The Question to Ask if You Want a Relationship That Lasts
Robin and I just celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary, and I can tell you that she is fun damn near every day. Since we started dating four decades ago, we've been laughing together, reading together, traveling and discovering new music. Then we reminisce about our experiences so we can share them over and over. We're both having fun. In fact, a few nights ago we found ourselves out in the backyard pool at 1 a.m. I won't say much, but we were real glad that the lights are timed to go off at midnight!
We also love to tease each other, but it's never meanspirited. For instance, my knee was killing me the other day, and I was limping into the kitchen when I saw Robin's reflection in the window. She was walking two feet behind me, imitating the way I was hobbling along. When I caught her, she nearly died laughing, and so did I.
Now, I don't always have the energy or spirit to be a fun partner. None of us do. But at those times, I can count on Robin to take care of me, and when her spirits are flagging, I do the same for her. Years ago, I had to travel a lot for work. I'd leave on Monday and wouldn't be back until 4 p.m. Thursday. Robin, who had been alone with the kids all week, could have said, "Welcome home. Now start helping me out around here, buddy." Instead, she'd meet me at the door with a hug, a kiss and my tennis racquet. She knew I'd be a lot more fun if I could run around and break a good sweat instead of coming in straight from the grind. And we still managed to sit down for dinner as a family by 6 p.m.
I'm not saying that marriage should always be like a day at Disney World. Of course the two of you are going to have hard times and issues you need to work through. But if you're constantly talking about problems, then you've got a problem relationship. Show me a partner who's always bellyaching about bills, housekeeping, the kids, and I'll show you a partner who isn't much fun to live with. Say your beloved leaves the toilet seat up, or plays the TV too loud, or falls asleep in his armchair and snores. You can decide to complain about it, or you can decide to find it charming. Either way, it's a choice.
Don't let your relationship become like elevator music—something in the background that doesn't merit your attention—while the days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. There is a very clear formula for success in a relationship: It's a function of how well it meets the needs of the two people involved, and it's always based on a solid underlying friendship. You have to discover what your partner needs, and you also have to teach him about what you need instead of expecting him to read your mind. Think of yourself as your partner's closest companion and playmate. Would you keep hanging out with somebody who just criticizes you and grunts when he runs into you on the way to the bathroom? No way. You're looking for a person who wants to laugh, talk about interesting things, share stories and grow. You're looking for a friend. And as the saying goes, if you want to have a good friend, you have to be a good friend.
Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 13th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World (Bird Street).