Driving to work and tuned to my favorite jazz station, I heard Cole Porter’s song, “Just One of Those Things.” I thought about my 45th wedding anniversary, which was on Saturday, as the song’s lyrics included the stanza, “We’d have been aware that our love affair — was too hot not to cool down …”
Well as it turned out, ours has cooled down but in a positive sense of the term. In our case, “love at first sight” occurred at a wedding reception in 1971 and was just one of those things which has led to a wonderful wife, a family of two children and now four grandchildren since we just received news that our latest granddaughter has been born in Brooklyn. Cool. I can’t imagine anything more important or gratifying.
But this is a retirement advice column, so what’s the connection? Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” spends every day interviewing various notables. On a vacation once, she complained that the room in her bed and breakfast didn’t have the TV she had requested. The proprietor said, “Why don’t you just try conversation?”
Probably that’s good advice for all of us. But, there’s a book that can help.
In 1978, Joyce Brothers wrote, “How to Get Whatever You Want out of Life.” Brothers, some of us may recall, was a known genius who won the quiz show “The $64,000 Question” by picking boxing as her specialty. She won fair and square on a show that was otherwise marked by a cheating scandal.
So there I was many anniversaries ago with a book written by my favorite pop psychologist — a book my wife describes as “the book that used to dog our anniversaries.” Why? Because it offers a list of questions that constitutes a referendum on the health of a relationship.
The idea is for spouses (or those in relationships) to answer the questions in writing by reflecting quietly apart from each other and then getting together to share the answers.
The questions are as follows:
What delights me most about my spouse? What is the worst thing that happened to you in the past year? What is the best thing that happened? What are the worst and best things that happened to the two of you as a couple? Then, name one thing you think your spouse would want to change in you. And finally, what are the 10 things you enjoy doing the most? What are the 10 things you think your spouse enjoys doing the most? What are the 10 things the two of you together enjoy doing the most?
What spouses create on these lists can come as complete surprises to each other. However, they establish a dialogue that leads to communication, and communication oils the workings of any successful relationship. As Brothers says, it’s the tone of the discussion as much as the content that is critical. If you can laugh about the extent at which you see things differently, that is the sign of a healthy relationship. If there are more serious issues that rise to the surface as a result of sharing these lists, then that can be the start of some constructive changes.
Keeping a relationship together and working through the rough spots can offer rewards later in retirement that go way beyond whatever monetary advantages a loving relationship offers. Companionship, support with health issues, sharing of enjoyment, and more effective decision-making all make relationships worth what can sometimes feel like effort. It’s what’s there when hot relationships begin to cool down.