My wife and I have been together for twenty-one years. Despite masterful dating-incompetence on my part, a relationship started that would lead to so many incredible moments, and is still going strong. Here are 5 lessons from 21 years together.
Little things add up. Whether its always pouring a cup of tea for your other when you’re making one for yourself, or picking up some flowers for no reason, or just going for a walk together and letting the dinner dishes wait, the little things add up. They are deposits into the relationship bank account. When times are tough, is when you’re going to need to make withdrawals from that account. We’ve been through a couple of things over the years, and came out okay. Similarly, if you’re irritating each other, then that’s a debt that’s going to grow, and it will become more and more emotionally expensive to clear it.
Compromising does not mean always meeting in the middle. Growing up, I was always told “meet in the middle,” but I realized when I was in a serious relationship that that sometimes brought about a sense of anger in one or both of the parties. Why? Because the thought that you cannot EVER get your way anymore BECAUSE you are in a relationship is a horrible one. My wife and I had arguments early on where one of us would say, “I could do that if I was on my own.” Fortunately, at one point we talked about it, and realized that we need to be able to meet anywhere on the spectrum, from one party to getting exactly what they want, to a slightly modified version, to meeting in the middle. When I didn’t really care as deeply about something as she did, and I could “live with it”, I did. We also made sure that there were times where I got to do things how I wanted.
Don’t listen to other people, but be mindful of what they say. If I had listened to my parents, to my closest friend, or to most of the people who had met my girlfriend back in 1997 when I was thinking of proposing, I would have broken up with her. They did not like her. I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, nor did I just rebel and do the opposite. I was mindful of what they said.
I took apart what they were saying, and why they were saying it. What were the traits of my future wife they were misinterpreting, where were they rushing to judgement, and where was this a case of they just had a different type of person in mind for me and didn’t want to let that vision go. I saw that they didn’t see what I saw, and it didn’t take long before they all came to see the strength and amazingness that my wife had. When times were tough, they came to realize it on a whole different level.
Roles need to be flexible and talked about. In the beginning we were both students, and I was a year ahead. I got the first real job, and being the more ambitious of the two of us, I earned more. Then years later, when I was hit with my severe scar pain issues, I became the crippled stay-at-home dad, and my wife became the bread winner. Then when our third kid came along a few years later, I was able to step back into that role. These days, I’m the author stay-at-home dad and she’s the bread winner.
The challenge of switching roles wasn’t the who did what, it was the effects of who did what. When I would come home from work, I might be happy to be social. My wife might not, or vice versa. This can affect everything from your relationship with friends to feeling amorous. Taking about that stuff matters.
This also means investing in both people, so that if one “falls” the family is still strong. I’ve seen plenty of couples who invest in one partner exclusively, and then something happens, and now they are in real panic mode.
Go on great adventures together. My wife and I have had some adventures. We moved to Silicon Valley, then Toronto, then we lived for two months on Jersey Island (between England and France). Then we moved to Montreal, then we moved to Calgary. Along the way we’ve had three kids.
But those weren’t the only kind of adventures. A few years ago my wife was getting into a lot of volunteer work and I had a few startup ideas. After a few months, I realized that we could very easily end up with each of us pursuing our paths and growing apart. I wanted us to talk about what each of us had in mind, so that we could actively support each other. It was a great idea, and that’s what started my indie author journey more than anything else. For her part, she stepped on to the board of directors for our community organization for the next two years. We were 100% behind each other, and it felt like a new adventure, and it has been.
Let it go. The idea of “don’t go to bed angry” is a good one, in my opinion. I’ve read the counter-philosophy stuff, but I believe the longer you let something stew, the worse it’s going to get (other than, well, actual stew). One of the most important things I believe that my wife and I developed was the understanding that not every disagreement has to end in an “I’m sorry,” but rather we can argue to disagree and love each other and move on. You can be sorry for creating a sense of stress, but your opinion might very well be true and honest and one of those very few points where you and your partner aren’t compatible, but you cannot let that ruin everything. You also can’t expect there always to be a “clear victor” in arguments, it’s not right or healthy in a relationship. You have to find a way to lay down arms, hug, and move on.
I learned this when I was a kid with my little brother. We could have a nasty fight, and then one of us would ask the other “Do you want to play Atari?” That was our peacemaking. I never realized how valuable it was until I brought it to my relationship and then to my workplaces (which is a whole different story).
There you go… After twenty-one years together, I can only hope that we’ll go strong until all are one. So say we all. 😉