Let’s Live Together: Part 1 Being Respectful

When my wife and I retired, we decided to go ahead, bite the bullet, and live together. It used to seem we just cohabited, my wife and I; we basically shared a dwelling and raced through parallel lives. You know how that goes. We both worked long hours. She rushed there, and I was off doing that. We had weekly status meetings if we could schedule them when we were not too tired to look at calendars. Zip. Zip. Zip. Repeat daily. When the calendars were done, we were done in. Retirement changed all that. Suddenly we were thrust together, facing each other day in and day out. Wow. For some couples this change that retirement brings works well. For others it definitely does not. Divorce seems rampant among retirees. Sometimes the discoveries people make about their spouse aren’t always pleasant. My wife and I have been talking about what makes a marriage work and what jeopardizes success. We’ve come up with three words that summarize our view: Respect, Response, and Romance. Let’s talk about being Respectful. The discoveries I’ve made in my retirement about my wife are good; it turns out I have been sticking to a winning game all these years. What a great lady I married! I very much want to live with this person. And wonder of wonders, she shares the sentiment. I say “wonder of wonders” because our being together wasn’t always obvious. When we got engaged in college, someone put a sign on the front door of what was then the Wesley Foundation, where we had met. The sign read: “Crys and Ed are getting married.” I had people come up to me and ask who we were marrying? Our being together just didn’t click in peoples’ minds. So, what kinds of things do you find worth sticking around for that aren’t always obvious? For us a key is respect, which has to do with the acknowledgment of greatness, goodness, and worth. We value what our partner has become and tries to be. For example, my wife has never liked writing. It is painful for her. She is, however, a good editor, but that means every word she puts on paper has to be evaluated for spelling, tense, composition, and who knows what else. Then she has to start all over again for the second word and so on. By the time she has a dozen words firmly on paper, she’s done a day’s work. Writing is exhausting for her.

Despite all that, my wife sat down awhile back and wrote a book. It’s a great book. But part of what makes it great rests in something not obvious. To write that book, she overcame her aversion day after day, week after week for seven months to create something worthwhile. Don’t you want to be married to someone who would do that? I do.

Respect. Wanting to live with someone is not hard if you see greatness and worth in the other person and are proud of who she wants to be and tries to become. How do you find and support greatness and worth? I’ll give you one example and talk about how these ideas take shape. You have to pay attention. Who is this person you are sitting with? What is she doing that adds meaning to her life? Does she spend her time well or fritter it off into oblivion? What makes her happy? Sad? Disappointed? Excited? My wife’s favorite blessing is to be able to ride a horse.

Horseback riding was something she could only dream about when she was young. Her view of the world was limited to the horses she could see in the distance from her house. She couldn’t run and play because her feet came into this world deformed.

As she healed from many treatments, she dreamed of the freedom those horses represented. She could not go out and play then. Now, 50 years later, she still glories in the independence the mastery of riding has given her. Though her back will no longer let her get on a horse, the shackles were permanently removed; she still feels the independence and sense of mastery that she painstakingly won by dint of effort. Wouldn’t you want to support and encourage that big a symbol in somebody’s life? Here’s how: You have to connect with what is important to her. Notice I didn’t say you had to do what she does. I merely said “connect.” We have an interesting division of labor in our house. I wear the cowboy hat. She rides the horse. And she is good at it. I can be proud of her accomplishment without having to do it myself. I can attend the shows, even help build a fence around the riding ring, watch, admire, and brag. And continue the brag even to this day. You have to give space to your partner so she can achieve what she wants. You may have heard of a golfer’s widow? Well, I’m a horse-lover’s widower. I’m completely happy with the result, however. My daughter and I always send her off to ride with the following instruction: “Mom, go ride your horse. You’ll be a better person.” And it has almost always worked. (However, you can’t count the time she came home with a broken leg.) You have to resource the project to prove to each other that your partnership values who she is. Occasionally that meant we had to rent and even buy a horse, plus pay for all the maintenance—shoes, vet, monthly board. In our household that often meant we were doing “horse” rather than something else.

Then too, when she and her friends came back from a long trail ride, I had a hot meal prepared over the campfire. She wanted to “take her horse camping.” I contributed. Resources can mean money. Resourcing can also mean spending your own time and doing things in support. Respect is not merely acknowledgement. Respect has to be tangible and measurable. When giving respect costs you something, it is appreciated by its presence. It is quite literally respect…full.

That doesn’t mean the particular passion or project always comes first. When we were paying for our daughter’s college education, we didn’t own a horse. We both respect our daughter and what she was becoming. We turned our attention to those goals. Respect is not about horseback riding. Respect is about something we value and how we go about achieving it. My wife has become the best horsewoman she can be. She seeks mastery in this arena. How could I possibly dis-respect her by not supporting her passion? That doesn’t mean she is the best horse rider in the world or that she has no room for improvement. I’m not basing my respect on her fame. I’m basing my respect on all the effort and energy she throws into this one small area of her life. I’m basing my respect on the successes she feels are important. I’m basing my respect on the shear joy that those efforts bring to her life. She has chosen well and achieved delight! Who would want to deny that? She has truly come back from the experience “a better person,” a person I respect. Next time we’ll dig into another idea about marriage success and talk about being Responsive. Ed Zinkiewicz …the retired guy