Jim and I waltzed into the Essential Kitchen Market. Rachel greeted us with a robust hug while exclaiming, “OMG you guys, 50 years, what’s the secret?’. Yes, Jim and I are in the process of making plans to celebrate our upcoming 50th anniversary and yes, this question has been asked of us more than once.
Interestingly, even though Jim and I have succeeded in creating a life with one another, now five decades in the making, we do not feel like experts on marriage; it makes us an expert on our marriage. Likewise, there are many things we have learned along the way that have contributed to the relationship we have today, the garden we have cultivated together.
Because there is evidence that others are interested in what we have to say, I am dedicating this month’s column and the next to my partner in life and love, Jim, and sharing a few of the lessons we have learned along a five-decade long journey. You may agree or disagree with anything I share. The truth is every relationship is different, the chemistry between marriage partners unique, and the results the product of both.
Jim and I met at 17 during our high school years. Yes, we were young, quite naïve, and immature. We had a great deal to learn and as the result of our early years, learned together. This sealed our lifetime friendship.
We also came to appreciate throughout our marriage that it was our friendship which formed the foundation of the relationship we inhabited and that with this foundation, we had more resilience than many. We learned that while love is also an essential ingredient, it can wax and wane; that friendship is the glue that bound us together.
2) Shared Values:
When you fall in love, with all the bells and whistles, the romance supersedes all else. And when the prelude to marriage and the honeymoon are over, you sometimes discover that the other person is a stranger. In the lusty moments of early love, you sometimes fail to find out what makes the other person tick.
We had the good fortune to complete a marriage preparation course with Father Kent Doe, who facilitated several rigorous discussions for us covering everything from finances to likes and dislikes and most importantly, our personal values. We subsequently learned, many times over, that like friendship, shared values formed an essential pillar in our relationship. We could disagree and argue; those values brought us back to ground zero.
3) Put Your Partner First
As my readers know I am a proponent of ‘ME FIRST’ which essentially means do your own work on you before you expect it of others. In marriage, the second most important person is your partner. I was listening to an interview with Ron Howard from Happy Days and now a well-known director. He was speaking about the longevity of his relationship and spoke of putting your partner first, before his career and before his children.
Many will disagree with this but I have to agree. Jim and I did not have children. We each had big careers. Jim travelled extensively, sometimes absent for 3 of 4 weeks per month. It would have been so easy to let the relationship lapse.
To avoid this, Friday night was always reserved for us. Invitations refused, allowing us to simply sit together with a glass of wine and a simple supper and catch up. Part of putting your partner first is be engaged in your partner’s life, asking questions, listening, encouraging one another. You do not need to walk similar paths. I simply suggest that you have an overall sense of what is happening in your partner’s life, what matters to them, where they may be struggling. Be their confidante.
4) Marriage is an Adventure
I know marriage is work, sometimes hard work and it is also a playground, a learning lab, a discovery camp and much more. Treat it as such, make it an adventure.
I am the serious one in our relationship. Fortunately, I married someone who regularly makes me laugh and helps me lighten up. Over the years we have adopted the attitude that life and marriage is an adventure, allowing us to deal with the ups and downs of our relationship, breathe and relax, and let emotions settle. Now as we have the freedom and liberty to travel, sharing experiences through the filter of adventure makes everyday much more interesting. Try it, when you get up in the morning, look at each other and ask, what will today’s adventure be?
5) Don’t Make Your Partner Wrong?
Okay this is a big one! In 2007 Jim retired from his pharmaceutical career. A few months later he joined me as a full-time partner in our company roadSIGNS. A couple things happened. First, I had been running solo for 10 years and suddenly I had company. I had to share the responsibilities of running the business and give up control. Secondly, we were now in a 24-7 relationship, intensifying our daily interactions. I kept thinking, surely, he has some place to go, after all he had always worked outside the home. Yes, there were a few breathless moments.
Third, he did not do things my way, and I was a partner, not his boss. Damn. And this is where I got into trouble. I did not know how to share and I became critical of the tasks he assumed. Fortunately, I had a good friend and fellow coach who led me through this relationship maze. The first thing she suggested is,“don’t make Jim wrong”. While I may have wanted to refute her advice, I knew she was wise. I stepped back and realized that I was not always right and he was most certainly not wrong. I learned to hold my tongue, let go, share, and become a business partner. This learning has helped us in all aspects of our business and personal relationship.
6) Communicate, communicate, communicate
No relationship can grow without communication strategies, so it is no surprise that I need to add this as the final point for this article. Here is what I suggest:
– Learn to ask questions of your partner and listen deeply. Do not interrupt, do not talk over, do not assume you have answers for them.
– Learn to dialogue versus discuss. Dialogue suggests that you understand the other person and where they are coming from, even though you may disagree.
– Understand that agreeing to disagree is perfectly okay.
– Do not assume that your partner knows what you want, tell them.
– Avoid judging your partner by using ‘I’ messages and taking responsibility for your own stuff. Blame never helps anyone. ‘I’ messages helps you to explain how you are feeling and how another person’s actions affect you.
This covers half of the answers to What’s the Secret?
Stay tuned for next month’s column where I will cover the other learnings, we have gained over 50 years. A life shared is richer for the experience. I am grateful to Jim for our fifty-year adventure in marriage and the years which preceded the “I DO”. Until next time…
Your thoughts and strategies are always welcome and if you care to share you can reach me at: [email protected]