On Successful Relationships in Tiny Spaces

One of the questions we get most often is, how do we have a happy relationship in such a tiny space? How do we make it work? People throw those questions around casually, like there is one golden sentence that is the answer to it all. It is a question filled with curiousity. Our lives are all about our relationships, with ourselves, our communites, the world and one another. It is one of my biggest fascinations. it is a question I feel is deserving. So, here is an attempt to shine some light on what has worked for us as a couple, knowing that what works for us is not exactly the answer for other relationships.

I do not see our relationship as fleeting or temporary, it is full of magnitude, and a life time will not be enough to get to know him or myself as we are always in a state of growth, and that is a gift. There are always new things, new layers, new depths to learn and explore that make me fall in love with him in new ways. Relationships are complex, they are complicated beasts and always come with challenges, and those are the same things that make it worth it.  Some of these words come loaded with stigma, we fear and avoid anything complicated or challenging. I encourage the complicated, the dark, and the painful.That, to me, is the beautiful stuff. In those challenges are where I have really found gratitude and deep appreciation for my partner, and myself! In our living space, there is no where to run or hide, there is no avoiding. It makes it easier to consider what the other person is experiencing and makes it harder to bulldose your partners feelings and ignore issues. It is a lesson in patience. Sharing a space that small is a quick way to show you what your relationship is made of.

Living tiny has offered us space, more space than we had before, to really understand one another better, and ourselves for that matter. It’s offered us more space to explore the world, to explore what we mean to one another and to explore ourselves. The way we live is less about the physical space we are existing in and far more about our state of mind. If I choose to view our space as small, shrinking, not enough, that is exactly what it will be.

One of the biggest keys to us having a happy and succesful relationship is showing up, and showing up with love, being present and intentional. I do that by being present, and what being present means to me is that I really make an effort to hear what my partner is experiencing and try not to color it with what I am going through and what I’ve been through, I try not to diminish his experience/feelings by only seeing my own hurt. When you allow someone the space to really feel and express, you are offering yourself that space as well. It’s not easy to stop, step back, and give that space to someone if you feel you aren’t getting it. But how can I expect that if I am not willing to offer it? How can there ever be true healing and love if we shame and guilt one another? If my partner is not winning, we are not winning, and I am not winning. The “I am right and you are wrong” approach to communication is a quick way to kill a relationship. If we do not both walk away feeling like we are winning then we do not walk away, we continue to communicate until we both feel heard and safe. We are a team and we tackle obstacles together, not apart.

The language in which we communicate is stunted, and my personal biggest challenge in learning how to communicate lovingly within my relationships has been language. We aren’t exactly equipped with the knowledge on how to convey our feelings and how to understand what others are really saying through their hurt. Maybe we grew up being encouraged to “fake it” or we grew up with explosive parents, but as adults it is our responsibility to arm our selves with better skills and language, to no longer hold others responsible for how we do or do not show up in life. We expect a lot from our relationships. We expect a lot of understanding, but are we trying to truly understand others? Why and how they handle life situations? Understanding why my partner handles pain and fear a certain way and how he processes that pain and fear is a huge insight into who he is and how he can heal. Understanding the same about myself has been liberating, It has given me the freedom to offer so much more love to my relationships and to myself.

I am stupid in love and the only thing lucky about that is we happened to meet. Our love is not more special or unique than others, we do not blindly think we will be together forever and hope everything works itself out with no help from ourselves, we have made a collection of choices to put the time and energy into our relationship because we are worth that, because the comfort, love and passion we feel together is worth the work. We are not lucky, we are in love and it didn’t come easy.

– Kat

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For all of the strangeness that surrounds our current tiny house project (in combination with our ongoing life inside of a 54 square-foot camping trailer), the Number One question that Kat and I seem to get asked is, “How does living in a small space affect your relationship?” Below is my somewhat lengthy answer.

I bought the Cadet only weeks before meeting Kat, back in early 2012, so perhaps my subconscious was then using me to prepare for something that currently lay beyond my scope. I wasn’t even exactly sure as to why the small camper appealed to me, but it was cheap, it seemed a useful solution for an approaching music tour of mine out to Montreal and back, and when I learned that it could be towed by my pre-existing Toyota Yaris automobile, I was sold on it.

Kat and I met in late April of 2012 and within a couple of months were already planning a week long road trip with the Cadet out to Kentucky and back, to see some of her family. I think even then people wondered, some aloud, how this might affect our still-new relationship: living in close quarters together for seven or eight consecutive days, with no space for ourselves. The implied rhetoric of their questions then was obviously this: your love is new and without strain or struggle, so while you might think you are compatible, that is only because you’ve never had to test that notion, and travelling for a solid week without so much as a separate room to walk into for some breathing air is going to show the true colours of your so-called relationship. It’s fair to assume that a happy new relationship is only happy because it’s new – I assume this myself about newer couples all the time, and for good reason. Ordinarily and for the most part, the shell of such superficial happiness is exposed as fleeting and groundless, falling like a house of cards at the first breeze. For some reason though, I had a feeling that this was different. Kat and I had broken a lot of relationship ground in our first couple of months, discussing our most intimate of selves openly and indiscriminately, talking of anything and everything, and at any length deemed necessary. So by the time August and Kentucky rolled around, the week-long road trip flew by, very much testing our relationship as anyone could have expected, but – to the surprise of some – with us coming out of it feeling stronger and closer than ever.

The 1987 Nical Cadet is a relationship pressure-cooker, and what goes in can not come out the same. A month later Kat accompanied my band (at the time) on a nine-day music tour to Montreal and back; we then, for about a month afterwards, lived in the Cadet when we got back from that tour; in April 2013 we spent about five or six days on a trip to Chicago; then a long weekend in May out to Port Dover and Turkey Point. Each span of time spent in the Cadet only brought us closer and closer together, without exception, and only made us want it more and more all the time, until eventually plans were begun to leave our apartments altogether and live in the camper full time. So for us, the testing of our relationship only proved its resilience, and as such, brought us closer together over and over again. For six months from May until November of 2013, we shared our first apartment together, so we did have a little bit of time to adjust to living together before going full-time in the camper, but from the beginning, the intention of that first apartment was to consolidate our rent expenses and save some money before hitting the road on November 1st, 2013.

From November 1st until June 14th, so for about seven-and-a-half months, we lived full-time in the Cadet, travelling Route 66 from Chicago until Tulsa, then heading south through Texas, and then west through New Mexico, Arizona, and as far as California, before travelling north up the Pacific Coast Highway through Oregon and Washington State, arriving in Canada again in British Columbia and making our way east until we were once again back in Ontario. The interior size of the trailer is about 54 square feet, most of that floor space being covered by our bed, and then a shelf, a closet, and a sink. To add further stress to our living situation, we went for about a month before breaking down and buying a heater some time in December, and we spent the first four months travelling with no electricity whatsoever, until we upgraded to a single 12VDC battery and a 55W solar panel in March 2013, which operated lights, a water pump, a fan, and inverted some electricity to AC for charging phones and computers.

All of this is to say, I do believe that the camper experience, or in a more general sense, the experience of sharing such a minuscule living space, is definitely a test to the partners’ abilities in honesty, open and ongoing dialogue, and in handling disagreements. There is simply no room, for better or worse, for problems to fester, for incompatibilities to go unchecked, or for feelings to remain bottled up. Each issue must be unearthed and examined, as an excavation of sorts into the darker corners of the individuals as well as the partnership entity. From this experience there is no coming back from, and so I believe one would have to ask themselves, ‘What sort of relationship am I protecting if I have to hide any part of myself from my partner?’ Certainly after more than two years of partnership, and almost half of that with us existing in what is essentially a closet on wheels, the outward cynical rhetoric towards our so-called naivety has mostly subsided, and Kat and I have emerged closer and stronger than ever, all because we decided to tackle head-first our most uncomfortable of conversations upfront, very early on into our relationship.

This is not to say that living in a small camper, per se, is what every couple should experience in order to feel close and connected. That would be absurd. Most people would probably not be interested in such an experience, whether by themselves or as a couple. But to address the initial question of, “How does living in a small space affect your relationship?” The short answer is something like “Intensely”, or “Immensely”, or Very Much So… something to that effect. And if the question were posed more generally, like, “Why would you allow such an unusual amount of intimacy into something so delicate and precarious as a relationship?”, I guess the answer might be, “To see what it’s really made of.” A relationship is kind of like putting your faith into something that is unforeseen and impossible to quantify, and if there is no room to test it and prod it and see what happens, then you’d have to ask yourself what good it really was in the first place. So what do you have to hide? And what are you afraid of? These are the bigger questions, more important probably than where we choose to live or why.

By the time we move into our tiny house, it will have been exactly one year of living in the Nical Cadet, the 54 square foot Relationship Tester, and while we are excited for the bit of extra space that awaits us, the concept remains the same to us, and I would not take back a single moment spent with Kat in our cozy closet on wheels.

– Matthew

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