This Tuesday night I arrived home from work at about 5:30, got settled and headed right into the kitchen. The first thing I did was to make sure that the salmon had thawed. Next I grabbed an entire bunch of cilantro, a little olive oil, a few mint leaves, some lemon, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt. Just as Yvonne walked in the front door I threw all seven ingredients into the food processor and voila, 60 seconds later we had chutney. Ten minutes later our wonderful cilantro mint chutney was on to top our hot-off-the-grill salmon and quinoa. All the ingredients were there for a wonderful tasty and healthy meal.
After 32+ years of marriage Yvonne and I have developed an after-work routine that works pretty well for us. Whoever arrives home from work first starts preparing dinner. The 2nd place finisher typically joins in the preparation somewhere between looking up our recipe for the evening and plating. During dinner we discuss the day’s events, delaying the kitchen clean-up for an extra few minutes. We then either go for a walk or tackle a few chores. We’ll then settle on the couch for a little TV before heading off to bed. Our routine hasn’t always looked like this.
When we first started dating our evenings together looked very different. I can remember us spending countless hours staring into one another’s eyes while talking the entire evening away.
I wanted to know everything I could about this girl I was falling in love with.
At first we talked about all of the essentials: What our favorite foods are, who our favorite bands were, what classes we liked in school, who our favorite Star Wars character was, and of course what do we like best at Disneyland. After a couple of weeks our discussions became deeper as we learned about each other’s families, where our parents worked, and what bugged us most about each of our siblings.
We were getting to know each other’s world, which is, not so coincidentally…
The first of the seven ingredients to make a great marriage.
To say that to this day we continue to stare into each other’s eyes for hours, swept away by irresistible limerence, might be a little more than a slight exaggeration. Nonetheless, we have found that by taking time to keep updated on each other’s ever-evolving worlds does pay dividends. We aren’t alone. Successful couples routinely take time, even if it is just a few moments, to get to know the details of their partner’s life.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Research has found that many married couples often fall into a pattern of not entering into the details of their spouse’s worlds. This all too often amounts to distance and lack of empathy for their spouses and the struggle that they may be going through. A husband might know that his wife is struggling at work, but has no idea it is because a coworker is trying to undermine her.
University of Washington researcher Dr. John Gottman says that emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s worlds. These couples have allowed themselves to store a great deal of information about each other in their brains. When she says that she wants to get lunch with “the girls” he knows who she is talking about. When he has to work late she remembers to record the hockey game for him. They know their partners well.
The research also indicates that couples who know one another’s world are better prepared to cope with stressful events, conflict, and are more likely to weather marital storms. Gottman states There are few greater gifts a couple can give each other than the joy that comes from feeling known and understood.
Learning our spouse’s world’s and sharing ours is an ongoing process. Happy couples work to build on previously learned information, and enhance their knowledge of one another’s worlds in a variety of ways. What they have in common is that they continue to build their knowledge of each other’s world. And they continue to reap the rewards.
Our chutney would have certainly been less than great if all that we had used was one ingredient. The same principle can be said of the recipe for a great marriage. Diving into our partner’s worlds is the first ingredient for building a great marriage.