There was a day before we had children when Claudia and I thought it would be a great idea to run together on a very hot and sweltering summer day in Georgia. We had been married only several months and I had thought to myself, “a couple that runs together, stays together.” We were running up a hill and Claudia thought it best to walk as the heat was unbearable. I came from a family (all military) that thought walking at any time on a run was unacceptable and so I thought I would provide some enthusiastic motivation for my lovely wife since we were, after all, on the same team. I shouted out some key exhortations like, “Come on! You got this! You can do this! Get up that hill!” To which she replied, in a manner that I very much deserved, “F&*k You!” To this day, we have never run together again, and, graciously, she has not needed to curse me publicly. (To the best of my knowledge) We learned a lot about each other’s needs through that interaction and I’m actually grateful that we were able to learn such a valuable lesson about the best way to support each other so early into our marriage. We would go on to learn so many more lessons through the ups and downs of our life together over the last 41 years and most of them were probably not as painful as the feedback I received from Claudia that day (although we do keep laughing about it).
I was recently at a dear friend’s house and I found myself speaking with one of their adult daughters, Alison. I was very familiar with her heroic journey with infertility and IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) as two of my own daughters have conceived children through the amazing science of assisted reproductive technology. She was sharing about how challenging her journey had been and it led us to discuss the importance of supportive partners and successful marriages. I shared that Claudia and I had been happily married for 41 years with much emphasis on the “happily”. She asked, “What’s been your secret to success?” And my reply without really doing a lot of thinking about it, “That there hasn’t been a day that we haven’t respected and appreciated each other.” I’m sure there have been many times that we have been mad at each other (like our run in South Georgia) over some trivial thing or issue, but we have never been outwardly disrespectful to one another. We have made a conscious effort to make sure our children saw how much we respected each other even when we may have not been happy with one another.
Alison was joined by her husband and as they reflected on the quality of mutual respect as a key relationship enabler, they also shared a delightful tool that I find so compelling. It’s a useful way to actively promote relationship unity in the midst of challenge. They offered that whenever they get into a tiff, a spat, or an argument, one of them was to remind the other: “Remember we are on the same team” and then to put up a hand to initiate a ‘high-five’ with the other partner having a responsibility to reciprocate. I have spent time reflecting on this simple, but profound tool. It speaks to the power of intention and being in relationship where you are really supporting each other. With the high five, it anchors the ‘same team’ concept both mentally and physically.
They say that life is a team sport and I continue to be reminded that when you have others who have your back and will support you, especially in the dark and challenging times, everything is possible.