Marriage 101: Showing up
Joe and Mary sat on the love seat, tense and angry. “He never tells me he loves me! He doesn’t give me a hug or a kiss. He comes home, nods at me, plays with the kids, watches TV and falls sound asleep”. Joe is confused. “Of course, I love her! We both agreed that our kids come first. I shouldn’t have to tell her something she should know!”
But Mary feels taken for granted. She wants Joe to show her how much he loves her. He feels that she should know how he feels. This kind of conflict is like a jet circling around an airport endlessly. It seems like it will never come in for a landing.
Over the last 35 years, I have heard this conversation repeated hundreds of times by couples of all ages, stages, and stripes. Love is a verb, not a noun. Of course it comes from a feeling. But in order for it to be a verb, it must manifest itself in action.
While this lack of expression can occur in both men and women, it often comes in the male flavor. Men frequently assume that their wives should just “know” that they are dedicated to their families. After all, why are they working so hard? Why do they keep their home so well maintained? Women tend to be more emotionally expressive, but want their hubbies to express themselves too—both in words and deeds. No one likes to feel neglected, unappreciated, or worse—taken for granted.
It’s all about “showing up” as a husband (or wife). Most of us have learned that 95% of success at work comes from getting to work every day. An employee may not be brilliant, inspiring, or a top performer, but if he shows up every day, with a smile on his face and a kick in his step, he will likely stay employed. Amazing top performers who are unreliable and don’t make it to work, quickly lose their luster. Coming to work every day and doing the job counts for a lot.
But what does showing up as a spouse mean? It means connecting with your loved one with a hug and a kiss every day, expressing your feelings of love regularly in words, and even more importantly, in actions. Loving words are necessary, but not enough.
A few days ago, Diane and I were sitting at the dining room table, drinking a cup of tea, and chatting about some recent good fortune. I smiled and said—“The smartest thing I did in my adult life was to marry you. Look at all the great times we’ve had, how wonderful it was raising our children, and how close we are after 42 years!” Needless to say, Diane’s face lit up like a summer sun. Loving expression is important.
Connecting is the oil of the marital engine. Connecting means putting down your smart phone, turning off the computer or television, putting down the newspaper, logging off Facebook, and giving your partner 100% of your undivided attention. A few moments of total consideration is worth hours of divided care.
Good will is the fuel that keeps the “marriagemobile” in motion. Showing up as a marital partner means consciously and intentionally performing deeds of loving kindness on a regular basis. Make it a habit. Bring home something that your husband really likes, fold some laundry without being asked, give your wife a back rub, offer to put the kids to bed—You get the drill.
It’s the small things in life that really count. It’s the little considerations that are noticed, appreciated, and acknowledged. Human beings are terrible mind readers. We need to hear how much we are loved. We need to experience that love every day.
It’s all about showing up.