet meals. It’s about how the relationship you create looks and feels to both of you.
To do this well you have to know who you are and why you care about buying organic food. You have to really understand why your partner loves cleaning even if you think it would be more efficient to hire a cleaning service.
To find a rhythm is to find real intimacy, to truly discover what makes you tick as a couple. And while it can be challenging, it is certainly worth the effort.