I love my desk chair. It’s like an old friend.
We met fifteen years ago in an office supply store. There were many choices that day, but something about the chair spoke to me. Maybe it was because it was covered in puffy “Dude Black” leather that reminded me of every piece of furniture from my first bachelor pad, and had countless levers and knobs to adjust to varying degrees of comfort.
Not surprisingly, Gabby is not a huge fan of the chair. She never said anything to me for fear of hurting my feelings, but I noticed the subtle way she would close my office door anytime house guests came calling. Or solicitors. Or the UPS delivery guy.
Still, my chair and I have bonded. I have fallen into the seat each day and it has hugged me like an overzealous grandmother. It has adapted to my propensity to recline while on phone calls, giving way with ease.
But over the past few months I noticed a change. The hugs were still there, but my old friend seemed to wither under my weight, reclining past a level that felt comfortable. I adjusted the levers and knobs to try and relieve my muscle fatigue, but nothing seemed to help. I chalked it up to my own weak abs and vowed to “blast my core” on my next visit to the gym.
Then it happened.
I sat down hard today and received my customary hug, forgetting that aging, overzealous grandmothers sometimes develop hip problems. A millisecond after settling in, I heard a snap and felt myself accelerating backward. I called upon ab muscles that haven’t seen action since the Reagan administration, but they were away on vacation, so I just flailed my arms, plastered a terrified look on my face, and yelled,
“Oh no, here I go!”
Gabby heard my screams and turned to see me crash to the floor and come to rest in a position with my back to the ground like an astronaut awaiting liftoff. She immediately ran away. I called out to her and said, “I’m OK! Nothing’s broken!” hoping to catch her before she had amassed an armload of first aid gear. My assumptions were nullified when I heard her yell back between fits of laughter,
“Shut up! I’m going to pee my pants!”
* Reenactment: Do not try this at home
Luckily, neither of us soiled ourselves or incurred an injury. But I learned a valuable lesson.
For months I had parked my keester in that chair, knowing deep down it was dying. I glanced underneath a few times looking for trouble spots with the same sense of urgency that one might look for a glass of chocolate milk at Mardi Gras. I hoped the remedy would be as simple as finding a giant toggle switch labeled, “Broken – Fixed,” tripped in the wrong direction, but I never found the problem. Soon, content to let life run its course, I got distracted by other more important things. Like work. Or watching funny cat videos. Or saying I was working when I was really watching funny cat videos.
And this is what led to my demise. Contentment that becomes complacent. And I’m not just talking about chairs here. I’m talking about everything.
Or cars .
* Honest-to-goodness wedding cake topper from www.theweddingspecialists.net
It’s all too easy to coast through a relationship. In the early days, fueled by constant togetherness and that “new chair smell”, we are enamored with the things we love about our spouses. The way he laughs at all your jokes and hangs on every word of your stories. The way she pushes you to try new things and show you what it means to be truly selfless.
As time marches on, things change. You still love these wonderful things, but you simply don’t notice them as much. It’s not that you take them for granted. No. That would imply that you’ve forgotten their value. The little treasures have simply faded from your consciousness. Like the beautiful painting over your mantle, or the lovely view from your backyard deck. Your friends mention them and ask about them every time they come to visit.
And you reply,
“What? Oh... Yes… It is wonderful. Thanks for noticing.”
What we fail to realize is that this noticing is the first step in preventive maintenance for a relationship. Not just noticing that something has changed, like a faulty bolt on an office chair. These things obviously need attention so we can fix what’s broken. But there’s something even more important.
Noticing those things are exactly the same.
Because noticing breeds acknowledgement. Spoken words of support. And we underestimate the importance of verbalizing the good that you notice. It feels like overkill to mention yet again how much we love the little things. The way she tucks her hair behind her ear. Her ability to remember everyone’s birthday. Putting extra chocolate chips in your pancakes. The way she remembers to thank you for the little things.
It’s nothing new. So why bore her to death with the same old compliments?
Dr. John Gottman has been studying relationships since 1972. One of his most impressive skills is his ability to watch married couples fight and then predict with a 90% degree of accuracy whether or not they will stay married. While I don’t recommend inviting the guy to your next date night, you may want to check out what he has learned in studying relationships.
What Gottman discovered is that there is a magic “positivity ratio” in marriages that stay together. His research found that lasting relationships tend to have 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one.
And marriages bound for the scrap heap? 0.8 to 1.
If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking:
Great! I am about 25 compliments in the hole, and it’s not even lunch time! Time to call the attorney!
But here’s the thing. We shouldn’t get hung up on the numbers. None of us can continue to reinvent ourselves every day and do dozens of new and surprising things to wow our wives. You would pull a groin if you tried. And we shouldn’t expect such variety from our spouses, either. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can’t keep an office chair from squeaking by oiling a different piece every day, and never returning to repeat the process.
Marital maintenance is about the tried and true. Not growing content with it, but noticing it. Putting on a fresh pair of eyes and seeing the things that have been there all along. A steady, day-to-day process of showing your appreciation through words and actions. And there can never be enough of this kind of love. A love that is patient and kind. Not envious, prideful, or boastful. A love not easily angered. One that keeps no record of wrongs.
So my prayer today is that I remember these words written nearly two-thousand years ago. The words spoken time and time again when people stand before God and unite themselves in marriage. It’s not flashy or fantastic. It’s a simple, selfless, plain-spoken love.
A love to bore you to tears.
Tears of gladness.
Tears of joy.
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