I guess I was in a talkative mood.
My wife eventually got upset with my enthusiasm but I felt compelled to survey three different couples at the Cheesecake Factory while she and I were waiting for our seats on Valentine’s Day. I wanted to find out a little bit about random people’s relationships, especially ones who were celebrating them on Valentine’s Day.
The wait was supposed to be an hour, but I knew this was where my wife wanted to eat so we chose to stick it out and wait for our table. Knowing that there could be a wait, I dropped my wife off at the door and tried to find a parking spot but even that was a challenge. As I’m circling the parking lot, I noticed a young couple walking toward the front door. A few minutes later as I’m still looking for a place to park my gigantic family vehicle, I noticed the couple coming back to their car. Knowing that they had likely changed their mind because of the wait, I ask them what they were told about the wait times.
The young man, probably in his mid-twenties, said there was a one-hour and 15-minute wait. Seems like he and his girl didn’t want to wait that long to eat. I wish I could talk to this guy in about 5 years and see how the relationship worked out. Maybe he is too impatient, or maybe he is smarter than most and has an efficiency about him that will help him somehow in his connection with his woman.
Knowing that we were going to be waiting a while, I introduced myself to an older couple sitting in the waiting area amid crowds of people, mostly young couples. Earlier in the day and at the beginning of that night, I heard someone say that Valentine’s Day is for young people. As I noticed all of the young lovers hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, I started to think that Valentine’s Day IS an event for the younger generation of love birds.
But the couple that I spoke with, an immigrant couple from an eastern African country, I can’t remember the name but it was near Somalia and Egypt. He was a distinguished-looking man, maybe a man with a fairly simple job who had put on his very best sport coat, slacks, and collared shirt for his date with his beautiful wife. She was very pretty and looked much younger than she must have been. I introduced myself and said that I work with couples as a therapist and simply asked: “What’s your story? How long have you been together, and what are the things that have made it work.?”
The husband said that they had been married for 30 years. Suddenly I realize that Valentine’s Day is not for young people, but that those who celebrate it well, end up being like these people who had been married for three decades and had four children. I asked the husband what he felt was the biggest contributor to the success of their relationship. He said, “keep the negative energy away from your home.” He said if you’re having a bad day at work, leave it at work.
“Don’t bring any negative energy to your wife.”
“Listen to her. Listen to her.”
With his East African accent, I felt like I was speaking to a spiritual giant of some kind; a Gandhi type of person or someone with immense wisdom. I thanked the man for sharing and as their buzzer went off to finally get a table he said, “I’ll see you here on Mother’s Day. We will be here on Mother’s Day.”
The next couple on my left that I asked the same questions had been married for 25 years. They were from Mexico and he works as a mason. I asked him the same questions and again the man is the only one who spoke to me.
He said what has helped them in their relationship is to say you’re sorry. He says “you have to apologize in order for things to work out.” Things are going to get hard, stress will come along, things will get unpleasant at times, but he said if you just “admit your mistakes, you can make it.”
The third couple I spoke to was after we got seated. We were at a table that seemed to be cramped in between two other couples and an awkwardly close positioning. The couple to my right was a biracial couple, he was black and she was Hispanic. I asked him the same questions, “what’s your story, what has made things work for you, and what advice do you have for me and my wife?”
After talking to this guy, I realized that while the answers of all of these three men seemed somewhat simplistic, they really gave me some profound truth. This man said they had been together for 20 years and I couldn’t believe it again, because they looked so young. He said that the key to the relationship, was: speak your mind.” “Don’t hold anything back. Don’t leave anything unspoken. If you’re feeling good, say it. If you’re upset, say it. If you’re worried, say it. He said, just be honest and tell the truth about everything.”
We exchanged a couple of laughs and I asked him “okay what about for the woman–is there anything that your wife has done in order to keep things good between you?”
He said, “the same thing. She’s got to tell me what she’s feeling. She has to tell me where she’s at so I know how to deal with her.”
I was so proud of myself even though maybe I looked stupid. These three couples who had been together for a combined 75 years, gave me some profound insights. Here’s what they said
1. Keep your negative energy away from each other. Do not let any negative energy into your conversation or into your home. Refuse to let negative energy plague your relationship.
2. Listen to each other. The African man said listen to her, and she will listen to you.
3. The Mexican man told me to apologize when you’re wrong. He shared some examples and other insights, but that was his basic message, just say you’re sorry when you’ve done something bad.
The third couple said come on speak your mind. Don’t leave anything unsaid. Just tell it all, outright, flat-out, without hesitation. Say what you feel.
As I listen to these three men, I was at first a little disappointed that I didn’t get anything more substantial in their responses. They seemed a little simplistic. And then I realized how much time I spend in therapy with couples, trying to teach these very same principles. These were profound truths that these men shared with me. They shared them with a smile. They felt honored to be asked about how they had made things work for so long in their lives.
One last example: my Aunt Bobbie.
My Aunt’s FB post on Valentine’s day: “I see everyone’s flowers and candy, but I think I had the best Valentines Day, my sweet hubby of nearly 50 years worked along beside me as we cleaned out the flower beds beside the sidewalk, we talked and laughed, and huffed and puffed, as we hoed and raked, and it looks pretty good. You see candy goes to the hips and I would rather have a living plant to enjoy longer. Wonderful day babe, love you lots, now get the Bengay and rub my back…”
How awesome is that? Work together. Do a project side by side. Sweat a little and do something that really makes a difference in your daily environment. Then back rubs. 😉
Hearing and seeing these things taught me one important thing as I reflected on my work with people this Valentine’s Day: things work out long term for folks all the time and there is PLENTY to be hopeful about.