Yesterday we ran some errands and did a little shopping in odd places. We didn’t buy anything of consequence. Then we went to lunch.
When H and I were at Goodwill – after going up and down a few aisles – a woman approached us and said, “You two make a nice couple.” I said, “Well, thank you.” She said, “No, really. You’re very good together.” We talked a few minutes and went on our way. I said, “Wasn’t that sweet.” H said, “She probably saw me grab your butt.” I said, “I’m just glad she didn’t see us at the deli the time you let that woman slice the salami too thick.”
She would have come away with a different perspective if she’d seen us on salami day. It’s impossible to judge anyone’s relationship in its totality when you only get a snippet. Heck, it’s hard for us to judge our own relationships when we’re in the thick of it. What woman knows if her 28-year-old husband will help her take care of her aging father thirty years later? Only years later can one look back and get a feel for how it all went: the good and the bad of it, the highs and lows of it, the stand-by-me-through-thick-and-thin of it.
When H and I were hanging pictures at my niece’s house, she said something very similar. After hanging a grouping on a wall, which required some effort to get everything just right, she said, ” I could hear you guys in the other room. You work well together and you’re so funny.”
This all reminded me of a documentary I saw about a hundred years ago. Psychologists claimed they could predict the potential success or failure of a marriage by observing couples as they tackled complicated tasks or projects together. It was interesting, but I think H and I would have been judged as “doomed to fail” back then. We’ve learned to co-operate… mostly, but not always. There are plenty of times when we still butt heads. I assume the couples who worked together smoothly on their projects did well in marriage, but maybe not. What do I know? Maybe the couples who co-operated and completed their projects without too much conflict bored each other to death after two years of marriage, and went looking for someone who would challenge them.
I do believe you can learn a lot about a relationship when people have to work together toward a common goal. Mostly about how they disagree with one another: do they do it respectfully, do they degrade their mate or bully their mate. But people change, grow, learn to work together, or not. I think common values are probably a better indicator of potential marital bliss than being able to complete a task without strangling your partner when you’re 25. Of course, it helps if he gets the salami sliced thin enough.