Lorie Smith Schaefer: Kindness is the secret to a long, healthy marriage
July 3, 2013
“Love is kind …” — Corinthians 13:4
This week appears to be one of milestones for marriage, for me and for the country. My husband and I just celebrated our 40th anniversary and the Supreme Court wisely ruled in favor of marriage equality. Now that even more loving couples will enter into the solemn and joyful contract of marriage, can we veterans offer any advice? How are some couples able to weather the inevitable storms of matrimony while others founder on the rocks?
I think author Henry James sums it up pretty well. He wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
My husband and I married in our early twenties, just weeks after graduating from college. We’d known each other for two years and had watched how the other acted and reacted. I knew he was sensitive, smart and funny — very sexy qualities, in my book. Moreover, he had the makings of a good dad.
We are a somewhat unlikely success story. Ask anybody. An optimist and a pessimist. Trusting and skeptical. American studies and geology. An extrovert and an introvert — think Tigger and Eeyore. And from opposite sides of the tracks. Certainly those differences provided balance, but not without effort and kindness.
After staying on this job for 40 years, we’ve gotten better at it. We’ve learned to act kinder than is necessary. We’ve learned the location of most of the landmines and how to avoid them. Here are two: meaningful conversations before morning coffee or after long drives.
In addition, we’ve gotten better at sharing the load. He likes to say that he works hard in the engine room so I can live my life on the promenade deck. He takes care of the practical tasks — fixing what’s broken, handling the oil changes, paying bills. I take care of the aesthetics — choosing the paint color, planting flowers, sending Christmas cards.
Not everything is worth a fight — such as folding towels, for example. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that one way of accomplishing a task is no better than any other. It’s just different. So if I want something done my way, it is far wiser to simply do it myself. Minus any martyred looks, of course.
Finally, while choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions of our lives, most of us make that decision when we’re very young. We base it on emotion, not rational thought. Yes, we should follow our hearts, but we should steer with our heads. And keep in mind that love is kind. If it isn’t kind, it isn’t love.
Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, wrote, “Choose to be kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.”
Choose being married and you’ll need to make a decision most nights. Choose kindness.
Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly.