Today is Jennifer’s and my 25th anniversary. Like any relationship that has endured so long, our marriage has many facets or levels to it. And because I believe that the power of all leadership comes from the power of relationships, I thought it worth sharing a little about ours.
Lesson One: Generosity is a multiplier. I know it’s bizarre, but I’ve always had this image that marriage is like a football field. I come from my goal line. Jennifer from hers. If I’m “willing to meet her halfway,” I’m, well, … doomed to failure. There’s too much pressure, ego, insecurity, and difference in perspective to possibly succeed with no margin for error. If, on the other hand, we are each willing to go 60 yards instead of 50, we now have 20 yards to work with. Sometimes I can get away with 50, sometimes maybe 45 yards, but in the long run, I’ve got to commit to the extra 10. (I don’t mean this in a technical or structural way, for there have been stretches – especially given Jen’s jobs – when it comes to time or tasks, that I have consistently done more than 50. But her spirit of giving more under those extraordinary external demands was always there.) If you think of your key relationships, how far down the field are you committed to go?
Lesson Two: Tell your truth. Notice I don’t say “tell the truth.” When we’d been married about six years, I told Jennifer a lot of “the” truth: how she needed to deal with conflict, with issues in a certain way, with her and my feelings. Mind you, I didn’t say it was “the” truth, but I had and displayed a certainty about my positions and my values, as if they were “the” truth. I’ll never forget a moment when we were standing on opposite sides of the bed in our first home. I was fit to be tied, trying to get her to see something about her behavior. She just would not buy the premise of a complaint of mine, and said with the solidity of a person who will not be moved – even if the sun should rise and set and the days pass one after the next – “You can’t expect me to be you.” She threw me back on myself. And that was great (although painful and isolating at the moment). I didn’t stop having perspectives, opinions, and even disappointments that she didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t see things my way, but I slowly learned to share “my” truth, respecting that she had hers.
That marital lesson has helped me see so many times how I have wanted others to see my view and accept my truth, but then find that I could choose instead to try to “get” their point of view and be enriched by it. Gosh that sounds easy. But when it’s a political critic, a rebelling teenager, or yes, Jennifer sometimes, darn I wish they could just see “the” truth!
Lesson Three: Relationships are precious gifts, freely given, slowly developed and so easily trashed. Jennifer and I see each other’s shortcomings, but we focus on our gifts. One gift was the tenderness and trust with which our parents treated each other. We don’t yell, because our parents didn’t. We don’t cheat, in large part because we had great models. We want to pass a similar legacy – that in a world that preys on our restlessness, continually beckoning to a grass that’s greener – we believe that our word matters. And our relationship is a gift which we hold – together – each able to treasure or trash it, and we’re committed to reverencing the gift. On Saturday, with our three kids as the fruits and primary beneficiaries of our love, we renewed our vows to treasure each other and treasure our relationship.
We have been so sad to watch our friends in the community of governors inflict such harm on their spouses, children, staffs, and states. We don’t feel self-righteous, and don’t sit in judgment. Indeed, I know that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” Yet I believe that every parent is a “governor” and a “first gentleman” or “first lady” in their own worlds, and everyday leaders to their children on a grand and heroic level.
Love and leadership are truly precious gifts we hold. We’re best to remember so we can lead
With our best self,