At a recent communication workshop I facilitated, I invited a good friend, Robert, to join us as a guest. Robert is 94 and his wife is 91. They have been married for 64 years. Robert began by sharing the following joke.
Two couples go out together for dinner. One couple is in their 20s and has been married for just over a year, and the other couple is in their 70s and has been married for 45 years. After dinner they go for a walk together. The two men start talking and walk about 15 feet in front of the women. As they pass a large field, the younger guy turns to the older guy and says: "I have a question I'd like to ask you. It's so wonderful how you and your wife have been able to make your marriage work for so long. I was just wondering, do you still go out of your way to do nice things for her?"
"Oh, yes, nice things... my wife... you mean like the flower... the red flower with a long stem?"
"A rose?" asks the younger man.
"Yes, that's it," the older man replies. He then turns back to his wife and says, "Hey Rose, I still do nice things for you, don't I?"
After the laughter subsided, I asked Robert to share a few secrets of his success, his best practices of marriage, how he has made his marriage work and created what I refer to as a "DMSR"--a deep, meaningful, sustainable relationship--what most of us are aiming for in our lives. Everyone sat on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear how Robert would respond. Here are some of the strategies he shared:
1) Be careful not to throw words around. They can start arguments. It's amazing how powerful words are. As Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements, be impeccable with your word. Think about what you are saying before you blurt it out. If you say the wrong word, admit it.
2) If you hear words you don't like, ask the other person what they meant. Don't make assumptions, and try not to take things personally.
3) Be tolerant.
4) Be willing to forgive.
5) Have a sense of humor. "None of us are getting out of this alive anyway," Robert joked.
6) It's not as exciting as it used to be, but who cares. It's nice to have all the memories that we share, and to spend time with our grandchildren, and live vicariously through them.
7) Find opportunities for little loving gestures for your mate. Find out what they love as clues for what to give them (e.g. a certain type of chocolate candy to bring back from every trip).
Reflect for a moment on Robert's words. Do you think this far into the future about your own life? What kind of person do you want to share your life's memories with?
As you think about how to create a life filled with stable, long-term intimacy, remember that the most important thing in a relationship, and in life, is love. All else is an illusion we create in our minds to mollify our fears of wanting and risking ourselves for this love.
Yet love doesn't just appear out of thin air. Love is actualized by giving. We give by attuning ourselves to the other person's needs and doing as much as we are capable of to meet those needs without compromising who we are (which is probably much more than you have been giving up until now). We also give by being open about our own needs and learning how to receive.
Ask yourself this week how you can give to the people you care about in your life to start transforming your desired future into your present reality.