What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me

by Kendall Keith
Mixed ethnicity family couple holding hands express support trust hope in marriage relationship, afr...

Relaxing in pure desert bliss with my boyfriend in Joshua Tree for our anniversary has me reminiscing on how far we've come in our 10-year relationship, and what I've learned along the way. I never thought this is where I would end up, nor did I think this was the circumstance I expected in terms of finding my lifelong partner. I couldn't be happier.

My first date with Rob (my now-boyfriend of 10 years) was dinner and a movie in Los Angeles. We met via an old pre-Tinder dating website, before online meet-ups were the norm. I was 22; he was 25. I remember being pleasantly surprised as to how cute he was in person, with his big blue eyes and beautiful, wavy red hair.

We connected over common interests and passions, including our mutual love for music, movies, and acting. I was instantly attracted to his kindness, emotional availability, and sense of humor. Although shy, chatting with him was stimulating, and I felt at ease; like I could be myself. He held my hand throughout the night. Butterflies were exploding in my stomach, and I knew at that moment it was real.

Despite a magical first date, I was just not ready for a commitment at that time, as I was focused on what to do with my post-college life. So I ghosted him (I am not proud of that) and dated someone else. In hindsight, I think we both needed that time to grow a little before truly committing to each other. When my other relationship ended a couple years later, I reached out to Rob to see about meeting up again, and he was open. I drove over to his apartment one evening and spent the night. We've been together ever since.

Ours is one of the healthiest and most fruitful relationships I have ever been in — but our journey hasn't been easy. There have been a lot of ups and downs, breaks, and make-ups. We have seen each other at our best and worst, but that's what real love is. That said, 10 years later, I can't help but ask myself: How did we get to where we are today? Ahead, some takeaways as I look back on our journey together thus far.

What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: The Honeymoon Phase Never Lasts

Our honeymoon phase lasted that entire first year of our relationship. We quickly fell in love, and I was riding a natural high I never wanted to end. We spent almost every day together, became exclusive after a month, said our “I love yous" by month two, and moved in together just a month shy of a year — something neither of us had done before.

However, soon after cohabiting, our honeymoon phase abruptly ended, and the true nature of our relationship began. The masks in which we presented our best selves were stripped down, the romantic high wore off, the pleasantries disappeared, and we were now exposing who we really were. Rob figured out I can be messy, while I discovered he is indecisive and forgetful. We would argue about whose turn it was to do the dishes, why I hadn't cleaned up my laundry, or why he still hasn't made a decision on an important upcoming work deadline.

It was at this point that we realized we needed to put in the work through negotiation and compromise. We've both accepted that neither one is perfect, and that as long as we put in equal effort, the relationship is worth continuing. Our deep love for each other kept us from giving up early on. It also helped us evolve into something better than the honeymoon phase.

In addition to his quirks and flaws, I discovered my boyfriend shows his love through our everyday interactions, practicality, and acts of service — such as running errands for me or surprising me with a homemade dinner from a recipe he found online. We found new ways to make time for each other and spice up our regular routine to keep the spark alive. We made more of an effort to set aside date nights — like picking out a movie from our old DVD collection. In this more vulnerable state we've established over the years, I feel listened to, understood, and appreciated.

What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: Communication & Healthy Conflict Are Crucial

About three years into our relationship, some heavy conflict arose between me and Rob. We weren't communicating well, and I was traveling and working abroad a lot, creating a sort of long-distance relationship situation. We struggled with being honest with each other and I felt frustrated that we were no longer intimate due to the aforementioned communication problems, as well as some financial stresses that also came about during that time. It was all a recipe for disaster.

Our breaking point came when I cheated while living and modeling in Cape Town, South Africa. Rob was no saint either, but there was no excuse for what I did. My insecurities and depression were at an all time high, and the lack of intimacy did some serious damage to our relationship. I feared he no longer wanted me, and I felt undesirable, so I sought it elsewhere.

It was at this point that we needed to decide if we wanted to save our relationship or move on. While incredibly difficult, the event presented a breakthrough of sorts in that we each chose the former and finally started to talk through our problems, boundaries, needs, and concerns. We each took accountability for our own behavior, and expressed how we felt about the other's actions.

Through research, therapy, and lots of time, I've learned healthier ways for us to communicate. These days, we make more of an effort to talk through our fights and keep the communication lines open to ensure our connection stays strong.

‌What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: Trust Is Essential

A couple cannot build communication without trust and when I cheated, I violated said trust. We were hurting and struggled with relying on each other.

In choosing to stay together, we made the joint decision to always be honest about our thoughts and feelings and to admit when we are wrong. We now do our best to remain vulnerable, give each other the benefit of the doubt (within reason), and commit to respecting one another's boundaries. Reciprocity is crucial; while everyone has their own dynamics that work for them in their relationships, I found that we do best when we treat each other as equals — from the chores and responsibilities we take on to the arguments.

‌What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: Filter Out The Noise

As the years have progressed in my and Rob's relationship, the expectations and concerns of friends, family, and even strangers, has increased tenfold. Meet-ups and gatherings often include a barrage of invasive questions — Are you guys ever going to get married? Do you want kids? Do you think you will regret it if you do/don't? Why or why not? — followed by unsolicited advice of why we need to do such things.

It's not that we do not want to get married — we do — but we want to do it on our own time and terms. And while we currently have no plans to have children, it is not completely off the table. We like our life the way it is, and I feel that we both still have goals we want to achieve before approaching such a life change.

We also run into problems as an interracial couple, especially in today's tense social climate. I have been told by many that interracial relationships do not work, and it is not worth the heartache (mind you, I am Black and mixed race, and have been in interracial relationships my entire dating life). Rob (who is white), at times, has been treated differently when seen with me or looked at with disdain. I would get chastised by fellow Black acquaintances for dating a white man. It was an eye opener for Rob, while sadly, I was not surprised, because I was used to the opposition from others.

I always appreciate (most) people’s input, but I have learned to take it with a grain of salt and filter out the unnecessary. I should not have to explain or defend myself to people who aren't in our relationship. What's important to me are my own needs and boundaries and those of my partner.

‌What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: Therapy Is Your Friend

Outside help and perspective in the form of therapy is important in that it helps you tackle and get to the root of underlying issues — where our behaviors come from and what drives us to the actions and decisions we make in our relationship. Understanding this helps us to make choices that are more thoughtful and beneficial to us individually and as a couple.

When my mother passed away a year and a half ago, Rob was my rock and support (as were my family and friends), but I knew I could not rely on him to solve my pain and grief. I took initiative and sought help to prevent it from affecting our relationship. I began cognitive behavioral therapy to help regain control of my grief, guilt, and overwhelming emotions that came from losing her. I understood it was my responsibility to take care of myself and not rely on my partner to fix my problems and feelings.

‌What My 10-Year Relationship Has Taught Me: Two Wholes Make One Heck Of A Team

I have developed some co-dependency habits that have been largely fueled by things like my history of depression and anxiety. The loss of my mother created additional obstacles, triggering feelings of insecurity that were difficult to overcome. My self-worth became dependent on my romantic relationship, which put a lot of pressure on Rob. I've realized in recent years that while my partner can support me, they cannot fix me — only I can. Through therapy and reconnecting with my self interests, I re-established how to be whole and happy with myself, without needing him or his validation.

I am so thankful to have someone like Rob, who is as attuned to my thoughts and feelings as I am to his. I love that we are independent of each other, and that adds value to our relationship. We complement one another and allow each other the freedom to be our true selves, while still being challenged and inspired to be better. We evolve and change as we get older too, and we make a conscious choice to choose each other every day to be together. It is that kind of commitment that keeps us going strong.

Here is to what the next ten years teaches us.