What Makes a Relationship Work? part 1

My husband and I went to a Three Dog Night concert a few weeks ago and got to talking to another couple. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, finding out what each of us did and discovering some common ground. The other couple has four children; John and I have two. I asked about the ages of their children and was somewhat surprised when the man couldn’t remember the birth order of their children. He was talking about one child and said, “Wait, no, he’s the next to oldest.”

My puzzlement must have shown on my face, because he soon explained, “We’ve been married for only 3 years; we are a blended family.” I know several couples who have made that situation work, so I didn’t think too much about it. Then he asked how long John and I have been married. We both said, almost in unison, “Thirty years this August.”

“Wow!” the guy replied. “What’s your secret?”

For once, I was speechless. After a pause, I said, “I really don’t have a clue.” (John was sitting to my left; the couple was to my right. He couldn’t hear all of the conversation because of music playing in the background before the concert, so I was turning back to him and keeping him informed of most of our conversation. I’m sure he would have chimed in with his own two cents’ worth if we’d had a quieter setting for conversation.)

This guy’s question got me to thinking about John’s and my relationship, what has and hasn’t worked for us over the years, and before the night was over, I was really grateful for my sweet, devoted spouse, because what we witnessed in the other couple wasn’t pretty.

I don’t know if they’d had an argument before coming to the Wild Horse Saloon or if perhaps they got some bad news during the concert. All I know is that the guy was a little too “handsy” for my tastes…he kept touching my shoulder while we were talking. I was trying to ignore it and include his wife in our conversation. In fact, I talked across him to her a lot of the time.

They got up and went somewhere just before the concert started, and when they came back, he positioned himself at the rail (there was a counter in front of us for food & drink) with his back definitely turned toward me and all his attention focused on her. She was upset. I looked at her and told John, “Something’s up. She’s crying.” They had some earnest conversation, mostly the guy pleading with her about something. About one song into the concert, they got up and left. It’s a mystery…but the whole situation got me to thinking about how John and I have managed to stay together for nearly 30 years.

One thing I have always appreciated about my spouse is his love and devotion to me. Not a day goes by without his telling me, “I love you.” I say the same to him every single day, or most days. Often we say this just before going to sleep, even on the roughest days when we’ve bitched at each other about some petty matter or argued. Sometimes when I say “I love you” to him, he replies, “I know.” At first I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing…then I decided, yes, it is. I certainly want my husband to feel loved.

We’ve gone through many ups and downs, as any couple would in a 30-year relationship.

Four weeks before our wedding, John’s dad died suddenly of a heart attack or stroke. I’ll never forget John’s early-morning phone call informing me of his dad’s death. I was with him as much as possible in the following days. I was so proud of his being able to make decisions about his dad’s funeral, though later I discovered that his brother resented his take-charge attitude. John is the baby of the family; his brother is 6 years older, his sister 9 years older. His mom was 75 at the time. John discussed the funeral arrangements with his family, but he clearly was the decision maker. At times like that, you need someone who is willing to step into the leadership role, even if someone else gripes about it…and where siblings are involved, it seems there is always at least one dissatisfied party.

We decided to go ahead with our wedding, since we had just gotten our invitations and were in the process of mailing them. We thought it would give John’s mom something to look forward to. When I look back at our wedding pictures, she looks shell-shocked.

Early in our marriage, I had to learn to “report in” to John. This was a new concept to me, an impulsive sort who might decide to go shopping on the way home from work. At first I resented calling him. Then I realized that I was responsible for communicating. (Duh.) It’s only right to be considerate of the person(s) you live with and let them know if you’re not going to be home at the time they expect you. This was in the days before cell phones, so communication was a little more challenging then. (Back in the dinosaur age, I could still send smoke signals from my work phone.)

John traveled a lot for his job during the first two years of our marriage. I kind of welcomed his travels, because I still had a chance to do stuff I wanted to do while I was learning to be married. He sold concrete accessories, and I learned more about concrete than I ever wanted to. The highlight of this period of our marriage was a trip to Washington, DC for a convention called World of Concrete. I got lots of jokes about that from my colleagues. Who’d ever think that there could be so much fuss about concrete and the stuff that reinforces it? Turns out the trip to DC was great fun, and I went shopping with the other wives and their children while the guys went to the convention.

Faith has always been an important ingredient in our relationship. John and I met in the singles group at Belmont Heights Baptist Church. When I first met him, I thought he was attractive, but I also thought he was dating a woman I saw with him constantly, so I kept my distance. When I joined the church, he was really friendly. We went out to lunch with the singles, and when I made a face at him in the parking lot, he responded in kind. I guess we were just meant to be together. 😀

We had almost 5 years as a couple before we had our first child, Daniel. I treasure that time when it was just the two of us. We had great fun. When John got a good commission on a sale, we decided to go to Europe. We figured this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel while we still had money before kids. (We were right about that. We haven’t been back to Europe—yet.)

This is turning out to be a longer blog than I thought, so I will go ahead and post this and write Part 2 later.

6 thoughts on “What Makes a Relationship Work? part 1

  1. Anne, I love this. Since I work with couples in troubled marriages I am especially interested in some of the things you guys do that are proven to work. You both just “knew” what to do. Just to reinforce this I’m going to send you an article about the 10 Habits of Successful Couples. It’s based on 20 years of research on marriages and I use it a lot in therapy with couples. I only have a hard copy so I’ll send it pony express. Just thought you’d be interested.

  2. Thank you, Barb (and Derek!). Definitely send the article! I hope to write the second half (or maybe a series, if I don’t gag everyone with the idea). John and I have had our rough patches. Every couple does. I think it’s the idea that you ARE going to make it that helps you get through these spots. There have been times I’ve been mad enough to spit nails, and he has too.

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