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Four foundations of sustaining a happy, fulfilling marriage

Photo credit: Life as a Human

Young friends of mine were about to be married. The groom-to-be, Kyoshi, had been buddies with my own son since early childhood; he’d brought his fiancée, Christie, home to Cortes Island to meet close family friends before the wedding. This thoughtful and savvy young woman won our hearts around the dinner table, asking, “What advice do you have for two people beginning married life together?”

What a provocative question! How often is our wisdom invited to dinner? Christie’s question caught hold of me. Having recently uncoupled, I decided to do some more research on the subject, an informal survey of women beyond the dinner table. In all honesty, I wanted to see how my former partner had or had not measured up. The survey question that formed was this: What are the qualities of your husband that have sustained your marriage over the long term?

Women loved being asked the question. I wanted to know what keeps a marriage out of the red and in the black; where there is more credit than debit on both sides. It’s easy to feel when one is in this kind of company and so obvious to sense when not. The gut just knows. But what is it?

The qualities distilled down to four:

First. Kindness. Unfailing kindness. Kindness inherent in one’s nature. Or cultivated on purpose.

Second. Generosity. Both generosity of spirit and generosity of shared material things and resources. No tit for tat account keeping here.

Third. Sense of humour. Shared sense of humour, a critical distinction. Laughing together and taking life lightly at times seemed to ensure the most durable bond.

Wedding Photos - Profession Sheri Jackson 267

The fourth quality each woman described in her own way. Essentially, their husbands hold a bigger field or perspective in which the wives can simply be themselves. The husbands weren’t knocked off kilter by her moods, changing mind, or her discomfort. It reminded me of my friend Steve, a life-long sailor, who says that when there is no wind, and the sails are luffing, you continue to remain vigilant and attentive though not actively so. In fact cool detachment is best; then when the wind does pick up you’re ready to respond and follow the air current. In a nutshell, the men give the women both a comforting containment and a liberating spaciousness.

On the first anniversary of their marriage, Kyoshi and Christie came home and we found ourselves gathered around the dinner table again. After reporting the survey results, to my delight Christie replied that if I was thinking about getting married again it would be more useful to ask the question of the husbands. Touché!

So over the months to come I asked the men: What are the qualities of your wife that have sustained your marriage?

This time around it was not only fun, it was enlightening listening to a man relating what he values about his wife, voluntarily, without resistance or cajoling. Usually the wives were present too, though silent. I found startling consistency of the first three qualities across the men and the women. Kindness. Generosity. Shared sense of humour.

The fourth quality is distinctly different for men. I had expected to hear something like, “She accepts me as I am.” It was quite the contrary; acceptance is the small end of the spectrum.

“She wants to know me, she is curious about how I am feeling, what I am thinking, what my experience is, and accepts all of me. I feel safe and cared for in a deep way. She brings out the best in me and I’d be a lesser person without her”.

This was nothing about “doing” and all about listening. The women paid attention without criticism or triggered reaction. What an accomplishment! I found for myself clarity about what makes a relationship tick along in a life enhancing direction.

What’s more compelling, though, is what happens when two lovers, in the broadest sense of the word, find their value reflected by the other. These spontaneous informal conversations brought something else too— the gift of being in the presence of this order of love, and experiencing it as a beneficiary even.

Witnessing a woman hearing her husband talk about what he values in her, often things she has not heard outright; seeing a man receive affirmation of his capacity to love—these are tender moments, sacred reflections leaving an enduring impression on each of us in the conversation.

Blessings to Christie and Kyoshi for having sparked a quest to define married love. When I have shared the wisdom of my long-wedded friends with younger ones on the threshold of marriage, the response has been one of awe and gratitude.

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