The divorces that consistently surprise us the most are the ones that end decades-long marriages. Sometimes they seem to be prompted by some major transition, like getting all of the kids out on their own. The husband and wife look at each other and say “who are you?”
The ready story is that they defined themselves exclusively (or nearly so) as parents for so long, they forgot how to be anything else. To me, that’s a too-specific explanation of a more general problem that also manifests in many other ways: lack of engagement with each other.
Changing and growing together doesn’t just happen. I think harmony with the three large things I wrote about last week is an important foundation. Presumably that minimizes the chance that the senior executive on the short list for VP marries the guy who wants to live at the beach and do without a checking account. (Or, maybe she does. Who knows? Long as everyone’s eyes are open…) Similar plans for the future, similar values, and similar levels of intelligence ensure a common frame of reference for many things on which a married couple might diverge.
But it’s an active process day to day, too. For couples with children, for several years, their activities make as good as any a framework in which to discuss such things, just because they’re usually constants. Think about it: Soccer practice, for example, dictates free nights during the week. So, install all of those that we know about on the calendar. Now, when can we go out together as a family? When do you want to take some time by yourself? When can we have a date night?
Sounds like just simple schedule logistics, but the ways in which we spend leisure time are excellent indicators of our interests, are they not? And I think couples can start getting into trouble when “we” time diminishes and sometimes even falls all the way out of these conversations. Something superficially pleasant but not at all intimate develops, in which each person does his/her own thing most of the time, and they become cordial roommates.
This tendency can be more seductive than you think, because it’s largely consistent with an environment of trust and respect. It’s that ease itself that can lead to excessive nonchalance toward one another. “Oh, I know she’s going to be there.” Don’t let comfort become neglect. Keep “we” reliably in your leisure discussions. Couples who grow together have date night.
Growing together also means learning to appreciate, rather than resent, moments of self-sacrifice. I can’t remember whether I read the following, or heard it, or what. I may have even thought of it myself, but most definitely “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
In these moments, I try to think of myself as being blessed to be able to help. I am in a position to remove some uncertainty, or discomfort, or even downright pain. I can do something good. What an opportunity.
Now here I am typing that out when I’m not upset, like it’s just the easiest thing in the world to do. But of course it isn’t always. Whether it’s time, or money, or activity, or whatever could go one way your spouse would prefer and another way you would, the greedy little animal in you says me-me-me.
Like nearly anyone, I’ve been guilty of indulging that me-me-me, perhaps even with additional insult like some lame veneer of pseudo-righteousness. The way it usually goes is that Lea yields. I get my way. Then I eventually consider that I was in a position to make it better for her and chose not to, and regret that.
Gee, I need to remember how that feels on the front end of the whole thing (particularly when she’s only rarely guilty of the opposite).
So that’s one potentially tricky thing to do: remember at all. The next tricky thing to do is to do it lovingly, not begrudgingly. Giving a blow-by-blow of how this decision will cause you to suffer is graceless and tacky. Rather, carry from it that you had an opportunity to bring comfort, and did. The good thing you did is the reward, not her acknowledgment of the good thing you did (which can be nice to have, but it’s not the point).
With this post, or any other in this series, please never read me as if I have all of whatever I’m writing about totally solved and put to bed.
Know that I needed to hear what I typed today.
For many good things, it’s much easier to identify them than it is to do them, you know?