Monday, August 31, 2009

Self-Denial & Marriage

Once in a while the opportunity arises to think of our spouse instead of ourselves. These fleeting chances don’t come along very often, but when they do, and if we grab them, the warm and fuzzy feeling it infuses in our marriage makes it worth whatever the cost. Here are a few examples of events and opportunities we can look for to deny our own needs and wants inside our relationship, and to enhance the quality of our marriage with very little effort.

We’ve heard for years that role reversal can be a distressing thing, that when we step outside our assigned spot we invite all manner of disruption and discord. But what if we made the reversal something of a routine, thereby lessening its impact? Say we take turns cooking, or making grocery rounds, or even getting the car, lawn mower, furnace and/or air conditioner serviced. None of those items require a specific gender marker, and our mate will be astonished if we step outside ourselves, get over whatever squeamishness we may have about any of the tasks listed above and, as the ad says, “Just do it!” The look on their face will be priceless.

Ask them what they wish we’d stop doing. This one’s tough; we have to be able to listen--we did ask, after all--and what they tell us may not be easy to hear. But they’ll appreciate the gesture, and my guess is, that every couple has things they’d like to discuss with each other about minor irritants (or not so minor). My other guess is that we already know the answer, and we’re just getting them to confirm what we suspect. In any case, the conversation is always helpful, just for the communication if nothing else. Plus, then you get to tell them something!

Don’t be afraid to solicit advice and ideas from close friends. Since we started our marriage website, my wife and I have been amazed at the number of couples who seem almost embarrassed to celebrate their marriage. This self-consciousness about being together is pervasive, and, we believe, corrosive to relationships. Asking others what works for them in terms of rituals, time together, bonding and communicating may elicit stares and stammering from other couples, but it may produce some gems, too. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at our seminars at the great ideas couples have for sharing their love and commitment to each other. The other gratifying thing we’ve learned is that couples with similar values, views, and energy levels attract each other. And it works both ways: negative, acerbic couples seem to enjoy sharing their harsh view of the world; positive, upbeat couples hang with those who share their optimistic, positive view.

Some years ago Carly Simon sang about ‘Anticipation’. The song was atop the charts for several weeks, and is still heard from time to time. It’s likely that no single effort endears people to each other more in relationships than the simple act of anticipating the others’ needs. Many times I’ve been able to enjoy the look on my wife’s face when, as she enters our home after work, the exact meal she hoped would be on the table actually is there waiting for her. It’s moments like these that make a marriage endure. And it’s all about anticipation. In addition, the effort seems to be not only contagious, it also appears to be self-perpetuating. Call it marital telepathy: the more we anticipate our partner’s needs and wants, the easier it is to do the same next time. After awhile it seems to come naturally, like reading each other’s minds. It can get downright eerie after a string of such occurrences. Any number of times my wife and I have experienced a similar urge to call each other with specific information, prepared a favorite meal we knew they’d want, or made arrangements to see or do something to please them--well before they asked for it. This could be a rather subjective method of determining the potential for longevity in a marriage: after a year, see how well the pair reads the others’ thoughts, and judge from that. Instead of the newlywed game, call it perhaps the first anniversary game instead, at which time the exercise can be performed, and a score tallied.

Finally, not so much self-denial as distraction-denial--kids, television, computers, Wii, hobbies, yard work, tasks of all sorts that can wait--these are the things that need to be secondary to a relationship. These are the things that our mate, our best friend, may want us to put aside, but be hesitant to ask for. Willingness to put them first is always a win-win. Here’s the deal: if we’d put those things aside for our best friend--then we should do it that much sooner for our mate.

No comments: