Ric Elias spoke at the 2011 TED conference about how, when his passenger plane came down for a crash-landing on the Hudson River, he suddenly realized that he’d wasted too much time on things that didn’t matter — arguing with his wife and others he cares about because his ego got in the way.
However, most of us don’t usually get the opportune jolting from our daily existence to reflect deeply on what is most important to us. Maybe we see a particularly good film, read an insightful book, or do some imaginative self-inquiry to help us focus on how we would live our lives the way we would want to if we were to meet an untimely end.
And even if we got that lightning bolt to illuminate what we most want in our closest relationships, would we follow through with our resolution to do better?
It’s easy to show appreciation for the person you choose to love at those pivotal and high-profile moments: when one of you first say “I love you” and the other one responds in kind; on Valentine’s Day, at your marriage ceremony; when your child is born/adopted; at your first anniversary or your tenth; when you invite all your friends to witness you renewing your vows; or when you send your first or last kid to college.
What about during the non-eventful parts of your daily life, when no one else is watching? Do you give him a hug because he stops the argument and acknowledges that you may be right? Do you kiss her when she points out that you’re acting just like the father you said you would never want to be? Do you tell him that he made you feel cared for and loved when he made dinner and spent the evening playing with little Jane while you worked until 11pm? Do you thank her every day that she leaves the negative stuff at work rather than dumping on you?
If you have habitually taken your love for granted, given free rein to your desire to be right, or spilled your bottled-up frustrations at home without mopping it up, you don’t have to buy a ticket to a near-death experience to slap you into shape.
Instead, remember just two things:
- Neither you nor your partner voluntarily made a commitment to be together so that one of you could be a silent partner, second fiddle, nag, housekeeper, maid, au pair, bookkeeper, bully, or punching bag.
- You both signed up to be happy together.
Being happy together means trusting that you have each other’s back, so that one picks up the slack when the other runs out of strength, one gives the other credit for things done well and support given, and in cases where one is weak, the other is there to give fortification. This is a reciprocal dance in which both partners are prepared to lead or follow as the situation demands, and the roles are never fixed. A truly happy couple is also able to give each other the ultimate benefit: they push each other to become more than if they were on their own — more insightful, more creative, more empathetic, more flexible, more prepared to tackle the unforeseen, more honest to themselves, and more alive.