Best Relationship Advice EVER!

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

During a lovely dinner out with a friend, she and I got to chatting about when our children were small and how difficult that stage of life could be. I joked about long days spent soothing a fussy infant and then giving the hubs a death stare if he dared return from work and ask me what I’d done all day. Sometimes I’d drag the vacuum cleaner out and just leave it in the middle of the living room floor–a ruse to convince the hubs that I’d at least attempted to tidy up. This would often blunt his insensitive inquiries. At least that’s how I always interpreted his truly innocuous attempts at making conversation. Sleep deprived, exhausted, milk stained, poop stained and hormonal–I would often assume the hubs was passing judgment on my homemaking abilities.

My friend smiled supportively. But surely she thinks my “baby days” quaint and quite compared to hers. This brave woman endured double the “fun” as her initial experience with motherhood involved having twins!

“How did you do it?” I asked.

She replied with what I believe is some of the best relationship advice EVER. She said that when her twins were babies, and she and her hubs were navigating the separate worlds of an at home parent and a working parent, they arrived at an agreement. It went something like this…

“I agree to believe that you’re doing the best that you can if you agree to believe that I am doing the best that I can.”

Now this agreement surely helped grease the skids of understanding during a difficult time. (Parents of infants and toddlers please note, things do get easier. You will sleep again one day. In the meantime, consider making a similar agreement with your spouse.)

But even though my friend’s twins are grown and my children are inching ever closer to being grown, this “agreement” is still applicable, especially during times of high stress or when life reliably throws its myriad of challenges at your marriage. So the next time you feel compelled to snark at your spouse or pass silent judgment because your expectations or needs are not being met, make an honest assessment of the situation. Chances are, given the circumstances, you’re both doing the best you can. And if not, then maybe you should chat about what you’re going through whether it be parenting challenges, pressures at work, an illness in the family, etc. Honestly discuss needs and expectations and figure out how to get closer to the “agreement” until the storm passes.

TAKE NOTE!

This “agreement” only applies to healthy relationships during periods of temporary challenges. It is not an excuse to let long-term bad behavior slide. I’ve seen your type before. Hell, I’ve been your type before! So if you’re one of those overly-accommodating and overly-sympathetic types who make excuses for someone who is lazy or rude or is otherwise unsuitable life partner material, don’t even begin to nod along with this particular relationship advice. It doesn’t apply to you. And here’s why…

There are plenty of folks in the world who struggle with addiction or dabble in adultery or chatterbox from the couch about their dream job while you pay the bills. These people are likely “doing the best they can” but that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for you. So if you’re setting the bar too low, you may have relationship issues that no blogger (nor any amount of wishful thinking) can help resolve. Seek professional help. Or if you’re not already married to or have kids with this person, maybe consider moving on and finding someone whose “best” more often than not delights and surpasses your expectations. Someone about whom you don’t have to frequently tell your parents or girlfriends, “he’s doing the best he can.”

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Sometimes Paradise is a Hot Shower and a Snickers Bar

IMG_2679The hubs and I are in our 20th year of marriage. The actual anniversary date is still a few months off. But on some days, leading up to the big day, I find myself pondering in amazement…20 years… that’s a long time.

Our 20th year together is in many ways much easier than our first. Even though that first year was filled with adventure, romance, travels and fewer responsibilities, we were still figuring out the difference between what we expected from marriage and what was really in store.

It was during that first year of marriage, that the hubs accompanied me on a “working” trip to Hawaii and I discovered how expectations could sabotage an adventure.

The island of Kauai is everything I imagined it could be. Lush, mossy green mountains set a backdrop to a tropical island paradise dotted with palm trees and resort hotels. It was a brief trip and we didn’t know if we’d ever get another chance to return; so we crammed activities into every free moment. We played golf. We snorkeled. We took a helicopter tour of the island complete with a booming Yanni soundtrack playing in our earphones.

A view from our helicopter tour of Kauai.

A view from our helicopter tour of Kauai.

Each experience made me delirious with joy. Except… the hike.

The hubs overheard other hotel guests discussing a hiking trail that led to a waterfall. Waterfalls are his jam. We’d already been on countless hikes on other trips, through the Canadian wilderness in search of la chutes d’eau. The French word made him laugh and the triumph of finding a tucked away falls made him behave as if he’d summited a great mountaintop. And word was, that people were swimming under these secluded Hawaiian falls. We simply had to check it out.

It was said to be a three-mile hike. In our estimation, the trek would take around an hour and we would be frolicking under a waterfall like newlyweds in a romantic comedy.

That afternoon, we drove to the trailhead at the end of a road located near a deserted beach, parked the rental car and set out on our adventure. I expected to get some exercise, take pictures of some beautiful scenery and be back at the hotel in time for dinner. I brought along a backpack containing a jacket, a beach towel and a water bottle.

IMG_2682After about an hour of ambling along a dirt path through an island jungle, we began to get thirsty. It was warm. The water went quickly. We hadn’t thought to bring extra water, snacks or a flashlight for such a short jaunt. We shrugged off the minor discomfort of thirst and kept walking. Lots of hikers passed us. They were heading in the opposite direction, each telling the hubs we were almost there and that reaching the falls was totally worth the trip. These comments stoked his determination and fueled his ability to tune out my rumblings about getting tired and hungry.

We’d surely covered the estimated three miles and yet, no waterfall. The farther we traveled inland, the muddier and slipperier the path became. My stomach growled. The hubs checked his watch. He knew we needed to allow enough time to hike out before it got dark. We picked up the pace.

Finally! We reached a sign. It was the 3-mile marker. The destination we thought we’d been aiming for. But, no. This was not the spot where young dreamers would discover a jungle paradise. This was just a sign informing us that we’d reached the path that would lead us to the waterfall in approximately two more miles. What?!

We’d been misled. Deceived. We thought the trip would be easier. We weren’t prepared for this abrupt change of plans. Not fair.

I wanted to go back. But in the distance we could hear a faint sound; a spilling flow of water. The hubs begged me to press on. But we’d need to go faster if we were going to make it back out in daylight. He led. I followed. I whined. I slipped on muddy rocks. I couldn’t go faster because my mental capacity had been pre-set for what I’d believed would be an easy excursion. The hubs kept checking his watch as we marched deeper into the trees and brush. A steady stream of wet hikers passed us, heading out. “You’re almost there,” they’d say. I lost count of how many people told us we were almost there.

We reached a ravine. We’d have to hike down, cross over some boulders and logs in a stream and hike up the other side to continue. It was beginning to dawn on the hubs that continuing was unwise. In the clearing it was easier to hear what we thought were people splashing under the waterfall. We walked a bit farther, thinking we must be almost there. We were not. We could now see the falls in the distance and realized we’d never make there in time.

This is as close as we ever got to the waterfall that day.

This is as close as we ever got to the waterfall that day.

Feeling famished and dehydrated we high-tailed it back toward the trailhead in the gloaming. We couldn’t hear water or people anymore. No other hikers came by. It was getting darker by the minute. We lost the trail for a bit. I was practically in tears, asking the hubs if he knew any divorce lawyers on the mainland.

We exited the tree line at sunset, trudged across the sand to the parking lot and plopped into the rental car in our muddy shoes. We drove back to the hotel in silence. I’d never been so grateful for a hot shower and a Snickers bar.

I later decided divorce would have be an overreaction, especially since the hubs ultimately chose my comfort and safety over his personal desire to get to that damned waterfall. Since then, we’ve been on longer, more difficult hikes with less drama. That’s partly because we are more careful about being prepared for contingencies.

But more importantly, I’ve learned that my mind can play tricks on me when I have a certain set of expectations and life has other plans. The trouble in Hawaii wasn’t entirely about lacking supplies since we were only three miles from civilization. It was that I expected the trip to be easier and that I wouldn’t be uncomfortable. My mind was unprepared to endure hardship. But endure we did.

Married life has not always been what I originally expected it to be. And sometimes we’ve been caught completely unprepared for a given situation or have been unsure about how to proceed. But by putting one foot in front of the other, periodically stopping to evaluate our errors in judgement, and being committed to going in the same direction–even if that means one of us needs to change direction–we’ve managed to travel through almost 20 years of life together.

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May God Bless Your Obedience and other “Whacky” Sentiments

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This July, the hubs and I celebrate 19 years married. Not to brag since many have logged more years than us. But as the daughter of divorced parents and granddaughter of divorced grandparents, it’s kind of a big deal to me. I have no disrespect for divorced people, especially those who’ve suffered through abuse, addiction or adultery. For them, divorce can be a most welcome salve to their wounded spirit. But if I had any tip for staying married under what some might call more ideal circumstances, it would be this–the needs of the marriage must trump the wants of the self.

To illustrate, let me share a story from my first year of marriage. The hubs and I had packed up and moved west for kicks and giggles. We told folks, if we loved it, we’d stay and if we hated it, we’d leave. Trouble was, we had no plan for if one of us loved it and the other didn’t. We purchased a house in a suburb outside Seattle and spent our evenings after work going for walks around our new neighborhood. We talked about the future, promotions we hoped to attain, money we hoped to make and the number of children we planned to have. One of the hubs’ recurring dreams was returning to the Midwest. “The Twin Cities are great,” he’d say. “You’d really like it there.”

I’d roll my eyes and nod my head. Being a Michigander who’d always dreamed of living west, I had no intention of ever doing winter again. I’d joke in response, “Fine but you’ll have to get a promotion and a relocation package, help selling our house, and I’ll need a winter clothing allowance.”

Two years into our west coast adventure, I’d snagged a great promotion and was excited for more travel, more responsibility and more money. Three months after that, the hubs was also offered a promotion and a relocation package to guess where?? That’s right, the Twin Cities.

His news disappointed me to say the least. But I recalled another component of our evening walks, discussions of starting a family. I wanted a career but I also wanted to someday parent our future kiddos full-time. I’d seen enough jet-set executives to know I couldn’t do both. That meant, gulp, that his promotion meant more to our future family in the long term. I resolved to move to Minnesota and find another job.

I broke into tears when telling a friend my tale of woe. She responded by saying, “God will bless your obedience.”

My tears may have sucked back up into their ducts as I stifled a laugh. Only a religious nutcase would say such a thing, or so I believed at the time.

But 19 years later, I’ll admit that getting to raise our kids in Minnesota is one of the many blessings I’ve experienced since letting go of what I thought I wanted in favor of what my marriage needed.

Growing up with a single mother taught me self-preservation. Submission was not modeled in my mother’s home. Like her, I refuse to be anybody’s doormat. Even the term submission may stir up a feminist rant complete with finger snaps, head bobs and curse words. And yet, year after year, regular practice of submission, putting my individual wants second to the needs of others, particularly my spouse–being obedient to what I know in my heart is right–has brought me blessing. Truth!

I blow a kiss across the plains to my religious nutcase friend whose wisdom once sounded whacky to me. And if you’re trying to cobble together some good years with someone in marriage or even in friendship, consider which small sacrifices each person in the relationship could make for the good of the whole. And may God bless your obedience.

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