Sara and Gina – both in their ‘40s – have been together for 11 years. They met at Sarah Lawrence College; Gina was part of the theatre department and Sara the dance department. Gina says, “We did say ‘hi’ to each other shyly for 2 years before we actually really spoke.”

Finally at a joint event they got a chance to get to know each other, and they quickly realized there could be something more between them. Here’s Gina:

It was a slow start where we both laid all our cards on the table really early … I had this relationship situation that I was trying to work through, and Sara had her own baggage about being alone or being connected to other people. We set up this framework to be very honest with each other from the beginning, so there wasn’t a lot of hiding or concealing or game playing.

 

Sara adds, “There was almost no superficial period to our relationship. Right off the bat it started off being very open and honest and us needing to be so in order to even get the relationship going.”

 

Sara Smith and Gina Siepel in their home in Greenfield, MA in 2015

Sara Smith and Gina Siepel in their home in Greenfield, MA in 2015

This foundation is evident in their dynamic. Both Sara and Gina passionately generate art and are clearly in awe of each other’s unique talents. They both understand the challenges, joys, and scheduling irregularities that go along with being an artist. One would expect a couple of 11 years to see eye-to-eye on most things. However, it’s the points on which they differ that show the work they’ve put into their relationship. The way they manage – and even celebrate – their differences is a large part of how their love lasts.

Gina says, “I think part of the reason our relationship works well is that we’re both compromisers. Neither one of us is a totally stubborn, my-way-or-the-highway kind of person.” After further thought, she adds, “But we haven’t exactly resolved it either. We haven’t gotten married, but we haven’t totally decided we’re not going to get married.”

As the shifting political climate presented marriage as an option, Gina’s attitude was one of, “why not?” Sara on the other hand was more apprehensive of the institution. Though they are already committed to each other for the long-term, they continue to dialogue on the issue of marriage, each coming a little closer to each other’s point of view.

Another great example of their communication and compromise is how Sara has worked through a lot of her discomfort with dependence:

My other relationships were with people that there was no danger of them asking me to ask them for things. They were very happy to have me be fiercely independent and not share fears and doubts with them. Gina was not. She’s more immediately emotional than I am – I have a distance from things. She was like, ‘I know you go through hard stuff sometimes – you must. I need you tell me when you are and ask me for help with that, because I will do that with you and if you don’t do that with me then I’ll feel like I’m the messy emotional one and you have it all together and that will make me feel like we’re not equals and that will make me feel insecure and the relationship will not work out.’ It never occurred to me before that; asking someone for emotional support was a generous thing to do for them, it wasn’t just needy on my part. I was so busy wanting to not be demanding of somebody. I was totally happy to have someone ask me for help but I never wanted to ask them for help because I thought it was putting them out. Gina helped me understand that sometimes letting someone know that you need help makes them feel needed – wanted – and lets them know you’re an entire human being – and they’re an entire human being – and being emotional is good. She’s helped me be more emotional with the world – and my family as a result. I’m also more physical with my family. I hug people. I never used to hug people. All of that is because of my relationship with Gina. She’s really good with that stuff. She’s always like, immediately warm. I was always more self-protective in that way. I thought I was doing something for other people by not asking them for that, but I realize it was more about self-protection.

 

When asked how they think about obstacles, and the possibility of the relationship not working out, Sara says, “It doesn’t feel real to think about it not working out. It feels like it did work out a long time ago, and now it’s just continuing to work out. “

Sara Smith and Gina Siepel in their home in Greenfield, MA in 2015

 

Their formula seems to work: be honest with each other, share your feelings, discuss things you don’t agree on, and compromise.

Does compromise play a big role in your relationship? What things have you come to a middle ground with your partner on?

Tell us about it in a comment below!

Daniel is a founding author of How Love Lasts.

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