Common goals, shared responsibilities and endless compassion strengthen the relationships that matter most.
My wife and I just celebrated 18 years of marriage; we’ve been together for 23 years. We have a 9-year-old boy and a 6-yearold girl. If you do the math, we waited 14 years from the time we started dating before we had kids. That gave us a lot of time to get to know one another, tackle our issues, and have a glorious time traveling and doing what we love.
My wife Jennifer was a manager in the music industry before she became a full-time mom, and I am a life coach. Philosophically we look at life the same way, which means that we agree on how we raise our kids, religion and most points in between. We even dog-ear the same page of a design magazine when looking at furniture or art—our sensibilities match. I am 17 years older (she says 16) than her, but most of our friends would say it’s the other way around; she’s way more mature than I.
Jennifer is of Spanish decent; her mother was born in Barcelona, and she grew up in Los Angeles. I grew up in New York City. She’s private, I’m public; our age, ethnicity, environments, access and resources are all very different, yet philosophically we match perfectly. I have found that you can have very different influences and environments, but if your sensibilities match it can work. The opposite is true as well. For instance, you want to raise the children as Buddhists and your spouse wants to raise them Catholic, or one of you believes you should live for the moment and the other wants to build for the future. These situations usually end up with a push/pull, a struggle. It’s not that differences in thinking can’t contribute to one another and to the relationship, but if those differences are immovable, carved in stone or a part of your moral structure, they won’t allow the necessary “flow” in the relationship. We have friends who have entirely different approaches to what’s important in life than we do but they and their family are completely aligned—it all works.
When we date we don’t spend enough time on those philosophical differences. We spend a lot of time on chemistry. We usually don’t have enough conversations on the front end, so when we ended up married with children, we found that what we believe and how we see life is very different. Chemistry is wonderful, but it also might not be the end-all for a lifelong commitment. We often hear how important it is to find your best friend, and I don’t think that can be overemphasized. If one’s criteria are chemistry, body, money, health…one thing you can be certain of is that those will change. And, if you based your silent vows (not the ones you said out loud) on those things not changing, once they do, there will be problems. The foundation is what endures.
Jennifer and I have places in our marriage that each is accountable for, and we didn’t plan or strategize this—it evolved naturally. She is the visionary of the marriage, and I execute that vision. That means she determines where we are going and what it would look like. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to contribute to the direction, it just means that it worked out that way. She is accountable for the emotional development of the family, how to work through rejections, frustrations and disappointments with our kids. I’m accountable for their physical development, how they move in the world and take risks, that they know the difference between stupidity and risk when they’re jumping off the roof or climbing a tree. The accountabilities are clear —it’s whoever had the most credibility in the particular area. We go to each other’s strengths.
Where one is anxious or has fear, there is little or no perception, so in a crisis we go with the one who has no fear: me. I make the money; she manages it. She likes to sleep so I make breakfast. In turn, she makes dinner. None of this was ever planned —all these compartmentalizations evolved quite naturally.
People say that you must have compromise in a relationship. We don’t compromise; it is our pleasure to do for the other. Compromise indicates that you are doing something begrudgingly.
Most relationships start off as a privilege and very soon turn into a right. We start speaking to each other as if we are owed something, and we expect something as opposed to the privilege it is to be with that person. We would never talk to someone on the first date the way we start talking to them three months later.
Our difficulties and our upsets are usually quite universal and finite: money, health, career and relationship struggles. When your relationship isn’t fl owing, when the affinity has been compromised, it has a systemic effect that throws off all the other areas of your life. Men used to have a more effective way of compartmentalizing relationships and career, but that was mostly aberrant and inaccurate. Today that illusion has been shattered, and men are equally disabled when their intimate relationships are in conflict.
There has never been a time in the course of human evolution that we look so closely at our intimate relationships. There are more books, literature, articles, dating sites and couples’ counseling, all in the service of being more connected, which leads to more sustainability and ultimately more LOVE.
BRECK COSTIN has more than 30 years of experience as a personal consultant and life coach. As the founder of the Absolute Freedom seminars, he has helped thousands of people change the way they live their lives by breaking free from unwanted patterns of behavior. His compassionate yet direct style allows people to dismantle their illusions of self so they truly can see what is (and isn’t) possible. “Your fantasies must die,” he says, “for your dreams to come true.”