Take delight in that which delights the other. I wrote a piece on that some years ago, and it’s time for it to come up again because it came up in a conversation with a young friend of mine who has been married almost ten years, and has discovered that his wife really enjoys doing certain things in which he has absolutely no interest. To his surprise, the reverse is equally true. She’s not really into some of his favorite sports. Are they growing apart? What should he do about it?
The healthiest and happiest marriages I know of are characterized by flexibility, forgiveness, trust, and delight in that which delights the other. By flexibility I mean that while they never lose touch with each other, they also have significant degrees of freedom to explore and experience new things, each on their own. It also means that there is no place for fundamentalist ideas about the man being the ruler of the household, or that being made “one flesh” implies a melding of two personalities into one entity dominated by one of them.
Forgiveness, of course, has to do with the reality that married people fail each other from time to time in all kinds of ways, sometimes intentionally, but usually not. Forgiveness is about reconciliation, and reconciliation is about confession, acceptance of responsibility, and amendment of life. Think of it as a continuing series of mostly small mid-course corrections that are made throughout life together. Forgiveness also means something else. We talk about the characteristic of forgiveness in something that can accommodate an inexperienced or not very competent user. A friend has a horse who is forgiving of inexperienced riders. Another friend flies a small plane he says is forgiving of pilots who are good enough but not experts. You get the idea. Forgiveness and flexibility have a lot to do with each other.
Trust means that each partner has faith that the other will not betray or hurt them, at least not intentionally, and certainly not in any life shattering way. My friends Ernie and Margaret have been married for over sixty years; they each say that trust means they know the other will be there for them and with them. Trust means being dedicated to the integrity of the relationship. Trust is never a one way street. For trust to be present, it must go in both directions. Trust also encompasses the venial sins of which we are all guilty, embracing them in forgiveness (as understood above). “I trust that you love me even if I am not very lovable today.”
So that brings us to the main event: take delight in that which delights the other. It’s not unusual for lovers in their courtship days to crow about how much they like the same things, and it’s true. But a maturing relationship soon reveals that each has his or her own interests not shared by the other. There are new things to learn, experience, try, and work at that may have little appeal for the other. For some that means growing apart. It can mean the end of the marriage, but it shouldn’t. The key is to take delight in that which delights the other. Here are some personal examples. My wife was a competitive runner. Running as sport is of zero interest to me, but I was delighted (found happiness) in the delight that running gave to her. I love to snorkel and have enjoyed free diving. She is not comfortable snorkeling, and worries about any free diving I still try to do, but she takes delight in how happy it makes me feel. She’s an artist. I’m a writer. We work in separate spaces, and keep them far apart. But we each take delight in the delight that other has in the work they do. Those who learn to take delight in that which delights the other are the ones who stand before their friends on their fiftieth or sixtieth wedding anniversary as a couple still passionately in love with each other, even though one is into quilting and the other plays golf every day.
Yes, it’s wonderful to discover how much you and your loved one have in common, and to celebrate it as often as possible. But it’s never too early to begin the process of learning how to take delight in that which delights the other. In the end it will take your romance to ever higher, more enduring levels.