Last weekend, my husband and I went for our almost-daily walk around the neighborhood. We have a particular route we always follow, and on this day our three dogs joined us. My husband had the two smaller dogs, who, for the first few blocks, acted more like Alaskan sled dogs, pulling him down the street as he leaned backward to keep them from a full run. I had our 70-pound, well-mannered Weimaraner, Greyson. Since my husband had been nursing an old foot injury, he decided to shorten the regular route and head back to the house. I, of course, had to complete the 1.1-mile route because not finishing a task causes me a certain level of anxiety.
As he began to redirect the two little urchins (as we call them) down the alternate path home, he commented that the sky had gotten darker since we left the house and that little bit of thunder we heard could bring rain quickly. He suggested I follow him home via the shorter route. I didn’t listen.
We parted ways, and I began thinking about the people I would be seeing in my therapy office the next day. As I walked down the long back street in our neighborhood, the wind began blowing and the clouds turned into a dark, ominous, boiling gray mass moving rapidly over me. A few strikes of lightning and claps of thunder made it evident my husband was right … again!
As I rounded the corner and headed for home, I still had three blocks to go before turning down our street. Across the main road entering our subdivision, I could see a developing blanket of water that began peppering buildings, trees, and cars, making them almost obscure under the growing deluge. At this point, there was no rain in our subdivision. Do you know that feeling you have when you are trying desperately to reach the door of a building just before it closes and locks you out? That was my feeling. I was going to get drenched.
What I didn’t know was that my husband had dropped off the dogs at the house and immediately got in his truck and headed out to find me and Greyson. He rounded the corner at our street as the first large drops began slapping the top of my head. By the time he pulled up beside me, my dog was spotted head to tail from the large droplets. I had never been so relieved to see my husband.
He opened the back door of the truck and Greyson jumped in as I hopped into the front seat. As I closed the door, I stared at my husband for a few seconds and said, “I’m so grateful for you—not just for rescuing me from the rain, but for ALL the ways you care for me.” He grinned and said, “That’s what I love to do!”
I relate this story not to brag about the fact I am blessed beyond measure with a great marriage, but to highlight the beauty of partners who anticipate the needs of their significant others. Selfless acts relay to the other how much they truly care.
This was not an isolated incident with my husband. He constantly and forever is meeting my needs, even when I don’t think I have a need. He keeps me filled up and never wanting for love, acceptance, and security. That’s what I want to convey to the people I work with in therapy—marriage is an ongoing relationship that needs constant interaction and care to work.
John Gottman, who has studied relationships extensively, says we need to always follow what he calls the “5:1 ratio rule.” For every negative interaction we have with a partner, there should be five positive interactions to keep our “love buckets” full.
Each of us should do a quick check of our marriage from time to time by asking questions such as:
- Are we just like ships in the night passing each other?
- Do we have humor, affection, and active interest in each other?
- Do I feel a real emotional connection to my partner?
- Would I count my partner as my best friend?
- What is our shared meaning together?
- How would I feel and react if I lost my partner?
- How are we doing on trust, love, and respect?
If you are not happy with your answers, consider seeing an experienced couples counselor for tools and ideas to bring you closer to your “ideal relationship.”
Learning to accept “problems” as part of any relationship and having the skills to talk about them is key to a productive resolution that does not escalate to anger and discontent.
Many people come to me looking for a solution to their problems. Some relationship issues are solvable, but as I explain to everyone, most problems are unsolvable; you simply need to learn how to manage them. And remember, as Gottman put it, “choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems.” In other words, it is not about solving the perpetual problem; rather, it is the affect that surrounds the discussion of the perpetual problem. Learning to accept “problems” as part of any relationship and having the skills to talk about them is key to a productive resolution that does not escalate to anger and discontent.
It also important to remember romantic relationships and marriage often bring out our own “stuff.” This is good provided we take the opportunity to process our “stuff” and learn to heal as individuals. Often, our own “stuff” is what is causing the “couple problems.”
I know firsthand having a great marital relationship offers many benefits. I am not value neutral when it comes to marriage. I believe marriage is important for our legacy, our community, and society at large.
Rescuing your partner from an impending deluge, telling them how much better your life is with them in it, and knowing how to anticipate their needs and take care of each other is essential to maintaining and growing a fantastic partnership or marriage.
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, NY: Harmony.
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