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.

His strength lies in his vulnerability

standard April 11, 2011 15 responses

A few days ago I found the first emails that my husband ever wrote to me. They were sweet, so very, very sweet.

At the time I was struggling. I’d just broken up with my second boyfriend, a boy who loved me, but who was not in love with me. I was still hurt from the previous relationship which had ended after five long years of emotional abuse and chronic cheating.

Into all that anger and confusion and just plain hurt, sweet, amazing M walked in. He was kind and compassionate. He listened to me and he opened his heart wide up from day one.

That level of vulnerability was terrifying at first. I felt damaged and my first gut instinct was to turn my hurt around and project it instead of internalizing it. And then I looked into his sweet blue eyes that were so trusting and open and instead I felt my own heart start to heal.

If you ask M he’ll tell you that I’ve taught him a lot over the years. Truth is, he’s taught me more.

He’s taught me to be vulnerable. To let people in.

He’s taught me to trust again and to give of myself with no reservation.

He’s taught me kindness and compassion.

All in all, he’s made me become a better person.

This weekend M got some challenging medical news. It’s nothing we’re not going to face bravely, but it is something infuriating. Just when we thought we were at the end of one painful road, we discover that we’ve just been diverted onto a completely unexpected side path, and that first road still needs to be crossed.

We’re reeling. And hurting. I’m mad, sad, confused, and mad all over again.

I’m pretty sure M is feeling much of the same.

It’s been a really long weekend. There are a million emotions running through me and yet I just feel overwhelmingly grateful.

I’m married to the most amazing man in the world. He’s proven it time after time over the years, but this weekend he proved it all over again.

Once a long time ago I equated vulnerability with weakness. Then I met the man who showed me that vulnerability is actually the greatest strength.

And this guy? He’s beyond strong.

It’s all in the delivery… and the TV

standard March 23, 2011 7 responses

For years I’ve tried to explain to M how women work. We don’t need men to come fix things. We’re smart. We can figure it out for ourselves.

But before the solutions start to pop up, we need to vent. Just vent and be heard.

We want to come home and rant for a while about what happened. We want to analyze, go over the details, and just let it all out. And we want someone to nod, agree, and commiserate.

That’s it.

No, really.

We understand the urge to fix. We feel it too. But first we need to vent.

M says I’ve never explained that to him. It took an episode of Modern Family for him to finally hear it.

I kid you not. We watched the episode together — me cracking up all the way — and at the end he turned to me and said “is that really true?”

Yes. Yes, honey, it’s true, is all I replied. The next day he tried it out for himself.

Angels did not sing… but it sure felt nice to just be heard.

The difference between men and women

standard March 2, 2011 15 responses

Men and women are different. No doubt about it. And the standing joke is that guys will never understand women, but really, it’s equally challenging to understand men.

So here is my very simple explanation that will shed some light on the issue.

Picture a closet.

Savvy Sassy Closet!

You open the doors and you see clothes hanging, you see sweaters folded, you see shoes neatly lined up. (This is assuming you are not opening my closet. In fact, never open my closet. We don’t have enough insurance to cover you getting hit in the head with something.)

Everything is on display so that you can decide what to wear and how to accessorize without having to open a million drawers.

That’s how a woman’s head works. All aspects of her life are on display at all times. Kids, work, home, husbands, friends. It’s all there, visible at all times. This is why a woman can totally be “in the moment” doing something (wink, wink) and still know that there’s not enough milk in the fridge for breakfast.

While a mom is at work she can still process information about school or doctor’s appointments, or even plans for date night.

While a woman is at home she can be cooking dinner, doing the laundry, and thinking about a nagging work project.

Women have multi-tasking brains. 

Now picture a filing cabinet. 

Each drawer is clearly labeled “Work,” “Home,” “Kids,” “Buddies,” “Significant other.”

Know what’s special about filing cabinets? Only one drawer can be open at a time.

That’s exactly how a man’s brain works.

When he goes to work, he opens the “work” drawer and all the others remain tightly closed. When he’s at work he’s at work, it’s not that he doesn’t remember to make the doctor’s appointment, it’s that the doctor’s appointment info is in the home drawer and that drawer is closed.

When he’s with his buddies, the “buddies” drawer is open. He’s with his buddies, so he’s not thinking about the milk or the diapers you asked him to pick up on the way. He’s not going to think of those until he pushes open the house door and slides open the “home” drawer.

Men have mono-tasking brains.

You can argue that these fundamental differences date way back to when men hunted and needed to be 100% present in the hunt so they could survive and women just gathered so they could be thinking of many things at once.

Whatever the reason, doesn’t matter, fact is, you cannot expect people to be who they aren’t. So getting mad at a guy for not remembering that preschool ended early today or to grab some dish-detergent on his way home from soccer practice is fruitless.

Setting calendar reminders that will ping and force the home drawer open while he’s at work or placing strategic post-its on his steering wheel to open the drawer early – that’s how you can be sure he’s going to be where you want him to be when you need him to be there.

And before you ask, I haven’t yet found the solution to getting him to pick up his socks. Sorry. The closet analogy only goes so far. You’re on your own for the rest.