Handhold

Apart from my parents, no one in my life has demonstrated to me the best of what love and marriage can be more than our friends, Mike and Nancy.  In a hundred ways, they’ve given Jennifer and me something to reach for.  So I took it seriously when Mike sat me down one night and said, “Chance, you’re changing and you’re about to screw up the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

Jennifer and I were dating.  I had my eyes on a ring and was dreaming of how I might ask her to marry me.  But at the time, it happened that several friends of mine were not only divorcing, they were ripping each other to shreds in the process.  These were people I knew well and loved deeply.  I’d even stood in a couple of their weddings.  I thought their marriages would last forever; we all did.  But now they were making an enemy of the one they promised to love most.  It was hard to watch, and it took a big toll on me.  I began pulling away from Jennifer – guarding my heart, putting up a barrier between us, born of someone else’s mistakes.

Mike knew what was going on with me.  He grabbed me by the shoe as he passed my chair, smiled and said, “Those are some cold feet you’ve got there.  What’s going on with you?  Tell me what you’re afraid of.”

I knew I was about to get some answers, so I was honest with him.  I unloaded all of my doubts and at the end, I asked him, “How can I be sure we’ll last forever?”

“You can’t.  You can only be sure it’s going to last forever a day at a time.  You make it to forever bit by bit.”

Good answer, but not good enough.  “Okay, but how can I trust that who she is today is who she’ll be down the road?  How do I know she won’t destroy my heart someday…or that I won’t destroy hers?”

“That’s the wrong question, Chance.  That question will keep you from ever fully trusting or committing, in or out of marriage.  You should be asking, ‘Can I trust her heart today?  Can she trust mine today?’.  Then do what it takes to be able to answer yes.  You ask today, and again tomorrow and the day after that… That’s how you get to forever.”

All of that seemed good and true, but it still wasn’t enough for me.  I desperately wanted some sort of guarantee I couldn’t get.

The next words out of Mike’s mouth have become a compass for me.  They’re simple, so don’t miss the gift they carry.

He said, “Chance, you want a guarantee?  I’ll guarantee you this.  100% of the time that marriages get in trouble, it starts with people saying to themselves, ‘My needs aren’t being met.  She’s overlooking me.  He’s not doing enough.  I deserve better.’  Once you start looking at things in terms of what you are or aren’t getting, you’re on a dangerous road.”

Even considering the words as I write them makes my heart beat a little faster.  Something in me wants to argue the point, and something else tells me it’s true.

“You wanna know why Nancy and I have something few people have?  Here’s our secret.  Every day I wake up and I ask myself, ‘How can I serve her today?  What does she need?  What can I do to make her life better?’  Something always comes to mind, and I do it.”

“That can’t be true, Mike.  You don’t actually do that every day, do you?  Wouldn’t that just make you a servant or a door mat?”

“I absolutely do.  And you’re right, it could make me a doormat…if I were the only one asking the question.  But the thing is, she does the same thing.  She wakes up and asks herself, ‘How can I serve him today?  What does he need?  What can I do to make his life better?’ Something comes to mind and she does it.”

“Everyday?”

“Every single day, for more than 30 amazing years with the love of my life.  Both of us are adored and our needs are being met, but neither of us is focused on getting what we want or deserve.  There’s no need to fight for it if someone else is fighting the battle for you. And neither of us keeps a list of all the ways the other has dropped the ball.  As long as you’re focused on what you’re owed, you’re not focused enough on what you’re there to give.”

It took me a few days to get beyond the surface of his words, but as I did, my trust in Jennifer grew.  My trust in myself grew.  And maybe for the first time, I began to understand the difference between a good marriage and a great one.

I wish I could say that I get this right all the time.  The truth is I still consider it a good deed when I put Jennifer’s needs ahead of my own.  I privately pat myself on the back for being so thoughtful.  I have so far to go.  But I won’t stop working on it.

She’s worth it.

We’re worth it.

Married, single, among friends or with our families, what if we let each other off the hook and started fresh, this time considering each other as more important than ourselves?

What if each of us woke up tomorrow asking what we could do for those we love the most?  

What if we fought to see each others’ needs met instead of our own?

What would life look like if we abandoned the thought that we are owed something or deserve something better?

What if we made it our mission to make something better of the beautiful thing we have?

Those are some of the questions that create our happily ever after.  Those are the questions that get us to forever… a day at a time.

This Post Has 34 Comments

  1. Gretchen

    After being divorced now for 1 year (married 19) I can say we would still be married had we done this.

    After going through therapy I know understand how important that part is. When you are in a relationship if you don’t take care of the other person there is no relationship.

    Thank you for bringing things to us in a gentle way.

    1. Chance

      Thank you for sharing yours with the rest of us. You might just have spared someone else the hard road you’ve had to walk.

  2. Jeremiah Diehl

    Chance, I absolutely love this post. I’ve been married for almost 2 years now and I have some of these fears you mentioned. I’m going to make it my goal to serve my wife everyday without asking anything in return. I want to last at least 31 years with her :-)

  3. michele

    Language is only a powerful tool if it is communicated. I must say seldom does anyone take the trouble to explain the practical truths about relationships, or anything, let alone kindness preformed with style. For the most part I was tossed a finished product without ever knowing its process. Habituated to pushing a button and hitting a switch… taking all those things for granted. I personally was raised to have a fighting heart. I had to simply come bouncing back every time someone had knocked it down. I think it just made me more stubborn and harder to preform those acts of kindness …which has only lead to my repeated failures. I think it is hard for some of us to even see this as ordinary everyday kindness, me included. But I think this will one of the first conversations I might try having the next time I meet someone special. I mean because you would know then if someone was just merely a kind person doing things rather sheepishly or if they were doing them with a smile of willingness…right?
    Cheers to Mike and Nancy!

  4. Struggling

    My hubby and I have been struggling in this very thing and this is encouraging to hear what other people do to make it thru every day… Thanks for posting

    1. Chance

      I’m so glad you wrote… Thanks for being vulnerable. If we’re honest, any of us would have to admit we could be struggling as well. It doesn’t take much to get off track. The good news it really doesn’t take much to get back on the right track either.

      Maybe you could use this article to bridge the gap between you. Talk it out. Admit where you’ve both gotten off course with each other, and consider giving yourself a mutual challenge. Do this for a week. If you both commit to it and follow through, worse case scenario is you have a better week than you’ve had in a long time.

  5. Suz

    I saw your post from Anita Renfroe’s post…excellent post and exactly the message all couples need to read and put on their refrigerator! I’m attending a wedding this morning and will be celebrating my 31st annv later this month…meet his needs, then yours will be meet too is what I’ve found! Thanks for writing Chance!

    1. Chance

      31 years?! Wow – that’s impressive in this day and age. Congratulations!

      Encouragement coming from someone with so much history means a lot to me. THANKS for reading and for commenting.

  6. Amber

    Thank you so much for this blog. I am getting re-married in 7 weeks and that is exactly what I needed to hear. It’s so frightening to promise forever again when you couldn’t do it the first time but in reading through this blog today I can see where I was as wrong as he was. Thank you Chance, I will be a much better wife this time.

    1. Chance

      I AM SO HAPPY to read your comment! Tell you fear THIS truth. Your past does not equal your future. Your bad choices led you down a painful road, and your good choices will lead you to something beautiful. You can do this.

      The couple who shared this advice with me is so inspiring. I wish you could know them. You’d absolutely long for what they have together, and he told you how they did it right there. The key is it has to be a mutual commitment to serve one another.

      CONGRATULATIONS!!! Beautiful days ahead.

  7. Chris

    Great post! I didn’t marry until I was in my mid 30s and, by that time, had many years of caring for only myself. This selfishness made it so difficult for me but in the past few years have really opened my eyes to the importance of really working every day to make my wife and kids the priority in my life. The more I do this, I see my wife doing the same for me and it feels so good to know that this is the example we are setting for our kids.

    1. Chance

      What a great story and perspective. Good for you for turning it around. So few people do once they get off course. YES, what a great example you’re setting for your kids… It even reaches beyond marriage.

  8. Kara

    Thank you so much for this. My husband and I have been married for a year and aren’t struggling or anything, but I want to keep it that way and you have just given me a way to do it!!! Thank you again!

    1. Chance

      AWESOME, Kara! You two should have a talk about this and give it a shot. Would love to know how it works for you. :)

  9. Deanna (soon to be) O'Brien

    Thank you so much for posting this. As my fiancé and I are about to get married (August 18th) your words are exactly what I needed to hear and I plan to ask every morning ‘How can I serve him today? What does he need? What can I do to make his life better?’ … not only for my husband but I will also ask those questions for his 6 1/2 year old daughter… ‘How can I serve her today? What does she need? What can I do to make her life better?’ I love them both so much and want this to be a “forever” love, a “forever” marriage, a “forever” family… one day at a time. Again, thank you so much for sharing your story.

    1. Chance

      WOO HOOO!!! I’m so glad you happened on this at such an imporant time for you and your fiance! If you knew the couple who shared this advice, I promise you’d want to model your marriage after theirs. It’s one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever known. The key is that it needs to be a mutual commitment, so talk to him about this. You two go be for someone else the beacon that Mike and Nancy have been for us. :)

      Congratulations!

  10. Bea

    Chance,
    You don’t know how perfect the timing of your message is. I have a girlfriend struggling to make right choices in her marriage. It’s been difficult, but she IS doing it. This was exactly what she needed to hear. Oh, and it was good for me too : ) This was the first time I’ve read your blog, but I’m now a subscriber. Thank you. You are making a bigger impact than you may have imagined!

    1. Chance

      Wow, Bea. THANK YOU for taking the time to share this with me. THIS is exactly why I write this blog. It helps so much to know when it’s connecting. Thanks for subscribing, and I’m so grateful it helped your friend! I’ll carry that story in my heart. Thanks again for sharing it.

  11. Christi

    Great post, Chance! Thanks for sharing – I know you blessed many.

    1. Chance

      Thank you, Christi. I sure hope so. I’d love to know that people got as much from this advice as I did.

  12. scskillman

    Thank you for your encouragement and inspiration in this post.

    1. Chance

      Thank YOU for reading and for your encouragement. :)

  13. Marilyn

    A beautiful challenge to prefer one another.

    1. Chance

      Thanks, Marilyn. :)

  14. EJ

    CHANCE! So eloquent and perfectly said. And, best of all, so true. Excellent.

    1. Chance

      EJ!! :) Thanks, my friend. And thanks a ton for tweeting the link. I really appreciate you helping me get the word out.

  15. julie diane

    ~yes… thank you Chance for reminding me that it does feel better to focus on giving! You gave to us all with your beautiful words~*

    1. Chance

      Thank you so much, Julie. Your comments always make me smile. :)

  16. Anna-Emily

    It’s all about not being focused on yourself, right? This post reminded me of how good it feels when you put someone’s needs above your own. Deep down inside it feels much better than when your needs are met. Gotta learn to do it more often.

    1. Chance

      Yes, most definitely… And it’s doubly good if someone else is also looking out for you. Win-win.

  17. Sundi Jo

    Great post! This doesn’t only apply to marriage, it applies to anything that grows us. My weight loss is done forever, one day at a time.

    1. Chance

      YES, Sundi. I agree. Thanks for making this point. My word count was high enough that I had to cut that idea, but I wholeheartedly agree.

    2. Sandra Delemare

      must remember this for stopping smoking
      great post, Chance

      1. Chance

        YES, Sandra. It even applies to that!! :) You can do it!

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