Anything worth having is never free.
As Francine and I raced around on a typical Saturday afternoon we found ourselves at the local shopping village together. Never one to waste the opportunity to gain a ‘good husband’ brownie point, I declared we should have a ‘coffee date’. Naturally, Francine obliged – she practically never says no to a ‘date’ no matter how pathetic (have I ever mentioned my “do you want to come on a fill up the car” date?)
So we ventured 50 meters to a great little Italian restaurant. It’s a bit of local for us as we have come to know the owner with whom we did a pizza-making course last year.
We were warmly greeted by the owner who we had not seen for some months. A young up and coming restauranteur with a growing number of venues, the last time we saw him he was patiently trying to coach Byron in the finer points of pizza dough making. Francine, recalling that at the time he was rapidly approaching the birth of his first child, immediately enquired after the baby.
“Oh my God, we are in complete shock” was the immediate response with all the energy of someone who was still working through a major trauma. “I thought running a restaurant was stressful, but this is worse”, he went on to say. “Here I am in control, and I can fix things when there are problems, but our lives are now completely run by our little boy. I mean it’s wonderful, amazing, and we are so happy, but oh my God, I am in complete shock.”
It’s hard to catch the raw emotion that came with the words without the benefit of his melodic Italian accent and the accompanying body language, but perhaps you can grasp the sense of what was a very transparent encounter.
So there went my date! We spend the next twenty minutes listening to the joys and tribulations of a young parent who has just realised his life is no longer about himself or even his wife. The agony and the ecstasy, the passion and the resurrection, the pain and the glory!
As old hands with five kids behinds us it’s easy to be smug and quietly think “yep, been there, done that”, but we empathised and affirmed him in his newest and greatest enterprise. As we walked away, I playfully grumbled “who ate my date?”.
Reflecting on this encounter over the next few days we realised it was a great reminder to us that anything and everything worth having in our life has come with a cost, has required an investment. It’s obvious when we think about it.
In the case of our traumatised restaurateur, it was embarking on that great unknown of parenting. All parents understand the sacrifices that come with raising children, and without any guarantees that it will turn out well. At a less grand scale, the same applies to our fitness, our education, our community involvement.
But what about our marriages? Are we reinvesting in these the way we invest in maintaining our homes, our cars, our careers? It’s one of the greatest ironies of marriage: survey married people about what is the most important thing in their life and the number one response is their marriage, followed by their family.
If they are then asked: “what have they done to invest in their marriage?”, we tend to get blank looks. Why is it that as married people we expect to undertake professional development in our workplaces throughout our lives, and yet we are so casually neglectful about the most important thing in our lives?
When was the last time we read a quality book on building a better marriage or attended a seminar on the topic?
The trick with investing in our marriage, like dieting and fitness, is to recognise that it’s not the ‘grand gestures’ that make the difference, but the small every-day acts. This should be good news, but somehow we seem to miss it.
So instead we hold out for that once-a-year vacation with just the two of us, the occasional special dinner, the extravagant birthday gift.
What makes the real difference is going an extra inch for each other every day, not an extra mile once or twice a year. Doing that extra something that makes our spouse’s day a little easier or brighter, choosing to make an affirming comment rather than a critical one.
Here are two questions every married couple could ask themselves every day: “what have I done for my marriage today?” and “what can I do to make your day better?” If we each asked ourselves these two questions every day, and then answered it with action, then we would be well on our way to making the daily investment needed for a flourishing marriage.
Like our superannuation, in marriage, small regular investments over a lifetime really add up.