Many of you would have heard the story of how Gavin and I met on a street corner in Israel. Gavin was lost and I gave him directions, he heard my South African accent and we started talking. Gavin jokes that I have been giving him directions ever since. That was 27 years ago and we are celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary this week. I'm sure you've also heard Gavin’s playful complaint that they give you less than 25 years for murder! He also always jokes that someone should build a statue for him for putting up with me for so long.
Jokes aside it's not easy to be married and B”H happily married for 25 years to anyone - and it’s definitely not easy to be married to me! I deal with singles all the time and especially women will pull me aside to have a heart to heart and ask how I knew Gavin was “The One”? How did we make it work?
I am reminded of a time that Gavin and I were asked to be on the panel discussion on relationships. The organizers had a range of couple panelists - a couple who were married young (us), a couple got married older and had a couple who had been divorced and remarried. People kept asking us how we knew this was the right person when we were so young. I answered that no matter how much analysis one does, one cannot analyze every scenario. Do you think Gavin and I sat and discussed what would we do if G-d gave us a child with special needs?
As a relationship veteran I'm going to share some of the lessons I've learned in keeping a relationship alive and well, happy and meaningful for 25 years.
The number one rule is “giving”. Embedded in the Hebrew word for love (‘ahava’ - אהבה) is a clue to the essence of a successful relationship. Ahava has the same root as the word to bring / give (‘lehavia’ – להביא). No relationship can survive without both people being focused on giving. Gavin sets the ultimate example in a person who wakes up in the morning and before he gets out of bed, thinks how he can make his wife happy today. The essence of a relationship is not about how I can make myself happy but how it can make your other person happy and for that I thank Gavin for not only giving me the gift of his giving but also for giving me the gift of learning that this is the most important thing in a relationship.
The next secret ingredient in any successful relationship is “flexibility”. People with all sorts of personality challenges are eventually able to get married. I have observed that one type of person in particular struggles to get married and that is an inflexible person. Marriage is all about flexibility. In Jewish philosophy and kabala we have the concept of contraction and expansion and that every force in the world requires this equal and opposite of expansion and contraction. A marriage needs that all the time. People who do not have the ability to expand or contract as needed cannot be long-term relationship successfully.
I believe having a “shared passion” creates opportunity to connect and to do things together and to experience the world through one set of lenses. Our shared passions are Jewish outreach and traveling, listening to jazz music, drinking good wine and advocating and changing the special-needs world. Our passions are the moments of connection. So often you see couples who live in parallel worlds without shared passions and points of connection.
It’s a simple concept but what’s important to him is important to me and what’s important to me should be important to him. Simply put, we so often look at issues through our own set of eyes without taking in your partners perspective. If it’s important to the other person then we should able to shift our priorities. I have traveled the world for Gavin’s career and he has supported my tireless passion for community work.
Being in a relationship often means having to leave your comfort zone. One of the hardest things for me when we first got married is that Gavin is just not a big talker and especially likes to think before speaking. I need to talk and emote through every issue. When Gavin returned from work I want to chat and chat and chat and he would just look at me and every now and then grunt. For me it was leaving my comfort zone of needing to be heard and for him it was leaving his comfort zone of his cave and recognizing that I needed to meaningful conversation and therefore we need to speak regularly.
When we were dating Gavin brought me flowers every single Shabbat. He was a struggling medical student and he had no money but he always made sure that I had flowers and promised he would never forget flowers for Shabbat. Twenty-seven years later, he still brings flowers every week – even arranges flowers to be delivered when I am overseas. Flowers are a luxury that have no utility beyond bringing pleasure and making the recipient feel loved and appreciated. And feel like a Princess.
Gavin will never let me take out the garbage – he says princesses don’t take out garbage. It’s not about the garbage and it’s not about the flowers but it’s a way of making someone feel special. A man needs to feel like he is a Prince and a Hero. He needs to feel acknowledged for doing the things that he does to make your life special. I often send Gavin notes thanking him for being my hero even when the tasks are small.
We are really big advocates of WE time. Couples need date night at least once a week – but preferably much more frequently. Gavin and I go out almost every night and have always done so. We often see with our friends that once the the first baby comes along WE time goes out the door for the next decade or two. You need to switch from co- parenting and the title mom and dad to Jodi and Gavin. WE time is essential oxygen for a relationship.
With the humdrum of carpools, changing diapers, making school lunches and doing homework, adventure and fun seems to evaporate from relationships. I cannot stress how important adventure is! Do something different, do something crazy. We find music concerts that start at midnight and end at dawn to go to. Climb Masada and watch the sunrise, go camping. Not only does it make things more fun you create shared memories and experiences that keeps passion alive.
My relationship mentor Slovie Wolff often talks about those conflict moments and you need to ask yourself "Is this worth my shalom bayit - peace in the home?" I hear Slovie's voice and I stop in my tracks... so many issues are just not worth chipping at the foundation of a marriage.
I believe that being in a happy relationship is the most wonderful and exhilarating part of life. But reaching and maintaining that level is very difficult and takes constant effort – more effort than just about anything else you can do. But I also believe that there is also no more valuable a place to invest your efforts…