People always ask what the secret to a happy marriage is. I don’t know what THE secret is, but I can tell you one thing that makes my marriage so solid. It’s simple. These marriage secrets always are, aren’t they?
Our marriage secret is that we trust that the other person is doing the best they can at any given moment.
Let me break that down for you. Since I am staying at home this year with the babes, I own most of the chores at home. Emmanuel owns the dishes and the kitchen. Each night before bed he cleans the dishes, wipes down the counters, and puts things away in their places. For months he was doing this every single night. Work started to get crazy and he started to miss some nights. I had some options.
I could have told him off. I could have recounted the litany of tasks I had achieved that day and reminded him of the one task he was supposed to do. I could have told him that he was dropping the ball. I could have made some passive aggressive comments about how the dishes can’t even fit in the sink anymore. I could have held it all in and bottled it all up, building enough resentment to explode on him one random afternoon.
These were all likely choices.
Instead, I thought of Mr. Echols. I reminded myself of an axiom I live by since a colleague told it to me years ago. One night I was sitting in my classroom hours after school had dismissed. This teacher and I were both notorious for staying late to finish all of our work. We had things due. I had papers to grade. Lesson plans needed to be turned in. I was a first year teacher. I was having a full on panic attack about the mountain of stuff I needed to get done and the limited time I had to do it all.
My colleague, Mr. Echols told me in his deep firm voice, “Scott, you do what you can today, and then you go to sleep. Wake up tomorrow and do what you can again, and then… you go to sleep.”
Mr. Echols popped into my head as I stared at the sink full of dishes in the morning. I was annoyed that they weren’t done. In fact, on this particular morning the whole kitchen looked like a tornado hit it. I am a messy chef. I was annoyed. And then, Mr. Echols’ words popped into my mind and penetrated my heart.
He is doing the best he can. He did the best he could yesterday and he went to sleep. What more could I want from him?
Sometimes, his best looks like a shiny kitchen after a long day of work. Sometimes, it looks like an overflowing sink and goop on the counter. But I trust that he is doing his best. And he trusts that I am doing mine. Sometimes my best looks like laundry folded and put away, and more often than not, it looks like running the wash a third time because I didn’t switch it to the dryer in time.
It’s about more than household chores. It’s about everything. This does not mean that we don’t hold each other to high standards. This does not mean that we don’t check in every now and again when the other person seems to be dropping the ball more than normal. This just means that our relationship is successful because we live by a deserved trust of one another, and apply that trust when the other needs it.
The more we trust the other person is doing the best they can, the more empathy and compassion we can extend, the better our relationship is. This has been true for us for the past six years and I trust it will be true for the next.