The other night I was having dinner with a group of people with whom I don’t normally have dinner. That is to say, I know these people, but we only interact in random meetings that are usually brief and skim the surface of polite conversation.
The beauty of having a sit-down dinner out of the comfort zone of familiar friends is that you will most likely learn something new and possibly unusual, or conversely be really bored and want to poke your eyes out with a fork just to have something colorful to talk about.
Luckily, this was a dinner with interesting people consisting of a few artists, not one but TWO local and successful book store owners (in this Kindle age, they are something of a novelty), a professional pianist, and a few sordid art dealers (shady folks, those dealers).
I was seated next to one of the book store owners. We know each other, but have never actually had a conversation beyond the preface of Hello, How are you, How is business, so I was pleased at my table placement thinking about all the great book conversations we would have through dinner and that my eyes would stay fork-free.
Surprisingly, in a very pleasant way, I sat back and listened to this man speak about his marriage of thirty some years. His wife was seated at the other end of the table out of earshot so he could have said anything, but here is what he said (well, what he said that stuck in my brain). I thought I would share it as I was really touched by his words and swore to remember them. He said (and I paraphrase, probably poorly):
Having been married for over thirty years, now, I would have to say that the last decade of our marriage has been the absolute best. We have come to the realization and put into consistent practice the idea that you can choose your spiral. After living so long with the same person there are habits and traits that can drive you crazy. The simple act of them breathing can make you want to strangle them (note: this is not the first time I have heard this comment). We can choose to focus on the annoyances and react accordingly perpetuating bad habits and annoyances all the way around in a spiral of negativity and focus on crap OR we can be annoyed and respond with a simple kindness. Even if you are seething mad with the fact that your beloved has done (insert annoying spousal habit here) for the bajillionth time, a simple HEY HONEY, I LOVE YOU AND THINK YOU ARE WONDERFUL or the even simpler just bringing them a cup of coffee in bed in the morning with a smile can take the spiral of emotion in a different direction. For example, even though I know my wife is peeved with me, she will make me a bowl of oatmeal in the morning without me even asking and the entire spiral shifts gears. I smile, she smiles, we move on in a good way.
Like begets like. Your spouse may be cranky and a pain in the ass and responding with crankiness will get everyone more crankiness. A cranky spiral. But if one of you stops and changes the tone of cranky with a hug or a kind word or even just acknowledgment of their crankiness, the spiral shifts into upward mobility of mood and re-expression of love and like.
My wife and I have continued to be aware of our power over the emotional spiral and it has made the last ten years more wonderful than we could have hoped for. While the spiral may be an upward one, what it really does is take us back to the beginning and the root of why the two of us got together in the first place.
I am not married or in a relationship at the moment, but I like to think that I am using this time to collect information, store it away for later and also share it with the people I know, especially when it comes from a source such as a successful thirty year marriage – successful meaning, to me, happy, loving, growing and respectful. It’s an idea that can be put into practice in any relationship at any time and one that is relatively simple. And the right spiral choice may just land you somewhere over the rainbow, but hopefully not OZ because I always found OZ to be kind of creepy, but that’s just me. Flying monkeys?? No thank you. I’d rather stick a fork in my eye.