When my husband and I had been married for 15 years, we were interviewed by a woman in New York City, I’ll call her Jessica.

She was a successful professional who was living with her boyfriend of five years. He wanted to get married, but she really wasn’t sure what she wanted. One thing Jessica knew for sure… was that she didn’t want to get married and then discover she had made the wrong choice.

A friend of ours suggested she reach out and interview couples who were married for at least 5 years, and ask them what worked for them and what didn’t, how they knew they were right for one another, and any other questions that naturally arose.

At 15 years of marriage at the time, we had been married longer than any of her other friends, and she chose to interview us first. She got a lot of useful information from the conversation; for my husband and me it was an absolutely amazing experience.

The call took place in July, and each one of us was in a different location. Jessica was in her apartment in New York City, running the air conditioning to avoid the heaviness of the city’s summertime humidity. I was in Massachusetts with our children, enjoying occasional breezes from the nearby ocean while I packed up a 4 bedroom home where we had lived for 5 years.

I was packing it up, and also discarding about half our belongings in preparation for our move halfway across the United States to SW rural Kansas. Meanwhile, my husband was already on his way to our new home, and spoke as he drove through Missouri and hours and hours of flat Kansan prairie.

After living in New England for a decade and a half, with meandering roads and uneven terrain, I recall him saying that all that expanse seemed to put things in perspective, and help him access the big picture.

As he drove, and I took a break from packing, and Jessica sat in her NY apartment, we had a three way conversation. We took turns responding to Jessica’s questions, which meant I got to hear everything my husband said and he got to hear everything I said. Two of his responses really stuck out for me.

The first was when he described falling in love with me.

We met in medical school, and grew our relationship passing notes to one another as we sat together in Biochemistry and Gross Anatomy lectures.

This was long before smart phones, and we passed actual pieces of paper back and forth—sometimes commenting on the lecture material, sometimes commenting on other students who annoyed or impressed us, sometimes commenting on the evening we had enjoyed the night before, or an argument we were having…. As we wrote, we often had a guest lecturer.

A researcher, who was an expert in his field, would come and teach us for one day, or perhaps two. He or she shared about their topic and then left again. This meant that most days there was a new professor at the front of the room, a new professor who wasn’t familiar with the buttons and switches required to operate the technology.

So…sometimes they just didn’t operate it.

This meant that a lecturer would be teaching us something with the lights on, and then start a powerpoint presentation that would be hard to see in the bright lecture hall lights. I would find it astonishing, but sure enough the lecturer would keep talking.

So I raised my hand and when called upon, did not ask a question about the biochemistry equation or the layers of muscle in the lower back. Nope, I raised my hand to request the professor turn the lights down so we could read the slides. A bit of fumbling would ensue, and then the lights would be turned off.

This was fine, until the professor wanted to illustrate a finer point by writing on the blackboard. So, again, I would raise my hand and request the lights be turned on so we could see what was on the blackboard.

Eventually, I would raise my hand and request the lights be adjusted as needed for learning, and inform the professor where the switch was to cut down on the fumbling, and minimize the break in the flow of learning.

For me it was confounding.

How could someone be teaching and not be oriented to optimize our learning?

I attended alternative schools and had highly engaging wonderful teachers in college, and had never experienced this kind of attitude in teachers prior to entering medical school.

My husband, on the other hand, attended very fine public schools and Harvard University.

He was very used to the lack of attention on the learning experience, and in fact, had never encountered someone who cared so much about the experience of everyone in the room.

At the time I felt a little embarrassed to be raising my hand to communicate about lighting, and wished I had more erudite questions about the material like some of my smartest classmates.

For my husband, that never mattered. Because almost two decades later he was telling Jessica while driving through Kansas, that experiencing my attention to the environment and people’s experience was what had him fall in love with me.

Experiencing my attention to how things work and feel had him feel good, relaxed, and joyous in a way he had never known before. I will always be grateful to Jessica for being the one who asked the question that gave me this answer.

The second thing that caught my attention was when he spoke about how our relationship went from pretty okay/good, to really superb and excellent. He said there was nothing I said or did. There was no particular event. There was nothing that suddenly caught his attention.

He just woke up one morning, clear that he was going to show up as much as he possibly could, and rather than waiting for me to make everything great, he was going to do everything he could to be the kind of man who is in an outstanding relationship.

Among the boxes, I melted. Not from the heat—from the reality, the pure, unadulterated truth I was hearing. 

There was nothing that I had said or done. No event that happened.

I just LOVED him and cared about our experiences, and implemented what my coaches had taught me. And one day our relationship became the MOST important thing in the world to him.

I could easily say it was random and so there was nothing I could do about it. But that’s not quite true.

I was focused on improving our relationship for years, very explicitly so. And I had come to the realization that I can’t control my husband. And, furthermore, I didn’t want to.

That’s not how I wanted to create the changes I was yearning for! And, sure enough, as soon as I stopped inwardly trying to push/inspire/make it happen, he woke up one morning and chose to make it happen all on his own.

This is the kind of change I trust. This is the kind of change I can pray for, but never ever manipulate if it is going to be sustainable.

  • Is there a change you are yearning for your partner to make?
  • Is there a change you are trying to make happen, either explicitly or totally under the radar?
  • How’s it going?
  • And would you consider letting it go, trusting it will all work out?

I’d LOVE to hear your experience. Hit reply and let me know.