Our story is unique. But like many others who choose to love despite the distance, we are a product of our perseverance.
We have endured a 15-hour time difference, missed phone calls, and horrific internet service.
However, the worst of them all is that rush of yearning you get without warning. It creeps up to you uninvited and reduces you to unfulfillment.
Having someone to love, yet being apart from them is one of the worst things to ever happen to someone.
But such is the beauty and magic of love. And in particular, ours is a story I will never get tired of telling.
Here is the premise: Take a long-distance couple, fly them off to another country together, and have them stay in the same space 24 hours a day while the world battles through a pandemic.
It was like a bad sitcom trope.
Unlike any other love story, ours begins in the middle. Five months into our relationship, we decided to take a trip together. It was going to be our first time meeting each other. It was going to be great.
But right at the cusp of our budding relationship, the world falls apart.
It has been a life-changing few months for my partner and me.
For most of us, the pandemic is a disruption on our daily individual routines, a deviation from the normal, a complete nuisance. Living now comes with restrictions, and for the greater half of the year, we were all required to stay in our homes.
We had to adapt. And adaptation came in many forms. Many of us learned how to cook. Some of us rediscovered long-abandoned hobbies and passions, and for others, lost connections.
Life has not been the same since the outbreak. But we learned, and we grew.
We came to Malaysia over four months ago, just a few short days before the country went into lockdown. What was originally a three-week stay became four months of quarantine and social distancing.
As foreigners, it was especially challenging. The first two months were mostly spent at our Airbnb, isolated from the outside world, and sustained by food delivery and take-outs.
Suffice to say, it was maddening.
Here I am stuck with someone I have only talked to over video calls. All of a sudden, I am living with another human being so completely and entirely different from me.
I wish I could tell you it was a dream come to life. But sugarcoating our experience is a disservice to what we have become in these last few months.
Being quarantined with a partner could either make or break the relationship. I have lost count of how many times I thought we could not make it. But we chose to get back up, dust ourselves off, and try again.
Here are the important life lessons that we have learned in the last few months, and why you should apply them to your relationship too:
The foundation of any healthy relationship is proper communication.
When we started, we ran into miscommunication problems.
It was easy to be misunderstood simply because there was no context to confide in.
We had to depend on our willingness to tell each other how we felt. And more often than not, I have resigned to the idea that saying something would just make things worse.
As a result, I learned to sweep my feelings under the rug.
While others can freely express themselves and their emotions, some do not always find it easy.
I have always reassured myself that it would get better in person. Yet having all the context in the world did not discard the fact that I simply disliked telling my partner my feelings because it made me feel uncomfortable.
This is unfair, not only to my partner but also to myself. My partner is obligated to hear me out, and it is my right to be heard.
We have to remind ourselves that it takes two people to make a relationship work.
And while each person has different styles of communication, it is important to come together as a unit and to find a way of communicating that would suit the relationship.
Although the practice of communication will never be perfect, any good relationship allows the space for it and the understanding that it will require constant hard work.
However, our failure to properly communicate at the beginning of our relationship made us unable to set boundaries with each other.
Therefore, living with my partner, especially for the first time and under the current circumstances, became heavily problematic.
Not to mention, our situation also forced us to advance so fast into the relationship in such a short amount of time that we were overwhelmed to the point of losing ourselves as individuals.
Thus, it became crucial to set aside time and space just for ourselves.
Our alone time kept us in check, and it helped us get in touch with our inner selves. Setting aside a little bit of time every day allowed a safe and strong dialogue about our mental health.
Knowing each other’s boundaries can also be beneficial during disagreements. Knowing when to stop a conversation, and when to pick it back up again is essential to a thriving relationship.
Giving ourselves time to cool our heads off permits reassessment of the situation rather than letting our emotions get the best of us. This way shows our partner that they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.
Argue with respect
Disagreements are unavoidable yet necessary.
Dr. Laura VanderDrift, associate professor of psychology at Syracuse University, stated that “arguing — as long as it’s done without contempt, criticism, and defensiveness — can strengthen a romantic relationship.”
Never run away from having arguments with your partner. But always remember that even during arguments, respect should always be at its forefront.
Arguing over the phone is so much more different than in person.
Long-distance was a detriment to confrontations. Real-life, on the other hand, thrusts us into it.
Hence, it is easy to get emotionally biased.
I have a bad habit of raising my voice whenever I am worked up. My partner tells me that not only is it unhelpful, but it also triggers him. Consequently, he says things that he does not mean.
Our arguments were poor and unhealthy.
We disrespected each other every time we cursed or raised our voices. We realized that by disrespecting our partners, we relay to them that we do not love them.
Our mistakes have opened our eyes to the toxicity of our actions.
In every argument, it is important to remember that it is you and your partner versus the problem.
Therefore, you and your partner should help each other out instead of tearing each other down.
Always know when to accept faults and to reach a resolution. If you are unable to, go back to number two of this list, and apply correspondingly.
Be firm and hold your ground
As people who come from opposite sides of the world, we have our own set of beliefs, ideals, and principles.
Just because we choose to come together as a unit, it does not mean that we lose sight of who we are and what we stand for.
My partner and I have different perceptions because we grew up in entirely different cultures. We have diametrically opposing views on some issues.
There is a clear disparity between us — both in our understanding and approach to life.
Therefore, it is paramount that we assert our ideas clearly and concisely.
According to the University of Cambridge, being assertive is a type of communication that expresses needs, feelings, and preferences in a way that respects both ourselves and the other person… stating clearly what you would like to happen, but not demanding that it does.
Conversations are only favorable when we hear them out, understand from their point-of-view, and criticize accordingly.
Being firm with our beliefs and principles also emphasizes how we want to be treated. There is nothing wrong with declaring to a partner that this is how we want to be addressed.
Sharing is caring
Sharing the same space consents you to share everything. From food, chores, to everything in between, we have nobody else to rely on but each other.
It strengthens our bond and our openness with each other. It makes space for growth.
Sharing also allows us to experience things from our partner’s perspective. Sharing tells our partner that we care about them.
Our journey has been eye-opening. We have learned so many things about each other, and ourselves. And while there is still a lot of room for improvement, we have come a long way.
We learned things the hard way, but the important thing is we learned them anyway. At the end of the day, we are two equally flawed people who are making the best out of our circumstances.
This is what I want for you to take away from all of this: Loving someone requires us to accept them in all of their glory, and all of their faults. And it is in actively choosing to be better people do we prove to our partners that we deserve them.
Wherever you are right now, I hope you choose to love every day.
Written by Nicole.