William Wright shares his simple secret to 35 years of happy marriage.
I am lucky as hell! I met my wife at a Halloween party, asked her to marry me on Christmas of the same year and tied the knot two months later. The whirlwind courtship lasted all of three months but our marriage has endured for 35 years.
People are amazed when I tell them that story and ask me what is the secret to our success. I jokingly tell them that having met and married in such a short span of time, I’m still trying to figure out who this woman is! But when I look back and analyze what was the one key item, setting aside the fact that I love her, it would be that we made a pact early-on never to do or say anything to each other in anger that we would not be able to get over in 15 minutes.
When you look at that single concept, it is a tall order. Me, I’m a Virgo, analytical, vocally critical, sometimes flippant but taking little to heart. She’s a Pisces, sensitive, emotionally expressive, extremely inventive, and wears her heart on her sleeve. For me it was very easy to rattle off a succession of critical gibberish, which at the core was not very deep. Sometimes the comments would be so innocuous to me that I would move on in seconds. But to her, it would create a deep wound and unbeknownst to me would go to the heart of her feelings of doubt and insecurity in that moment. It would then become something that would fester and morph into other issues, exacerbated by the fact that when challenged I could not recall what exactly it was that I said that made her upset in the first place.
She discovered that my hot button was my rigidity to method. I liked to do only what I wanted to do and for however long I wanted to do it. I would find taking direction annoying simply because I would be so committed to my ways. When she would get ticked off and criticize what appeared to her as my unyielding ways, I would take it as an attack on the essence of my personality. So we discovered very early, in a marriage where both parties had little previous experience with each other, how to be destructive in the battle of the sexes, a mode of behavior that appeared to be an easier way to win points and soothe our personal egos. But what about love, or the hopes and dreams of family or the joys a happy healthy household could bring? Were they worth risking for momentary satisfaction? Absolutely not!
We both came to the realization that there was a threshold where we were actually being mean-spirited for the sake of winning an argument. Going for the jugular, so to speak, led to prolonged hard feelings, storming out of the room, hours of seething. Such behavior could doom a union if continued along that path. So we made a pact to never do or say anything in the heat of the moment that either one could not get over in 15-minutes!
One might ask, how do you know if you your mate will still be upset after fifteen minutes? The answer is, deep down inside you already know the answer, but choose to not surrender compassion or give that courtesy to your loved one. Being in a committed relationship with someone does not mean that they must yield to your feelings alone. It’s a give and take that requires both parties to recognize and appreciate that delicate dance:
- Always remember what you love about your mate and why they love you.
- Be sensitive to the things that hurt your mate’s feelings and approach criticism or narratives that might be upsetting with compassion.
- Talk out those triggers that lead to prolonged negative feelings so that you both understand the toxic dynamics and what makes the relationship healthy.
- Resample your feelings after 15 minutes. If you are both okay, they you’ve done well to heal any hard feelings. If either party is still upset, understand the boundary that you may have crossed and for the sake of your love, apologize and commit not to cross that line again.
- Most of all, communicate within the context of the love and appreciation your companion brings into your life. Let them know that although you are in the throws of a disagreement, you have their feelings top of mind.
Fifteen minutes could lead to either a lasting love or a relationship from hell. You have the power and the emotional fortitude to decide. As for me, as I travel though life with my wife, I want her narrative about me to be, “He is an extraordinarily good man!” I’m building that legacy 15-minutes at a time.