Marriage has no shortcuts

“So what is the secret to a long, happy marriage?”

For the first time in my life, I am the receiver of the very question I’ve asked countless couples over the years.

My wife and I are sitting in a small restaurant in the hills of central Texas. Sharing a table with strangers is normal in this small town – of which we are doing with a young couple. They are, the young girl mentions, celebrating their first anniversary.

“So,” she asks again, “really. We want to know.”

My mind rewinds to a over a decade ago when I asked the very same question to a couple sitting on a park bench and holding hands on an Arizona morning. Both in their eighth decade of life, they both smiled and generously shared a few words of wisdom.

“Don’t try and change the other person,” she said. “Learn to understand a you are different and respect that fact.”

The man, somewhat stoic, revealed a tiny crack of emotion around his eyes as if to agree.

The sun continued to rise, now breaking over the mountain range in the distance.

“And don’t be afraid to argue,” she said. “Learning to disagree, without getting personal, is very important.”

Again I could see his silent agreement.

My wife and I are far from a perfect couple – but maybe that is why we seem to find people asking us about our relationship. We sometimes joke we are an 80/20 balance at best. I love sunrises; she loves sunsets. My idea of relaxing might be riding my bike along a newly discovered country road. For her, a couple hours of peace and quiet alone with a good book is of equal value. I even like my coffee neat; her version is something I’m convinced is a not too distant relative to hot chocolate.

But in the end, we are solidly committed to the 80% — and that starts with each other. Our values, our commitment to our children, our commitment to each other are the rock-solid foundation of our relationship.

That, and we’ve learned that marriage is a long, fluid process.

Back at the wooden table, I see a young couple asking the very questions my wife and I have asked others for years in hope of discovering the ‘secret’ to a happy marriage. But the truth is, there are no shortcuts, no easy ways to bliss.

As other couples have told us over the years, there will be better days than others. There will also be times you are, so they say, ‘spitting mad’ at the other person. Life — with the demands of raising a family, working to put food on the table, and remembering to pay attention to each other — has a way to pushing your marriage to the limits.

But just like forged steel, many times it is the result of the intense pressure found inside a marriage that creates such a strong relationship in the end. The phrase “for better or worse”, you one day recognize, is not just a string of meaningless words – they actually are a precursor to the building of a long-term relationship.

My wife and I look at each other across the table while the younger couple awaits our ‘peals of wisdom’. We smile at each other knowing there is no way to ever fully describe what awaits them and where this journey will lead. We only hope that some day, they too, will be on the receiving end of this very conversation.

 

– 30 –

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Coffee awakens time travel challenge

As the blue lights displayed the price of my morning coffee, the young barista from behind the counter smiled.

“Nice hair,” he said.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“I like your hair,” he said, pointing towards his own as to help my foggy mind process his words.

“Oh, thanks,” I said, a bit confused of where to go from that point.

In a moment of inspiration (or nervousness) I heard myself blurt out a few clumsy words to hopefully wash away the awkwardness on my part.

“Yeah, I’m from the 80’s,” I said.

The barista’s eyes lit up.

“Me, too!”

Unfortunately his math was not quite the same as mine. While I meant I grew up smack dab in the middle of ‘generation excess’, he most likely meant he was still wearing a diaper when Dick Clark rang in 1990.

This creeping clock of time is becoming a bit more evident with each passing day.

Recently my wife and I found ourselves talking about a couple we’d run across while traveling. Somewhere along the line, however, she confessed to me something very private to her.

“You know, I’m not sure of her age,” she said. “Sometimes I’m lucky if I can guess within 10-years anymore.”

A tsunami of relief suddenly washed across me. As much as I’ve always believed I could accurately estimate the passing of time or someone’s age, I am increasingly recognizing there is ‘a disruption in the force’. One of my biggest fears in life is I would one day turn into one of those older people who regularly inaccurately referenced ‘a movie a few years back about a giant shark that ate a boat.’

Even my sensitivities for fashion seem to be eroding. Where once I could tell the difference between a current or year-old version of a shirt, I now have retreated into staples – my radar dulling to the changes around me. Sometimes I walk out the door not knowing if what I wearing looks updated or like I got dressed in the dark.

All of this reminds me of a few years ago when our teenage daughter discovered a plastic tub of treasure hidden away in the house — a trove of old t-shirts.

For those of our generation, there are very few things that carry the emotional value of a worn out concert t-shirt. While we struggle remembering our current zip code or if we took our morning meds, we still seem to know everything about the night  we acquired this powerful bookmark in our life. If you ask my wife, she can recall with crystalline clarity who she went with, what the weather was like, and even what friends she saw at the concert. For her, these are powerful time capsules – each ready to be released at a moment’s notice.

Time is a funny measurement — as is our ability to recall or estimate it’s passing.

All of which brings me back to the barista at the coffee shop and his estimating of time. Yes, we are both from the 80’s. But the difference is only I can say, “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

 

– 30 –

 

Parenting holds no expiration date

As a parent, the lessons we pass along to our children can be separated into two simple categories: what to do and what not to do.

Yes, we can cloud the discussion with various degrees of what we believe is important, but in the end it all comes down to understanding our children will first learn from the observation of how we behave in a wide variety of circumstances.

How did our parents handle difficult situations? Did the face them head-on or look for ways to avoid making the hard decisions? What lessons did we, as children, learn from them during these windows? Did we learn what to do – or not do?

Even as my wife and navigate life with adult children, I realize there is no timeline on this body of work. Even though our kids no longer live under our roof, I realize they will forever watch and learn from us as we face life’s coming challenges. Like it or not, our actions are still in their spotlight.

It might be easy to tell ourselves our kids stop watching us the day they pull out of the driveway with their worldly possessions packed in the trunk of the car – but this is just not so. Even while they are dealing with the challenges of early adulthood, they also have an eye on us for clues on how we navigate our lives without them. Parenting is one big teaching lesson without and expiration date.

Some of us are luckier than others. Many of us come from homes where the lessons are positive and easy to follow. Others, unfortunately, live a life filled with avoiding land mines of opportunities to derail an otherwise productive life. Truth verses lies, commitments without follow through, or maybe even retreating into outside influences to help get through the day. Life is hard – and for children desperately looking to their parents for clues, it can be especially challenging.

But lately I’ve come to realize I’ve still a set of eyes on me even though our kids are nearly a thousand miles away. Even as our children work through the bumps of independence, I realize they are still watching the decisions my wife and I make. Not that they need to follow them at this time, but these very moments are being filed away under ‘one day’. How my wife and I treat each other, how we manage our finances and health, or how we plan for our future, all send potentially long term lessons to our kids. Like it or not, my wife and I are still in the teaching seat.

As our children travel the unpredictable road of life, my wife and I know we are still throwing off signals of how our children may very well act later in life.

I guess, as parent, we never really get a final report card – that is one we’ll live to see. But in the end, hopefully the breadcrumbs we leave behind will help our children successfully navigate life when we are no longer around.

 

– 30 –