Relationship Lessons from Mom and Dad

It was my Dad’s birthday a couple weeks ago, so I went up to Edmonton for a birthday dinner (15oz. lobster tails if you can imagine it!! Mmmmm…).

Every time I see my parents, I am pleasantly reminded that they are one of those couples… a couple that has such an amazing relationship it leaves people wondering, “How do they do that?” Mom and Dad have always had a relationship that others envy. When I was growing up, the teenage daughter of my Mom’s best friend told my Mom, “Marilyn, when I get married I want it to be just like how you and John are together.” That’s quite a compliment coming from a teen.

Of course Mom and Dad have their arguments, but they never get “mad” at each other. Neither of them are perfect. Yet, despite their flaws, they never gossip about one another. After 35 years together, they are still playful and are each other’s best friend. Talk about a treasure, not to mention, an awesome example for my brother, sister and me growing up.

Now, let me digress for a moment. You’ll see why in a second.

Last summer, Donna and I took in the Canmore Folk Music Festival in the beautiful mountain town of Canmore, Alberta. It was awesome, despite all the rain and time spent hunched in our lawnchairs under our handy dandy tarp to keep dry.

One of the groups performed a song originally written and performed in the early 1980’s by Howard Finster. I don’t recall the name of the song, but the chorus went something like this:

“Just a little tack in the shingle of your house,
Just a little tack in the shingle of your house to hold your house together.
Come on back and stay with me,
Come on back and let me see,
ome on back and stay with me,
And make this house what it ought to be.”

Now, back to my parents…

I often ask myself why Mom and Dad have such a great relationship. Put another way, what’s the “tack” that has produced such a powerful and sustainable relationship for more than  35 years? As in any well-built house, it takes more than one tack to make a strong marriage. Having said that, a couple key things stand out for me.

Tack #1

My Dad’s “tack” is his determination to give my Mom the life she wants. My Mom once said, “After John and I had been married for a few years I realised that I had to be careful what I asked for because I knew he would get it for me.” I’m sure there were times when for financial reasons, time constraints or what have you, that my Dad couldn’t get Mom everything she wanted, but he did whatever he could, which was usually quite a lot.

Why? On one level he loves her like crazy (when he’s out of town for a couple days he still calls to say how much he misses her). On another level he probably understands the notion of “Happy wife, happy life”, and why wouldn’t you want to make your best friend happy?

Tack #2

For my Mom’s part, her “tack” in the house of her marriage, is gratitude. My Mom is so grateful to my Dad for all he’s done, AND she lets him know it. She doesn’t only let him know, but she brags about Dad to friends, in emails, etc. And it’s not forced gratitude either. You can tell its genuine and heartfelt.

I’m sure she’s shaken her head a few times, bewildered by something Dad has done or tried, but she doesn’t gossip about it and put him down. The gratitude is born of a certain “Awe” about who this man is for her. As well, Mom likely knows that gratitude gets Dad’s mojo going so he keeps producing, which is what he loves to do anyway (hint…all men do…wink, wink ladies), so how perfect is that.

In these regards, Mom and Dad live everyday what Donna and I teach in our “Between Men and Women” program, and they don’t even know it. Here’s what I mean.

The Gold

If you are new to this blog, you might be thinking to yourself, “What does this have to do with men and women? Doesn’t everybody like to get what they want, and don’t we all liked to be thanked regardless of gender?”

Yes, of course we do. The difference, and its a critical difference, is how men and women relate to “desire” and “gratitude” (which we’ll call “approval”). We spend a fair amount of time distinguishing these in “Between Men and Women” because they are SO important. We don’t have time to go into that sort of detail now, so here’s the Coles notes version.

When it comes to desire, we say that women are desire. Men have desires…they want stuff…while women are desire. For women, desire isn’t just about wanting stuff. Its far more than that. Their desires are a part of their being. Its a part of who they are. When a woman’s desires go unsatisfied, its like a piece of her dies. If a man doesn’t get what he wants, he’s disappointed, but he is able to put it behind him and move onto the next challenge far more easily than a woman does. When a woman’s desire goes unmet, however, she is wounded – she becomes edgy, angry, depressed; and not just for a day or two, but for weeks, months or even years. If her desires routinely go unmet over time, she takes this as a reflection of her self-worth and her light goes out. Not good! This is a sad day.

So, on to my Mom’s tack – approval for my Dad.

Just like women are desire, we say in “Between Men and Women” that men are production. Men are happiest producing. Right or wrong, a man’s sense of self-worth is intimately tied to his ability to produce.

And just like women get charged and excited about having their desires met, men get energized when their production is acknowledged – i.e., when gratitude (read, “Approval) is given for what they accomplish. For men, approval – especially from his spouse – motivates him to continue to produce.

For some women this lands like having to “butter up his ego”. For these women, we suggest asking themselves, what’s wrong with buttering up a man’s ego if it motivates him to do what he loves, which is to produce, including producing for his family. It’s a service to him. It takes nothing away from her.

Here’s the connection…the perfection in the design, if you will.  If women are desire and men are production, we encourage women to ask big and ask often. When these requests are “clean” – i.e., when it comes from a feeling good place, without expectations, demands or from trying to control him – it serves her well-being and self-esteem, and compliments him by demonstrating trust in his ability to produce (click here to read what “trust” means to men and women).  When he produces for her without questioning or judging her desire – even though her desire may not make sense to him – he will find that his own self-confidence grows, and that she will feel “witnessed” and safe to be herself. It’s an invaluable gift to give her.

“Between Men and Women” is about helping men and women understand their partners better, including understanding how they operate best together – how they can be most harmonious together. Satisfying her desires and approving of what he produces is one critically important way that supports each person in feeling good about life, themselves and their relationship. Isn’t that a good thing to be willing to do for the person you love?

To discover exactly how to have this work in your relationship and life, we hope you will join us for an upcoming “Between Men and Women” Couples Relationship Retreat. Click here for the next dates and to discover what you can expect.

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