Secrets to a happy relationship

A young man is walking the beach in San Diego wondering what he should say to his girlfriend. As he walks he is gazing at the Pacific Ocean and thinking about how beautiful Hawaii must be. His girlfriend would love to go there. Since he is not paying much attention to where he is stepping, he nearly trips on something sticking up out of the sand. He is surprised to see that it is a bottle, or maybe a lamp of some sort, and is in excellent condition. As he examines it, he begins to wonder where it came from and what it is worth. It is tightly sealed with a cork, like a wine bottle, and despite his concern that removing the cork may diminish its value, he feels compelled to remove the cork to see what is inside. Using his Swiss Army knife’s blade and cork screw he carefully cuts the seal and removes the cork. 

Instantly the bottle is thrust from his hands, and a huge cloud of dust and vapor explodes high into the air. As the air clears he hears a deep voice and sees a huge man dressed in loosely fitting fine silks. Our young man is shocked and unable to speak. Gradually he realizes that the huge man from the bottle is desperately trying to ask him something, and that he is a Genie, just like the old legends. The Genie tells our young man that he was in that bottle for thousands of years, and as a reward for letting him out, he will grant one and only one wish. Without hesitating our beach walker, casts his gaze in the direction of Hawaii and asks the Genie for a bridge to Hawaii since he is afraid to fly. The Genie says, “Look, I have been in the bottle for thousands of years and have many things I need to do. Creating a bridge to Hawaii is a lot of work even for an all-powerful Genie like me. Give me your second choice.” Our man ponders this for a few minutes, and says what is really on his mind, “Well, okay, I wish that I understood women.” Shocked and humbled, the Genie quietly replies, “Do you want that bridge to be two lanes or four?”

That joke is an old one that has been told many different ways, and it works because at its core is one of the great truths of life: men and women are different. Much has been written about men, women, and relationships. My dad, a man of few words, told me, “Women are different, you have to be nice to them.” That’s all he said, but a lot of meaning is packed into that statement. I have done my best to understand it and live it. The Genie knew nothing about women and relationships, but I, a mere human, shall attempt to explain both.

The first key to a happy relationship is to get priorities and responsibilities right. In order they are: God, spouse, children, family, friends, work, and hobbies. Putting God first means that you do what is right and treat others as you would like to be treated. Putting your spouse next means that they are your full and equal partner. 

Next, if you are a male, be a man. If you are female be a woman. Husbands should treat their wives as women. Wife’s should treat their husbands as men. It is not sexist to treat women like women, and men like men. On the contrary, it is sexist (and stupid) to think that men and women are the same. Men and women are different, as my dad said, but by design men and women are an even match. 

From what I have read and observed, women’s brains are structured differently than men’s. A woman’s feelings and emotions strongly connect to the way she thinks. This makes women more intuitive and often better than men at multitasking and sympathizing with others. Men’s brains, on the other hand, are structured differently. Men have just as many feelings and emotions as women, but their feelings are not as strongly connected to the way they think. This explains why men often seem oblivious to much of what goes on around them, but it also gives them the ability to focus on a problem without being distracted. This allows them to remain single-mindedly focused for hours in the deer blind, or when working on a problem. Men and women complement each other. 

A life long relationship between a man and a woman is a marriage. Despite what many say, no other combination of sexes is a marriage, and people in long term relationships are married even if they never got a marriage certificate. Words must mean specific things or they mean nothing. God brings men and women together through the circumstances of life. 

Husbands and wives must listen to each other. It is very good idea to set aside some times to talk with each other. Often it is hard to find those times. Work, family gatherings, household tasks, errands, and hobbies can fill up an entire week. For young couples who are working or who have kids, it is a very good idea to have a night out now and then. Over the years my wife and I have enjoyed having coffee together right after we wake up. 

Couples must be each others biggest fan, and their biggest critic. There’s a lot of truth in what J.R. Robertson wrote: 

I don’t have to speak, she defends me,

A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Up on Cripple Creek, Jamie Robbie Robertson, from the album, “The Band”, 1969

And a lot of layers of meaning. First, a spouse should be the first to defend their mate. Second, we have to be very careful not take our spouse down with us. Defending a spouse is noble, defending a drunk, not so much. So, do not be a drunk or any other kind of problem for your spouse. 

One of the great things about going on a smallish cruise ship or small group tour is meeting other couples. In our “normal” lives it seems like we know of many failed relationships, but the vast majority of the people on these trips are couples who are happily married. Of course that makes perfect sense: why would an unhappy couple go on a long trip together? Each couple is different in many ways from the next, and from us, but we also find that they all have a deep understanding of their partner. Often one of them will tell us something about themselves while the other shakes their head. Seeing this over and over again shows that a successful relationship does not rest on agreement. Instead it rests on the knowledge that we are all different and that it is okay to remember something differently. Agreement, of course, is good, but so is respect and love in spite of disagreement. 

Sometimes people get it in their heads that marriage should be perfect, sort of an effortless float through life. The truth is that nothing good comes without effort. A relationship between a man and a woman is the most rewarding human relationship, which means that it also requires more effort than lesser friendships or relationships. We must listen to our spouse, and always include them in our thinking. Every chance you get do something for your spouse, say something nice to your spouse, and always do what is right. 

I already mentioned the priorities that we all should have, but it is critical to put your spouse second only to God. Sometimes a spouse will put one of their parents ahead of their spouse. The problem with that is that no matter what anyone may think, it is impossible to erase the relationship of a child to a parent. It is a scientific reality like gravity. On the other hand, if someone puts any person or thing ahead of their spouse, they are weakening the marriage bond. I think mother’s have ruined as many marriages as booze. Marriage creates a bond where there was nothing before, and it must be stronger than the bond between a spouse and their parents. Also, if a couple has children, it is their job to raise them. Grandparents should certainly be part of the children’s lives, but no one should attempt to undermine a loving parent. 

Well, maybe I should just start building that bridge to Hawaii since I am not sure I have really explained women, men, and relationships. Someday, after you and your spouse have gone through a lifetime of ups and downs, you will be able to sit with your spouse and say, wow, what a life, and what a partner; I am the luckiest person in the world. 

  • “Up On Cripple Creek”, Jaime Robbie Robertson, from the album, “The Band”, 1969

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