It would be unfair and perhaps unethical, yet very typical of today’s internet, to leave such a provocative and promising article title promising a secret sauce of perfect marriage unaddressed for several paragraphs. No doubt this kind of salesmanship provokes an array of feelings across the readership: annoyance, skepticism, anger, curiosity, and even hope. While there is no magic elixir for a perfect marriage because, frankly, a perfect marriage doesn’t exist, there is a neglected practice that the sages, psalmists, apostles, and other great men and women of history have preached and exhorted. When contextualized, this one action can create a most fertile environment of teamwork, unity, and intimacy in even the hardest of marriages.
Some 15 years ago, armed with a second-hand broadcast-style shoulder-mounted video camera purchased from a videographer friend, I tested my interview skills in the downtown shopping district of a quaint little town where an exotic car show had closed down the streets. As I accosted nearly 50 unsuspecting bystanders, I posed two questions: 1) What is your favorite holiday? 2) What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you? I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. For me, it represents so many special memories with family: catching up, eating great food, watching football, and enjoying time away. I was shocked, therefore, when none of my respondents named Thanksgiving as their favorite, which wouldn’t have been so bad if the answers had been Easter or Christmas, given their spiritual significance. Instead, among the responses were Labor Day, Arbor Day, and Cow Appreciation Day. No disrespect to workers, trees, or Chick-Fil-A.
The Nicest Thing Someone’s Ever Done For You
On to the second question. There were some thoughtful answers, for sure, and some incredibly touching and sentimental stories—the stuff that Hallmark movies are made of. Before we cast Candace Cameron Bure in her next moment of stardom, there was a response that I’ve never been able to forget. A woman in her 50s didn’t share a memorable answer for her favorite holiday, but when asked, “What’s the nicest thing someone has ever done for you?” she answered, without hesitation and with a detectable amount of snark and attitude, “nothing.” Flabbergasted, but with enough social awareness to restrain a reaction, I thanked her for her time and inched myself away, looking for another subject to interrogate. Only a few short moments later, she returned, this time with a very determined but seemingly excited look on her face. “I just remembered!” she exclaimed. “Two years ago I had a very serious (life-saving) kidney transplant, and someone donated a kidney for my surgery.” By now you’re reading this story and are likely feeling the same kind of disbelief and judgment I was feeling in the moment. Yet as I processed inwardly in disgust, I felt an inner voice say to me, “Don’t you dare.” “Your thinking is not so different every day.” The reality is that we have a million things to be thankful for. Even in the worst of times, there is goodness and blessing.
A Shift In Our Marriage Perspective
A monumental shift happened in our marriage when my wife and I were awakened in the middle of the night to the screams of a crying 6-month-old. Being our third child, this in and of itself was no novelty, but rather what we discovered when we attended to his cries. I myself was busy faking sleep like a good husband who, anatomically speaking, had nothing to offer my breastfed child. After assessing the situation in his crib, my wife called for me from down the hall with a hesitant “honey!” I quickly ran down to find her doing something quite unmotherly. Facing me as I entered the room, she was holding our son’s face out, away from her body. While this may be typical dad behavior, mothers coddle their children and hold them close. My confusion dissipated as she slowly spun him around, revealing the crux of the problem: we had a diaper malfunction and one big mess, and she was out of hands and thus powerless to act. What occurred next was quite curious and beautiful at the same time. For the next 30 minutes, without hardly saying a word, my wife and I worked in tandem to remedy the problem, acquiring the necessary resources we needed, giving our son a bath, and culminating in me changing his bed sheets while she sat down to nurse. Well past 2 o’clock in the morning now, we finally laid our oxytocin-filled, breastmilk-intoxicated sleeping angel down in his crib. As we walked out of the room, two sleep-deprived ogres, we nearly simulatenously gave each other a confident high five on our way back to bed.
Finding Sexy In The Mundane
Within a week, we were visiting with friends while a TV in the background displayed the finale episode of The Bachelor. Having not seen the show in years at that point, I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrasts with my own family life. In our world, date nights often feel like a prison break, where if your only destination is a Chick-Fil-A parking lot with an idling car and two straws guzzling a peach milkshake, life is pretty good—a far cry from exotic paradise islands with no obligations and managed identities. At one point, driving home, the thought occurred to us that our high five experience was sexy, exhilarating, and good, if for no other reason than because it was real. Our spontaneous celebration was an acknowledgment of thanks to each other because, in that moment, we needed each other.
Teammates Win When They Win Together
Since that night, we have become convinced that these moments make us happy in both big and small ways every day. Our perspective will determine how they are received or ignored, but nevertheless, they happen. Just like the woman who forgot about the generous gift from a kidney donor, we forget or ignore the good things, and when we perceive there is no good, our default is to see only the bad. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the 2021 Super Bowl, reporters seemed to bait quarterback Tom Brady with an opportunity to gloat in the face of his former team, the New England Patriots, after the off-season controversy of him leaving town when the Pats were offering below-fair-contract money. Instead of succumbing to the trap, the quarterback, who had won a record six Super Bowls with his former team, redirected the attention of the questions to his surrounding teammates, who were celebrating on the field with their families. That is the power of celebration. Celebration is a form of gratitude manifested.
When Our Celebration Muscle Has Atrophied
It’s easier to celebrate the good in the early stages of marriage, but when the infatuation wears off, our focus can quickly shift. Celebration is a muscle that we use by choice, and when it lies dormant, it atrophies. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t moments in marriage where hard conversations and pivots aren’t required, but celebration and gratitude create a fertile soil where even seeds of exhortation can thrive. Given that healthy marriages hold the perspective that they are playing the long game and aiming for an upward trajectory of health, it would be impossible to underestimate the power of these seeds to boost morale, foster connection, and maintain hope. While years ago I may have had a level of gratitude in my heart to remember a kidney donor, I still would have stumbled to quickly name 10 things I was thankful for. When asked to name what they are thankful for, most people will reference their spouse, children, job, health, and home, but will struggle to easily think of anything beyond. If this is the individual modus operandi we are bringing into a marriage, why should we be surprised when our marriages are often centered around our unmet needs rather than celebrating our spouse? Like any good workout program, seeing results will take time, but experience and observation have convinced me that this is the number one lifestyle change that would benefit most marriages and is thus deserving of the moniker “secret sauce.”