Back when I spent a lot of time playing and studying chess, I tried to analyze, as deeply as I could, at least one famous grandmaster game per week. I would try to understand what each side was thinking; what his/her plan was. Though I would frequently miss subtle connections between something in the opening and the endgame (until I read the analysis), I could usually understand what a player was trying to do.
This was consistently hardest for me with the games of Anatoly Karpov. One of the greatest players of the past 100 years (or really, ever), Grandmaster Karpov usually played a patient, positional game, accumulating small advantages while he waited for his opponent to make a mistake.
And when that mistake came, as it almost always did, he methodically and mercilessly squeezed the life from his opponent. It was brutally effective, but hard for a young chess enthusiast to appreciate. It was easier and more fun to follow swindlers like Frank Marshall, or brutal attackers like Alexander Alekhine.
Karpov embodied (past tense not because he’s passed away, but because he doesn’t play much anymore) the beauty and maturity of biding one’s time. He appreciated that the best progression of events wasn’t always the obvious one, and that patience would reward him, more often than not.
Are there lessons here for marriage? There certainly are for me.
It was hard for me to grasp those games because I wanted to see the point as quickly as I could. I wanted the game resolved. And, though I’ve improved, I still bring that attitude to parts of my life, most notably my relationship with Lea.
Lea and I are thinking people, living and making decisions together. We are going to disagree. Most of the time we get along beautifully, and even when we do disagree, it’s short-lived and we handle it maturely.
When we disagree or are upset with each other for any length of time, all too often I have an unfortunate habit of trying to inflict my timeframe of resolution on her. If I’ve got it resolved, then I want her to have it resolved too—right then. I have an answer, Lea, so here it is, you say yes, and we go back to where we want to be, which is not upset with each other. Go!
Yeah, that doesn’t work so well most of the time. Whatever we’re disagreeing about, that failing is pretty much all on me. Even when I know—especially when I know—that she’ll get to where I am, I need to back off and allow it to happen. (Believe it or not, the active isn’t always indicated.) It’s something I need to continue to work to eliminate.
For one thing, it’s selfish. Different people resolve different kinds of problems in different ways. My way is not better; it’s just mine. It’s easy for me to see how unpleasant my impatience is after the fact. I need to work on seeing it when I’m in the middle of it.
For another, in a way, it’s disrespectful of our marriage in general. If we’re signed up to be together forever, and I believe that, then why I am behaving as if it’s a massive tragedy for us to be unresolved for four hours instead of three? No, it’s not fun to fight, and minimizing those times should be a continuous goal. But desire for resolution shouldn’t trump reasonable work-it-through time for your spouse, even if it’s not quite the same as yours.
I’m fond of saying that the most tragic thing about loss of youth is that it takes more and more to impress you. My logic is that the older you get, the fewer opportunities you have to see something for the first time, right?
I’m revising that a bit, though. One thing you appreciate more with age is the beauty of restraint. Some problems just don’t respond to bigger-better-faster-more. Some require a nudge. Some just need you to go away for a while.
I’m better than I used to be at this, but I’m still not where I should be. It remains a growth opportunity.
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