October 12, 2012

The Formula for a Happy Marriage.

Photo: Ian MacKenzie

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that relationships are a ‘50/50 proposition’ with each person responsible for their share of the care and feeding of this third entity called us.

As a career therapist and someone who was married for nearly 12 years (widowed now nearly 14) I have found the math is a wee bit off in that equation. The reality is that relationships are 100/100 with each partner bringing to the table/bedroom the sum total of who they are, their experiences, beliefs and behaviors. It’s not about who does the dishes, takes out the trash, leaves the toilet seat up or mows the lawn—even though these tasks are important in the day-to-day upkeep of a home in which the relationship can either flounder or flourish.

I grew up in a household with two parents who came from opposite sides of the track, divergent socio-economic backgrounds, neighborhoods and world views. My father Moish was a first generation American born South Philly street corner kid whose Russian immigrant Orthodox Jewish parents were hard-working and struggled to keep the family afloat. He rose from those beginnings to provide financial stability and middle class comfort for us with his blue-collar jobs as a milk man and then a bus driver with my mom balancing the color scheme as a pink-collar worker, switchboard operator.

My mother Selma grew up in a more modern, less modest household with (surprise) a father who himself was a milkman but who was able to allow for them to be the first family on the block with a tv and a car.  They met at the party of a mutual friend when she was having words with a man she had been seeing for seven years who stood her up on New Year’s Eve.

My father observed the feisty strawberry blond who was built like a brick you know what and thought “That girl’s got chutzpah!”  He asked if he could drive her home.

When she walked through the door, she told my grandmother “Tonight I met the man I’m going to marry.”

Their first date was at a Chinese restaurant. Her fortuitous fortune read:  “You’d better prepare your hope chest.”  When he asked her to marry him, he requested that she go  to the fridge and pour him a glass of milk. Guess what was sitting atop the milk bottle? (Remember this was the 1950’s when milk came packaged in glass).

Of course she said yes.

Fast forward 50 years and I am preparing to officiate as an interfaith minister at their fifth century vow renewal ceremony. I asked my 82-year-old father the secret to the longevity of their marriage and his response was “Your mother is always right,” a half facetious answer that carried within it a grain of truth.

I asked her how they had managed to build a life together with such different beginnings. She replied  “We just loved each other,” and then added, with a smile on her face that her only condition if they were to be married, was that he had to eat vegetables, since he was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. He gladly complied. Ironically, later in life, he became mostly vegetarian when I introduced him to tofu and miso soup and made fruit and veggie smoothies that my mother called his concoctions.

Each of them knew instinctively I think, that they needed to focus their attention on being at their best with each other, subscribing to the idea that a friend of mine suggests “always leave the campground better than you found it.”

Never did I hear them say anything disrespectful to each other, and yet I did witness disagreement followed by resolution. Humor was a key factor as well; I grew up in a gloriously goofy family in which music, dancing, playing, and affection were abundant.

They modeled laughter as nearly a cure-all for whatever challenges faced us, with love bolstering it.

In my own adult relationships, prior to, during my marriage and sometimes since then, I have walked a tightrope between acting as if I am 100 percent responsible for my interactions and huddling under the proverbial covers, shielding my eyes and refusing to come out, figuring that if I couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see me.

Sadly, there were times when I would topple over into co-dependent chaos and then by the grace of whatever good spirits happened to come my way, in the form of friends, mentors and therapists, I was able to get vertical, take personal inventory and reclaim my 100 percent me-ness with my strengths and vulnerabilities, knowing that I am, you are, we all are wondrous works in progress.


Editor: Lori Lothian

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