Recently, I had the good fortune of interviewing my Grandfather before we celebrated my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary. 70 years married is a huge accomplishment, and I wanted to get some insight on how I could apply his wisdom toward my own relationship.
That handsome old guy puckering up for a kiss is my grandfather, Robert Rulapaugh. That colorful lady smiling? That’s my grandmother Dorothy.
Grandpa Bob married his sweetheart Dot just 10 days before Germany surrendered WWII. So you could say they’ve got some history between them.
I sat Grandpa down and asked him to share what helped them survive and thrive so many years together.
These are the major lessons I learned from him:
1) Be Helpful
“Be helpful to one another. Make the bed together in the morning. Always be doing something to make your partner’s life a little easier. That’s the secret.”
Be helpful, plain and simple. Of course it’s important to take good care of yourself in a relationship, too. But I think we focus too much on autonomy, aloneness, and independence these days. It seems like we seek it as a sign of strength. One of the greatest gifts of marriage is having someone there to support you when you need it most. You lift one another up. And we offer a mirror of the best and worst in one another. And when we see something we don’t like, that’s where we get tripped up…
2) Stay Together
“Try to be together as much as possible. You have rough times in life. Sometimes the road gets a little bit rocky, but don’t ever go to bed mad at each other. Never do that. But also learn to not carry on in useless arguments. What’s gained in that?”
Half the battle is staying together. Why do we huff and puff and blow our own houses down? I do believe we need to keep healthy friendships that help us grow and connect outside the context of the relationship. Being too close offers its own set of challenges. As I look at my own relationship, I think we’ve got the “spend as much time together as you can” part down. We’re headed on another Summer roadtrip together. We work, play, and do everything together. And that brings us a sense of deep understanding and shared experience. It can also be a real test of patience sometimes, but it’s all about alignment…
3) Make Decisions as a Team
Grandpa, how do you make good decisions as a couple?
“You know, that’s my downfall. Many times I should have waited and talked things over with her before I did them. A lot of times I made the decision, and WE should have made the decision. You regret it afterwards.”
I really appreciated hearing those words. Making good decisions together is such an important lesson. It’s too easy to get prideful and think you know the way. The reason why we pair up is to build a life together, and we should be respectful of our partner’s perspective. They may see what’s been in your blind spot. Especially when it comes to the big choices, always make them as a team.
I asked Grandpa one last follow-up question…
What career advice do you have?
“Liking a job and the people you work with is a big part of it. If you’re not happy there, you’re not going to do as well. I always enjoyed my work and I worked really hard. And it didn’t hurt me.”
We’ve been programmed to believe that commitment is hard, oppressive, and limits our freedom. While this is mostly true, I think we’re looking at it with the wrong lens. Whether we’re talking about work, relationships, or creative endeavors, commitment is the key to longevity in doing what you love.
Commitment is defined as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. A second definition identifies commitment as an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.
The way I see it though, commitment gives us laser focus on what’s most important. It frees us from passing distractions. It challenges us to truly devote ourselves. And when we apply all of our energy toward the loving, nurturing, and tending to what needs or calls us the most, we build a happier home, a consistent career, and guess what? In the long run we actually learn we’ve afforded ourselves more freedoms than we could have ever imagined. When we see commitment show up in our relationship to community, it becomes a currency that supports us in all we do.
The other day I discovered an insanely awesome video of a dancer doing the robot. I ran the video by a dancer friend asking, “is this even humanly possible!?”
Her response rang true: “Crazy right?! I know…I feel it’s very possible for me, if I commit.”