A wise man once told me he makes all the important decisions in his marriage, while his wife makes all the unimportant decisions.
Then he added, “And my wife decides which decisions are important and which ones are unimportant”.
Underlying that facetious remark is a universal truth. Good marriages are about compromise and joint decision-making. To me compromise involves reaching an agreement that neither side wants, but both sides can live with – without resentments. Such a compromise thus constitutes a joint decision.
I can speak with some authority on the matter, since my wife and I have used the formula to craft 30 years of marital bliss. I need to mention that those happy years are not consecutive. They’re spread out over 51 years together.
Here’s the breakdown. We met in our mid-teens and had five years of new-love joy until we married. We remained giddy together in the beginning, until the reality of keeping ahead of advancing bills became ever-more difficult, especially once our son was born. At that juncture our cost of living rose by 33-1/3 percent and our gross income dropped by 50 percent.
The disparity in our relationship soon grew faster than the differential on our budgetary balance sheet.
Now I was the sole bread earner and my wife was, in effect, the single parent raising our child…and me.
We can skip the details here. Most marrieds-with-children know the story: Entitled moneymaker vs. underappreciated domestic engineer. My attitude was that my responsibility to the family ended once I turned over the paycheck and that her responsibility encompassed everything else.
Her attitude? She didn’t like my attitude.
Yet, we’re still together. Obviously, something has changed.
A combination of a role reversal as I became the primary caregiver and she joined the work force, abandonment of self-destructive practices in my early 40s, my ripening awareness of equal rights for women (starting at home) and a sea change toward my share plus a little extra, slowly led to alterations in my marital demeanor.
At that point, I recalled another wise man telling me that happiness comes from what you bring to a relationship, not from what you take from it.
Incrementally I began doing little things I previously had ignored, most noticeably staying in touch while I was out in the world, rather than going “incommunicado” for hours on end. I started coming home closer to the time I said I would and calling if I was going to be late. Basically, I just would remember to do what I had promised her.
Sure, bringing home flowers occasionally is a sweet thing. But it’s nowhere as appreciated as picking up the dry cleaning without being asked, buying milk for her coffee even though I don’t drink either, or filling her car with gas whenever I drive it.
In short, I inched toward doing the kinds of things for her that she always had done for me, such as never leaving a Marshalls without buying something to freshen my wardrobe, cooking food that matches my crazy dietary restrictions and picking up my endless trail of crumbs after I’ve already cleaned up.
As the years have passed, we have learned a fairer way of partnering that goes far beyond mere peaceful coexistence.
In our dyad, my wife is the CFO, handling all the bills, keeping track of the bank accounts and checkbooks. God bless her for serving as steadfast guardian at that gate. What I do is file all those paid bills, put stamps and return addresses on the envelopes and go to the post office much of the time.
She still does the major share of the cooking, but I’ll sometimes make the salad. I generally wash the dishes and empty the dishwasher and drainer. She handles the bulk of the shopping but I schlep in the bundles and uncomplainingly dart out at first request if she needs a forgotten item during meal prep.
I have no problem most of the time being the support staff in our marriage (well, okay, my male ego still rebels on random occasions but not nearly so often anymore). The growth for me is that I no longer feel I’m in second place. Nor do I believe, as I did early in our marriage, that I had to be the top dog.
We’re equal shareholders in the firm of Peters & Peters. We each contribute in our own way and don’t keep score of who did what. The latest proof arose earlier this month when we did our taxes without a punch or sarcastic punch line being thrown.
Sure, we had tense moments when something was misplaced in the piles of paper we sifted through or when the same list of numbers produced a different total each time we added them. In those situations, though, we exhibited what Hemingway called “grace under pressure”.
We got the taxes filed on time and not only are we still sleeping in the same bed but we’re enjoying our time together more each day.
Note: This is the corrected version. Please read this version.
I used to say the secret to our marital longevity could be stated in two words: Yes, Dear. Now that I finally have learned to pick up cues, I know those two words sound condescending (that’s because – I hate to admit it – they are), I no longer use that blow-off phrase.
I do, however, still agree with the Yes, Dear philosophy. Since we’re a team, and since she wants to do something a certain way at a certain time, why not accommodate her? As I said, this is a true partnership, not a competition.
What I remind myself constantly is how lucky I am to have her in my life. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t want to be married to me, so I must be grateful that she remains willing to be.
Oh, and one more ingredient needs to be added to this story: