Two Halves Don’t Make a Whole: How to Love the Messiness of Your Relationship

I’ve always relegated Valentine’s Day to just another Hallmark holiday—full of trite sentiment that made me roll my eyes. But I have to admit that there were many years when I really bought into the idea that was sold to me: that someone out there had the capacity to fill the heart-shaped hole inside of me and to finally make me complete. (And hopefully, chocolate and flowers and jewelry would be part of the deal.)

The lure of romance is sweet, and I longed to experience the kind of soulful, earth-shaking love that would transform my life. But transformation is messy, and it doesn’t usually come courtesy of a perfect partner who’s there to fulfill our every need and make us happy.

I have to keep reminding myself: Happiness is an inside job. Partners are here to support us and share the peaks and valleys of life with us, but they aren’t here to feed into our idealized images of perfection. I think that most of us already know this, but it’s easy to put our blinders on. I know that in my first marriage, I was certainly guilty of fantasizing about a different relationship with a different man who 100% got me and was the peanut butter to my jelly.

As it turned out, my ex and I did have our fair share of compatibility issues, but now that I’m with a partner to whom I’m totally devoted, I realize that the fantasy is a fiction. Moreover, the expectation that there is someone out there who’s perfect for us is bullshit.

Say it with me: Just as there’s no such thing as perfection, there is no perfect relationship. And whether we are single or not, companionship is usually only as good as our own relationship with our number one: our very own self.

So if relationships aren’t supposed to make us whole, what are they for in the first place? This Valentine’s Day, consider the value of messiness in your relationships (romantic and otherwise). Messiness is what makes for more fun, deeper connection and intimacy, greater trust, expanded compassion, more room for acceptance and self-expression, and some of the best damn lessons you’ll ever learn. Here are my tips for how you can incorporate messiness into your own relationship—and learn to celebrate the imperfections.

  1. Look at what you value. So many people end up in relationships because they’re convenient or because they don’t want to be alone. You know that you’re better than that, so get clarity on your priorities and what you want in a relationship and partner. This isn’t about making a laundry list of the qualities you desire (like pretty eyes and a sense of humor); although that’s a great start, it’s more important to focus on your own belief systems and whether or not your relationship choices are aligned with what you actually care about. Do you continually fall for partners because they meet the requirements of your superficial, societally approved checklist? Are you paying attention to your deeper values and needs? There was a point in my life when I recognized that solidity, reliability, and kindness were way more important to me than being with someone who looked “good,” was spiritually conscious, and met everyone else’s expectations—but it took me a while to get there. Often, you don’t figure out what you need until you go through a relationship or two (or more!), and this is OK. And please remember that just because a relationship ends doesn’t mean that it wasn’t successful or didn’t fulfill a meaningful purpose, especially if it helped bring you closer to who you actually are.
  2. Don’t make your partner your everything, and vice versa. The mistake that a lot of people make, and that is built into our society, is acting like a romantic partner is the solution to your problems: the person who is supposed to automatically make you happy and sprinkle magical fairy dust all over your life. This is an inevitable setup for disappointment. In truth, you don’t need to share all the same interests, enjoy doing everything together, or even be best friends in order to have a fulfilling relationship. Enjoying and learning from your differences is powerful, as the best relationships are meant to complement you rather than to be extensions of you. When you center your entire existence around the person you love, you miss out on so much: the beauty of your friendships (which I consider soul connections that are just as important to me as my marriage), the activities you love to do regardless of whether or not your partner joins you, and your own sense of self and independence.
  3. Complete yourself. Focus on cultivating your own sense of self instead of criticizing your partner for what they are missing. We often tend to fixate on our partner’s shortcomings when there is a part of us we haven’t yet developed. Get real with your number one if there’s something you might need to work on to make yourself happy. And instead of of fixing your partner, work on bringing your own messy brilliance to the table. Because wholeness isn’t about perfection—it’s about full self-expression.
  4. Get messy with each other. The true joy of relationships is that they help you access the deepest, rawest, realest parts of yourself. The most fulfilling relationships aren’t the ones that look good or always seem happy; they’re the ones where you tap into your vulnerability and courage, and engage in deep truthtelling. I know I don’t normally feel safe with men, but for me, true intimacy is sharing the messiest parts of myself with my husband and trusting him to hold space for me to the best of his capacity, with no judgment. True intimacy requires that level of safety, which can sometimes be scary to ask for or venture into. To some people, it can sometimes look like “drama” or even “fighting,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Putting everything on the table with the utmost respect for yourself and your partner is what helps build greater trust and love while strengthening your bond.

When we, as women, can finally accept the messiness of our relationships and get clear about the fact that our partners are not here to complete us, we actually give ourselves a fair shot at the happiness we desire. That’s because relaxing our attitudes around love and relationships naturally brings us back to what we are truly capable of, which is beyond our wildest expectations. It helps us see that wholeness is achievable not through perfection, but through changing our priorities so that we can embrace our messiness (and that of our partner), connect to what we most value, and welcome true intimacy.

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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3 comments to "Two Halves Don’t Make a Whole: How to Love the Messiness of Your Relationship"

  • Latika Teotia

    Very beautifully expressed Kelly !!! Loved it <3

  • Lucy Brummett

    I loved this Kelly! You are absolutely right and I liked your perspective on it too. So many times we forget about ourselves in the process and you talking about messiness makes it better. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to fix the other person. Thank you;)