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Authentic Partnership: ten years and counting

What started out as romance 10 years ago has turned into an ever-evolving journey of authentic partnership.

Harlan and his travelling companion Paro!

It was Labour weekend 2007 that Harlan made the bold move to come over to the Sunshine Coast, Australia, to visit me. We’d met two weeks before I was booked to fly to Brisbane and go and work my way up the East Coast for an indefinite amount of time. We’d clicked, but my Inner Mean Girl was worried that he might be wasting his time flying over two months after I’d left when we didn’t really know each other.

We kept in touch via letters as I spent time working in backpackers in Noosa and Rainbow Beach, and the closer we got to Labour weekend the more excited I was! Harlan hired a Wicked Campervan from Brisbane and I met him in Noosa to share three days together. There was lots of swimming, exploring, talking, lounging and passion. A day or two in I asked him if he wanted to come to Australia and go travelling with me. He thought about it over a shower and decided “Yes!”.

Taking off in our newly acquired camper-van (Maxine)

He flew home and gave notice on his job, and a few weeks later I flew back to NZ to find a job and start saving for our trip. In May 2008 we arrived in Brisbane together to begin our three-year long working adventure in Australia.

In these ten years there’s been so much adventuring, learning, loving, laughing, planning, deepening, and fun! There’s also been disagreements, fights, emotional stretching, some days where we both want to walk away in different directions, frustration, and a lot of extra tricky navigation because of my healing journey.

But through that all, we’ve kept communicating.

We’ve maintained communication, even if sometimes it’s one pushing for it and the other pulling back. Even if it takes a few days to open up. There’s been raw, open honesty, and the strong desire for connection. When it’s been deeply, frighteningly tough, we’ve come back to that base of communication and also injecting a little humour and lightness, even if it takes tears, space and frustration in between.

You see two years after we met we attended a couples’ workshop (with Harville Hendrix) in Melbourne to provide us with some specific communication tools. We also read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and then last year went to another couple’s workshop in New Zealand called Emotionally Focussed Therapy. We didn’t go as a last resort. We didn’t go seeking these tools because our relationship was broken and needed fixing. With my mum being a psychologist and all, I learned that: communication tools are important before you hit emergency mode at the bottom of the cliff (in any relationship).

The thing is, we weren’t given the handbook for how to navigate authentic partnership with another whom we share our life with.

We weren’t handed out the tools when we left school and told “here you go – use these to navigate your relationship and they’ll really help you through the times when everything isn’t ‘easy’ and in the ‘flow’. So these decisions were made because we knew we needed this and also sometimes needed a mediator to help us through trickier topics.

For my own journey I’ve gifted myself with regular counselling in the last couple of years. By default, of course, it has filtered out into my partnership with Harlan. The more I have developed my self-awareness and self-honesty, the more I am able to own my stuff, and the more I can show up in this relationship without a whole bunch of unnecessary heavy baggage and make Harlan pay for crimes he didn’t commit.

During this journey I have also realised that I need to be able to give myself what I need instead of expecting those things from Harlan. Sometimes when I’ve been lonely and desperate for company it’s been because there is a hole of emptiness inside of me that I need to fill. But until I realised that, I was liable of lashing out and demanding more time with him and pushing him away. Or if I’ve been looking for acknowledgement, it’s because I haven’t yet acknowledged myself in the way that I desire. I can only fully and truly receive from Harlan what I already give to myself.

I’d love to say, that with these tools, learnings and insights it’s become easy and breezy – but I would be talking nonsense.

A lot of things have become easier though: when we find ourselves in our downward dance we are both able to identify it earlier and move ourselves back to connection; I am getting better at timing my ‘truth-telling’; Harlan finds open communication easier; we both own our parts more easily. And even though in that sweet romantic honey-moon phase in the early days there was less of the challenging and more of the fun, ten years into the journey our connection is so much deeper, fuller and richer.

I think a lot of us would like to think that love is the main ingredient for a strong relationship. But I’m of the belief that authentic partnership requires more than just love – otherwise we could end up partnering with many different people throughout life, right? It requires respect, openness, trust, and truth – not just with each other but also with ourselves. I believe it also requires patience, compassion, gentleness, and the knowing that we can’t change another.

Through the many, many dark days that I experienced on my recent healing journey, Harlan has been my rock, my dearest friend and often the only one I could share my painful space with! He has known when to use lightness and humour, and when to say nothing and just hold my hand or give me a hug. He has made me 100s of teas and allowed his t-shirt to dampen with my tears of despair.

I am so deeply grateful for Harlan!

In this space we have learned together – me how to more often ask for what it was that I needed (rather than expecting him to intuit it), and him that he didn’t need to fix me or offer solutions; me to be aware of taking my pain out on him, and him not to take my outbursts as personally.

And then sometimes we both get it really wrong, because we’re human. We’re all only human. And we’re all doing the best we can in each moment. Remember that! You are doing the best you can in this moment!

Hitting pause to take stock of your relationships (past or present), provides insight into what it is that you’ve learned and gained on this journey together. This insight is a powerful thing, because it brings awareness to things you can celebrate and also aspects that may need more exploring.

Are you willing to take stock of your relationships and what insights they’ve allowed you? Go on, I dare you xx