Friday, December 2, 2011

Advice You Never Asked For

Nobody asked me - not a single one of you! - but I've decided to offer it to you anyway. I'm going to share my thoughts on what I think has helped my own marriage.

1. Shared values are more important than shared activities

I love to read (I am a confirmed bibliovore/bibliomaniac). I am sedentary and prefer solitude. I almost always have a creative pursuit on the go. I like to "nest," adding little bits of comfort and beauty to our home. I like to spend money and enjoy luxury. I am impulsive and make even big decisions, like buying a house, based on gut instinct after a minimal amount of research

Steve loves to get out into the fresh air - running, hiking, biking, skiing. Steve likes to get together with groups both large and small. He likes home-improvement tasks (much to my delight). Steve is frugal (some might say stingey) and would probably have a million dollars in the bank if I weren't in the picture. He is happy to live in a minimalist environment and would still buy his entire wardrobe at Salvation Army if I let him. Steve is deliberate and usually needs to "sleep on it" before he makes a big decision.

If you put us each on e-Harmony, we'd probably still be single.


We both consider the following to be in the top ten of our values* (the things that are important to us), though we may put them in slightly different order:
  • good, hard work
  • our children's welfare, safety, security
  • honesty, personal integrity
  • gut instinct or conscience or inner voice
  • intellectual growth
  • fun, humour, playfulness
  • healthy meals together, good food
  • courtesy, etiquette, kindness
These values influence every decision we make (both big and small) and every action we take (or don't take). Sharing these values reduces the friction or conflict in our relationship because whenever we come to a fork in the road, we view things from a shared perspective.

Shared activities, hobbies or interests, while they build happy memories together, don't necessarily have the same power. And what if one or the other moves onto a new sphere of interest? How does the relationship adapt?

2. Little things add up. 

Never, ever underestimate the small, seemingly inconsequential actions that touch your beloved. Whenever I head to the kitchen for a glass of wine or water, I ask Steve if he would like one, too. Every time. When Steve gets up in the morning (an hour or so before I do), he takes care not to disturb me as I drift into light sleep before my day begins; he is a ninja in the dark. He puts the toilet seat down, the toothpaste lid on. I try (really, I do!) to put my shoes away when I come home. 

These demonstrate selflessness. They show that, even when the other partner isn't even aware of it, we are thinking of each other. They are the true acts of love, of love making.

3. When all is said and done, we have each other.

My children have a direct line to my heart. Nothing can make me weep harder than when I see one of my kids in pain or heading down a hazardous path.

But, when all is said and done, my little chicks will eventually fly the coop and set up nests of their own, and Steve and I will be together. We are the enduring unit, and it is worth investing in it.

So we've really made an effort to have regular date nights. At-home dates seem frugal and convenient, but really are not all they're cracked up to be unless you turn off ALL ELECTRONICS and focus together on a shared activity. Right. When was the last time THAT happened? As for seeing a movie together, they do add to the shared history and "inside jokes," but how much do you learn about each other? How much stronger does your bond become?

We prefer dining out. It doesn't need to be an expensive meal, but table service forces a really slow pace that pushes you to really communicate.

We've also made a point of periodic weekends away together, as I mentioned before. These restore intimacy of the sort that has nothing to do with special lubes. Though I will admit (kids: stop reading here) that physical closeness matters, too. That's all.

4. We respect each other.

This reflects the values we share. I esteem Steve in part because he reflects those values. And he, in turn, sees the same things in me. This is why I think the values are so important. Respect and, consequently, friendship, have seen us through some very rough times. (And I would say nothing erodes a relationship faster than contempt or scorn.)

So there you have it: what I think makes our marriage strong and happy. Our marriage is not about duration - as that implies endurance! I have no desire to win a marital marathon, but I do desire to be with someone who cares for me and for whom I care deeply and tenderly.

* We have actually written these values down. In 2004 we took a weekend away from the kids (then aged 8 to 15). As well as enjoying a sumptuous bed & breakfast and a four-star dinner, we set aside time to look at our marriage, our values and where we, as a family, were heading. On subsequent romantic weekends, we've done similar activities but with less rigour.

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