The Secret to a Good Marriage

standard April 27, 2011 Leave a response

As it so often happens, a line in a book I was just reading (Secret Daughter. Very good. Very moving.) caught my eye. It wasn’t key to the plot, but its pure simplicity and truth struck me. 

“Her mother had always said the key to a successful marriage was for each spouse to give as much as they thought they possibly could. And then, to give a little more. Somewhere in that extra giving, in the space created by generosity without score keeping, was the difference between marriages that thrived and those that didn’t.”

The space created by generosity without score keeping…

That’s what we do as parents. We give, and we give, and we give some more. Even when we’re beyond giving and have already entirely lost ourselves. Even so, I’ve yet to meet a mom or even a dad with a little notebook to keep score.

  • Up until 2am with coughing child – 15 points
  • Faceful of stewed carrots – 4 points
  • Told that grandma would be a better mommy because she never withholds desert – 176 points

If we were constantly keeping score like that there’s no way we could be good parents. And really, beyond a hug here and there, we have no expectation of ever being “paid back” for all we do.

Why don’t we always allow ourselves to do the same in all of our relationships?

I believe that “the space created by generosity without score keeping” is the space where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to just be — no pretenses, no airs, just ourselves, raw. When you cross over beyond having given everything you believe you’re capable of giving, you’re showing your spouse or significant other that you trust them implicitly. It’s the most powerful gift you could ever give or receive, and yes, while it comes with incredible responsibility, it’s priceless.

In the movie Gattaca (which I just saw again this week) the weaker brother tells the stronger one that he always won the race because “he never saved anything for the way back.” OK, so that’s cryptic out of context (racing to the horizon in the ocean), it’s the basis of every successful relationship.

As a parent we’re willing to give everything and beyond because we know the relationship will never end. We don’t need to hold back a piece of ourselves just in case one day we might need to start over with someone new. That complete surrender is ironically what gives us the strength to keep going.

I’ve been joking with M this past week every time he asks me to do something. My utterly tongue in cheek answer is always “Of course my darling; there’s no limit to what I’d sacrifice for you.”

But really, despite my smile and my joking tone, the sentiment is true and has always been true.

I’ve moved to a different country for him, given up my dreams of having four or more children. I didn’t pursue a career in advertising so I’d have more time to be home with him and our eventual kids.

I’ve never considered these things to really be sacrifices. I’m not keeping score. They’re concessions to the life we’re building together. It’s me saying “I really don’t know what life has in store for us, but I’m along for the ride, 150% and I trust that whatever you do with this gift, it’ll be in my best interest.”

I’ve always known that M and I have a great relationship. That line in that book gave me the explanation I needed. M and I always give everything and then some and we trust each other to be gentle and caring of the vulnerability we’re each showing in while in that space.

It’s a beautiful thing and I’m grateful I get to experience it.

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