“No gifts,” said the bride, “But if you have some words of wisdom…..
Wisdom? About that? Something so complex and compelling thousand books, have been written about it. I couldn’t possibly measure up. Why couldn’t I just buy them some dinner plates?
Refusing to give in to my “less than” self, I gave it some thought. Whatever wisdom I have comes from my own experience, not the pundits of the self-help world, valuable though much of their work may be. I’ve been with my husband for 38 years. It took us awhile to find each other, or more precisely, to be mature enough to know a good thing when it came along. We both entered into the relationship with some wounds of the heart and good ideas about what we didn’t want, and right from the beginning this one felt “different”. I could be myself, didn’t feel I was going to offend him or make a mess of things. Most of our core values lined up, from our love of nature, to our relaxed attitude about putting away the dishes. A few weeks in, he said with a smile of gratitude, “You don’t talk in the morning,”
Also, he didn’t seem to have assumptions about what was my role, as the “woman”. He pitched in naturally, whether picking up a heavy grocery sack, or flipping the crepes, or saying our one common morning phrase, “Coffee?”
This wasn’t always seamless. The assumption-maker in all of us runs deep. As baby boomers we grew up in households where men were breadwinners, women, housewives. This seemed to roll out in subtle, unconscious ways through the years, and our ability to confront pre-conceived ideas, and communicate them to each other, has been the critical “cleansing” agent across time.
Time and again I discovered I got frustrated or angry when I had expectations that were not about seeing—and accepting– my husband for who he really is. And the source? Inevitably about me not seeing —or accepting– myself, with all my limitations and strengths. It has been a long journey for me to claim and assert my worth, and at each step along this path, the relationship has become more healthy. Recently I have used the phrase, “Separate, Together” Like two trees close to one another in the forest, with roots that go deep and intertwine, but stem from a separate source.
If you are fortunate enough to know yourself and your partner over many years, you get to see them expand their identity, learn new things, and deepen their awareness. This may be the best-kept secret about long term relationships. The person you marry becomes someone else over time, and the dialog between you can nourish this transformation. Nothing is predictable, or as boring as following some culture-bound notion of “activities” one should take up at any given age or stage. The ability to embrace the unexpected, and support your mutual identity formation is perhaps the greatest creative opportunity offered to human beings. Does this cause tension? Frequently. Frustration? Usually. Compromise? Surely. Bring you closer? You bet.
Paradoxically, all this growth filters through the years into a lightness of being. Delight in the simple things: the thrum of the hummingbird on our fuchsia, sharing the first pea pods from the garden, watching for bats to come out as clouds cross the full moon on a summer’s night.
And let’s not neglect humor. In the most stressful times, especially of transition or loss, we often find ourselves awake in the middle of the night, laughing until we cry, finding the absurd in the things we cannot change, from aging, to world politics.
And, for us, physical contact is a touchstone that only seems to increase with time. The most subtle moments become a sustaining thread: my hand on his shoulder in the morning, his hand guiding mine to plant seeds in the garden; both of us, standing perfectly still in the kitchen door, my arm touching his, as we watch the hummingbird come so close, it takes our breath away.
Beautiful advice, Elizabeth. Better than any self-help book. Thank you!