The Secret to a Long, Happy Marriage from a Quarter Centenarian Couple

25 years is a long time.

Last weekend Donna and I went up to Edmonton to celebrate my brother and sister-in-law’s 25th wedding anniversary. Sean and Janet were high school sweethearts. They were married at 20 years old. They have two amazing kids. I have never heard Sean or Janet raise their voices to each other or to Ben and Jenna. Make no mistake about it. Sean and Janet have had their ups and downs, for sure. They are, nevertheless,  love and teamwork personified.

After supper, Sean got up to say a few words. When someone sporting a 25-year track record of success in anything talks, you listen. He was conveying something he had learned from a gentleman who had been married for 60 years. The advice was simple but powerful…

“A successful marriage is less dependent on what you say, and relies more on what you don’t say.”

That was interesting because it meshed with the results of a study Donna had recently come across. Basically, the researchers observed the interactions between several husband-wife pairs. They expected the interactions between happily married couples to be characterised by intimate conversations – the sharing of feelings, goals and dreams.

To their surprise, this wasn’t the case. The interactions of happy couples were, well,  normal, mundane and down-to-earth. There was less passion and more respect. Fewer feelings and more fun. Less dreaming and more practical conversations. This isn’t to say that passion, feelings and dreams aren’t important in relationship. Happy relationships just don’t depend on them.

So if happy relationships depend on what you say or don’t say, what else could we choose to not say to our partners? What about, “Why do you always (fill in the blank)?”; or “It irritates me when you…”; or maybe, “You should hear what my husband did the other day…”; or “My wife drives me nuts when she…”.

MODEL RELEASED COUPLE - 2002The point here is not to suggest that you should never express frustration or anger. Rather, the point is to be more discerning. Is what you want to say really worth the impact on your relationship and the other person? We seem to think we have a right to verbally vomit our feelings or observations on other people for no other reason than they are there and/or they occur in this moment to be the source of whatever angst’s us. The truth is what we say and don’t say is a choice. We don’t have the right to make someone else feel small. Why would you want to do that, especially to the person you say you love? Just sayin’…

Before I start sounding too self-righteous, the above wouldn’t need to be pointed out if we didn’t all do it. Donna and I both do things that irritate the other person on a fairly regular basis (it’s hard to imagine, I know ;-)). In the past, we have each pointed this out to the other person. Oops…It doesn’t feel too good whether you are on the giving or the receiving end. What’s behind that, I think, was a stronger commitment to being right than to creating a real partnership.

When we clearly saw this there was a shift for us. For my part, when Donna does something that rubs me the wrong way or that I don’t understand, I constantly remind myself that, as with all women, there’s more going on with Donna than meets the eye. Who am I to judge that which I cannot see or do not understand? For her part, Donna has adopted a “zero tolerance” attitude towards letting herself be critical about my real or perceived shortfalls. In her words, “I watch myself, and my thinking, like a hawk every single day.” (Everyday?!? I must have more shortfalls than I thought! Oh well, C’est la vie.)

What was behind this shift?

Well, part of it (at the risk of sounding cliché) is the remembrance that there is no “I” in “TEAM”. We choose “us” over being right. We also live our “Between Men and Women” model. We know that many of the things we do are not specific to us – they are common to men and to women. It’s not, “Jason did that.” Instead, it’s, “Men do that.” Or rather than, “Why is Donna like that?”, it’s “Donna’s like that because she’s a woman.” That understanding leads to compassion and patience. This is something we hope we pass onto our clients.

Making this shift in your relationship is something you can do today. Here’s how:

Male_Symbol_StylisedMen…

When your partner gets a little edgy, remember that women are concerned about safety. There may be  some perceived or real threat she sees, and it worries her that you don’t seem to see it too. Women also don’t like it when things get too steady state. They like variety and motion, and will create a little movement themselves (i.e., through barbs, pokes, arguments, etc.) when excitement is lacking for too long.

If you allow for the possibility that something is going on with her that you don’t see, and probably wouldn’t make sense to you if you did, it becomes difficult to judge her. A simple question like, “I see that you’re upset. Is there anything I can do for you right now?” could make all the difference in resolving something without making anyone wrong. (NOTE: She may just want you to listen, rather than “doing” something. Listening is your fix. Here’s a great video about this – “It’s Not About the Nail”).  If it’s motion she is lacking, try to inject a little “movement” to mitigate the excessive “steadiness”. This could be as simple as doing something she loves, like going for a walk, or making her laugh.

Female_Symbol_StylisedWomen…

When men get edgy and frustrated its often because a goal they are working toward (i.e., in business, career, family, finances, etc.) is not turning out as they want, or occurs to them as being thwarted by something that seems to be out of their control. Remember that men are all about production, being at cause and winning. When these are lacking, men will give you lots of reasons to judge them and to be critical of them.

Pointing out his faults might seem appropriate or justified in the moment, but it will likely shut him down and push him away. Instead of going that route choose to thank him for all he does; to give him a hug; to point out where he is winning; to help him get clear on what needs to be done next (that’s NOT the same as telling him what needs to be done next – this won’t work. Again, just sayin’…). These reactions are “wins” for him, which will motivate him to keep moving forward, generating more wins for you, himself, and your family.

The difference these understandings have made for Donna and myself, not to mention scores of clients, cannot be over-emphasized. More compassion. Greater understanding. Loads more fun. Trust and confidence in one another. The results come directly from our “Between Men and Women” Couples Relationship Retreat and private 1-on-1 intensive program. If you want a relationship characterised by these qualities, you owe it to yourself to learn more about what the Between Men and Women model has to offer. For full program details, and to find out about upcoming dates for our Rocky Mountain retreats in Canmore and Banff, visit “Between Men and Women” Couples Relationship Retreat and / or click here to contact Jason and Donna directly. We hope to see you there. Until then…

…Be Great!

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