“Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can’t sleep with the window shut and a woman who can’t sleep with the window open.” – George Bernard Shaw
A friend and colleague writes, “Don’t quote me on this in ETR, but this choosing whom you associate with is really important when it comes to selecting a spouse. You have to consciously ask yourself, “Is this person’s view of life similar to mine?” If the answer isn’t “yes,” you’ve got some soul searching to do.”
My correspondent understands that there are no hard-and-fast rules on such matters because, as he puts it, “there are infinite chemistries between individuals.” But choosing the wrong spouse, he argues, can be “deadly to your career and to your happiness.”
I couldn’t agree more.
My friend then adds: “If (your spouse) is someone who has totally different expectations about how much time you’re going to be around, for example, it’s over before it starts.”
Here, I disagree.
On this subject, not only do I have the advantage of years of experience, I also know that it is possible — as is true in my case and in the case of most of the successful people I know — to make a relationship work even while consistently failing to give it the amount of time that your spouse thinks you “owe” to the family.
I’m married almost 30 years — blissfully so (if you include the weekly tiff and monthly blowout as a necessary part of bliss) — and I’ve never failed to fail my wife’s expectations in this area. During the course of our marriage, I was never completely sure about how much time she wanted me to be home tending to the broken hinges and reading stories to our now overgrown children, for she never put an exact number on it. I can tell you this, though: The time I put in wasn’t enough.
Still, we have managed. And, as time has passed, I realize that I have fallen short of her hopes and/or expectations in many other ways as well. Yet, our marriage has been a successful one. We have raised three non-institutionalized kids. We have plenty of bright and charming friends. And we enjoy a relatively remarkable amount of fun and love between us.
This is not so remarkable. When I look at all the successful, longstanding relationships I know, I can see the same pattern repeated. Individual partners may have expectations of the other that aren’t met, but the relationship somehow survives merrily and well.
People, as my correspondent reminds us, are abstruse. We sometimes expect things that we don’t really need. And when our expectations aren’t needed — or satisfied — there is at least a distant awareness somewhere in the mind that says “I want this, but I probably wouldn’t enjoy it if I got it anyway.”
This is not an argument for selfishness. Marital relationships require communication and compromise. And they are certainly enhanced by shared values. But it is a great mistake to think that you should try to meet all of your spouse’s expectations. And you shouldn’t expect all your expectations to be met either.
Focus on the important things: Do you love her? Do you wish her well? And follow these little rules:
1. Be open to your spouse’s ideas. Remind yourself daily that he/she may understand something about the world that you don’t.
2. Until you are converted to her/his way of thinking, stay true to your core beliefs.
3. Don’t argue when you are angry. (Often easier said than done.)
4. Find out the one thing you do when arguing that really ticks your spouse off and stop doing it.
5. Smile broadly and honestly every time you say hello — even if you don’t feel like smiling.
6. Agree happily on all matters you can agree on. On matters you can’t, agree to disagree. Your life won’t disintegrate — it really won’t — if you maintain significant differences of opinion on some matters.
7. After an argument, spend the next day or two not trying to figure out how your spouse was wrong and not trying to figure out how you could have won, but on how your spouse could have been right and how nice it will be when you are reconciled again.
8. Don’t put other people ahead of your spouse, either by openly admiring them or by becoming romantically attached to them.
9. Stay, within reason, as good as you were when you first met. That means be funny if you were funny, spontaneous if you were spontaneous, committed to helping others if that was your thing, etc. And this includes the body, I’m afraid. Allow yourself a pound gained a year — up to 20 — but not an ounce more!
10. At least once a year, write your spouse a long letter, telling him/her everything you love about him/her. Don’t allow one negative comment — not even an innuendo — to sully your effort.