When we were first married, my husband would sit on the edge of our king-size bed every morning and circle my slim waist with his massive hands.
Facing him, with a large toothed comb in one hand and globs of conditioner in my other hand, I’d transform his mass of dark curly locks into a more professional look. Then he would pull me close for a warm embrace before reluctantly releasing me from his muscled grasp.
This “Harlequin Moment” gradually dwindled both in brevity and regularity with the arrival of babies who grew into toddlers and toddlers who grew into nursery school goers. Early morning chaos replaced the previous Zen-like beginning of our day.
My husband’s curly locks and heavily muscled back are gone, as is my slim waist. The toddlers are grown with families of their own. No pressing work demands await us. And we wake up once again – just the two of us.
Our new morning ritual begins with me now facing his back, not his chest. Magical cream designed to block nerve pain has replaced the hair pick and conditioner.
With long, smooth strokes, I carefully apply the cream to his back, shoulders, and lower torso – cream that enables him to walk a few city blocks with relative ease.
The series of actions I performed has now changed to a prescribed order. However, the ritual of doing something intimately and consistently with my husband has been re-ignited.
My charm, cleverness, and sense of humor were often other-directed – into my writing and speeches. To my wide circle of friends. To utter strangers.
But how was I treating the man I had been married to for over 40 years? With shock, I started noticing a shrillness creeping into my voice when I spoke to him. A dismissive, insensitive tone. A condescending way of answering his never-ending basic questions about how to use the note section in his cell phone.
I silently instigated a campaign to “lose the snippiness.” I stopped myself from getting irritated at the way he clapped too loud at concerts – always out of sync with the rest of the audience. I stopped criticizing his relatives, even when I felt I was right.
I stopped complaining about his clothes thrown on the floor and his cane invariably left in a place where I would most likely trip over it. I stopped denigrating his food preferences for what I considered to be bland and uninteresting.
Instead of leaving him a written, blistering note full of directions and exclamation marks (and a few expletives too), I started politely asking him to call the landscaper and check on the withering bushes against the southern wall.
Instead of bitchily shooting off strident directions, I started laughing at his inability to take a decent picture with his iPhone. Instead of displaying ill-concealed and irritated impatience, I started respectfully listening to his political opinions with full attention.
Recently, a friend pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, “Geez, when did all this start? You’re being so nice to your husband.” I flushed with embarrassment, recalling all the moments I’d lost to snappiness.
And then, flooded with happiness, I realized that the random acts of kindness, gentleness, and compassion I’d been showering on friends and strangers was now also drizzling down to the most important person in my life – my partner.
It’s funny. There seem to be less clothes on the floor for me to trip over. His camera skills may be improving. He’s not clapping as loudly at concerts, and he’s experimenting with new foods. Or is it just my imagination?
Perhaps it’s just that my new approach has sharpened my focus on why I fell in love with him in the first place.
How does your long marriage affect the way you treat your spouse? Do you think there are ways you could be kinder and gentler with him? Please share with our community how you utilize ritual, attitude, and behavior to keep your marital sparkle alive.