In my last column, about the value of new experiences, I wrote,
If I want to be the change I want to see in the world, then new experiences are the way I’m going to get there.
The same can be said of relationships: If I want to create and sustain a happy one, I need to be the best partner I can be. As a newlywed, I’m still in “fresh start” mode, which is a great place to be. It’s allowed me to look inward and make sure I’m being the kind of partner that will ensure our relationship lasts until the will is read.
When you re-marry, particularly when you do it in your 50s, you come to the party with a life lived. And, if you let it, all that life teaches you what to do, what not to do, and how to do everything better. But the key is, you have to be open to those lessons.
I’ve resolved to be open to them and to use them to make my relationship the best it can possibly be. But the same lessons are applicable even if you aren’t a newlywed, or even if you’re single and still looking.
My Lessons from Love 2.0
I already know I’m a better partner this time around. Here are some things I’ve learned so far:
Assume positive intent: It’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume your partner is being petty or thoughtless, but most of us don’t have bad intent when we’re less than kind. We’re probably just on autopilot, particularly in our closest relationships. We don’t always think about the words coming out of our mouths and how they’re heard and perceived by our beloved. But when we’re on the receiving end of curt words, it’s easy to get offended.
So, I’m making more of an effort to never assume anything less than loving intent from my husband. And it’s amazing how simply reframing how you perceive others’ actions can transform how you react to them.
Learn the other person’s language: I don’t strictly adhere to the “Five Love Languages” system, but it does have a commonsense application: know how your partner shows love, and make sure they know how you show your love. The way some people show their love may not seem the least bit romantic (such as being a financial provider or taking care of the grocery shopping), but it’s every bit as loving as sending flowers and making romantic dinners.
My husband and I have learned how each other shows love, and it’s made our relationship so much smoother. He takes pains to speak my language, I do my best to speak his, and we both work hard to understand when the other is being loving, even if it looks like they’re just taking out the trash.
Be honest, but be kind first. My husband and I made an “open book” pact, meaning that if either of us were feeling unhappy, we would talk about it. But we take pains to do so in a way that is also kind and not petty. It takes work to deliver “here’s why I’m unhappy” with diplomacy and tact, but it’s worth the extra effort.
Show your best self. If anybody is a fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, there’s a great scene in the pilot (the only episode I’ve had time for, unfortunately), where the main character goes to bed with full makeup on. The second her husband falls asleep, she leaps out of bed, goes to the restroom, puts her hair in curlers, takes all her makeup off, and only then goes to sleep. The next morning, she gets up before her husband, fixes her hair and makeup, jumps back in bed, and pretends to be asleep. When her husband wakes up, he sees her in full battle paint, fresh as a daisy.
While I would never, ever recommend that level of showmanship, there is something to be said for showing your best self to your partner. Looks are actually the least important part of the equation (although I do love it when he makes an effort to look nice for me, and vice versa). The bigger factor is simple kindness and manners: small courtesies, grand gestures, meals together – they’re all ways to make an effort and be our best selves for each other.
A Virtuous Circle
I have made a discovery that should be in no way surprising: when I’m kinder, people are kinder to me. So when I make an effort to be more loving, respectful, patient, and positive with my husband, he does the same for me.
It’s a cycle that feeds on itself in so many great ways.
We’re early days yet, and still in the honeymoon phase. But I may as well take advantage of this fresh start.
The good news is that, regardless of where you are in your relationship, you can always do the same. It’s never too late to start over with the one you love.