My husband lacks even the most basic practical skills. I mean, I’m not great with a screwdriver, but I can put up shelves if I have to. I can cut tiles and do reasonably neat grouting around them. Basically, if I watch a few YouTube videos first, I can turn my hand to most home maintenance tasks.But my husband can’t. He cannot do any of that, at all. And at first, when our 19-year relationship was in its infancy I would find this lack of practicality absolutely maddening.
We didn’t have the money back then to employ tradesmen for small jobs, like wiring lights into the mains or connecting new taps. I took very personally the fact that if the radiators needed bleeding or the boiler needed a pressure reset, I always had to do it.
I would seethe quietly at what I perceived to be my husband’s laziness or stubbornness. I frequently let what I saw as a defect, a flaw, override the good things about him.
Because when I bothered to look, there were so many good things. If the baby monitor crackled into life at 4am — with one of our children whimpering for a parent’s attention — nine times out of ten, my husband would be in that baby’s bedroom before I even opened my eyes. He changed wet sheets and brought medicines from the cupboard and refilled sippy cups without complaint.
I came to see that he had an endless fount of patience that flowed silkily past little things like his absolute exhaustion, whereas I’d always be brought up short by my own gritty eyelids and run out of steam. He had an infinite capacity for keeping on keeping on, while I’d reach what I saw as the end of my rope hours before he did.
In this way, he was a better parent than I was. In a crisis though, I reigned supreme — organizing doctors’ letters carefully by date, for example, and researching the best treatment options for a sick child. I was calm and rational in the face of a diagnosis that once saw my husband slump to the floor in a faint as my son’s tricky surgical procedure was explained to us.
I realized that we complemented each other. He saw through my tired temper tantrums to my practical organizational know-how and I learned to see past his klutzy inability to build a crib (or even to identify what type of screwdriver it might need) and recognize how much more important it was that he’d pace the floor every night with the colicky baby I’d just fed.
It sounds very simple, but I have come to see that this is absolutely key to a balanced romantic relationship. For love to work over the long term, each half of a couple must see the good in their partner more clearly than they see the bad. This is an active choice, though. It doesn’t always happen passively. Sometimes it’s hard work.I have been married to my husband for nearly twenty years and although I don’t think I have bad self esteem, I still know that I have never liked myself as much as he likes me. That is a basic truth and it didn’t fully register with me until I’d put his unwavering trust in jeopardy by cheating on him. He forgave me, slowly, but still faster than I forgave myself. Because he can see my good side.
He always sees the good in me, rather than peering past it to the bad part, as is my instinct to do to myself. (He can see the bad parts too; he doesn’t wear rose-tinted glasses around me, but he manages to hold tight to the idea of me as a good person at my core).
And because he believes I am a good person, he makes me a better person.
And that, I’ve realized, goes both ways. If I bother to stop — in the first flush of irritation at whatever’s managed to irritate me that day — and remind myself of all the good things about my husband, then I’m more likely to be patient with him when he asks me for the twenty thousandth time what sort of light bulb fitting we need in the bathroom.
In turn, he’s got room to be a bit more generous with me when he can see I’m getting cross about how long it takes for the children to put their shoes on after I say “we’re leaving now”. I think it’s what the books and the grown-ups mean when you announce you’re getting married and they all talk about “respect”.
That, then, is the core of my advice after a long (albeit rocky at times) marriage. Even in the heady days of early dating, it’s worth watching for whether someone enhances you, rather than detracts from you.If they’re focusing on your good side even when you’re showing them the other side too, that’s true kindness; and it’s a pretty good indicator that they’ll still be doing that down the line when your lives are further entwined and the complications of life make it hard to remember exactly where love sprung from between you in the first place.
No relationship should feel like a test. You shouldn’t feel a need to prove yourself to the person who is supposed to love you. Nor should you need to pretend that your personality has any fewer flaws than it does.
The right person will look right past them —and then it’s just a matter of remembering to look past theirs, too.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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