Do you treat your spouse like a client? You should.
Let me preface with this. I've divorced twice and married three times, so I'm not an expert on lasting relationships.
However, years of failure and course-correction have shown me what seems to matter, and what doesn't. So if nothing else, I'm an expert at observing relationships.
Some background: my first wedding took place on an island in the Whitsundays with both sides of the family attending. It was fancy, expensive and pointless.
I already had my doubts about the whole thing, and a white chapel on a tropical hill wasn't going to change that. If anything, it amplified my fears, and I almost ran before squeezing out my vows. Really.
The second was a noisy, even more expensive multi-day Macedonian affair with hordes of people I didn't know (and never saw again).
A Lamborghini, two Porsches and a pair of motorcycle cops escorted us to the venue. Music, cash and circular ‘dancing' ensued over five hours of sleep-deprived madness, capped off with a fancy hotel and a whirlwind US honeymoon.
Having a naked stripper on my lap three hours before kick-off didn't help, either. I experienced the whole thing through seared retinas and a throat as dry as a cocky's cage.
In hindsight, both marriages had less to do with love, friendship and a commitment to each others' happiness, and more about entering the world of adulthood and the responsibilities that went with it.
They were more like a performance. We were playing ‘grown-ups', and we wanted to put on a convincing show.
The Downward Spiral
Both weddings were grand affairs, and they set a baseline of expectation for the years that followed. Fancy cars, expensive jewellery and rampant consumerism became the indicators of ‘success'. Arguments grew in frequency and intensity, and the pressure to go one better became unsustainable.
But despite these ructions, something far simpler led to each marriage's demise – a loss of respect, courtesy and decency. Mutual resentment became the dominant mood, and familiarity bred contempt.
We began to treat each other worse than the customers we served. Our colleagues, our bosses and our clients got the best of us, while we reserved our worst for each other.
And I was no role model – that's for sure. I worked far too much; trying desperately to create ‘the good life' for all of us. I spent too much on stupid Versace ties, new cars and expensive dinners. I tried to be a model husband (based on all the marketing bullsh*t I'd bought into), but in the bitter end, my cupboard was bare, and I had nothing further to give – emotionally or financially.
Third Time's the Charm
And so onto wife number three.
This time – at long last – I'd learned some valuable lessons. And ten years on, I believe they're holding true.
Here's what I do today. I treat my wife with courtesy. I listen when she speaks. I judge less than before. I respect her opinion, even when it differs from mine. Most of all, I recognise that every relationship is an exchange of value, and as with any transaction, you must give value before you receive it.
And here's the key. I don't do this by drowning her in red roses on Valentines Day. I haven't blown $30,000 on solid gold trinkets, and I don't try to impress her with elaborate birthday celebrations.
I encourage her; I compliment her, I remind her how amazing she looks in that dress. I tell her I can't see the crows feet around her eyes, and I let her know I'm her number one fan, and I do it often.
I share my problems with her and take her advice when I think it'll help. And I never fail to thank her for the things she does for me.
And because of all this, she does the same for me. That's what a relationship is. It's not a fight for power; it's us – together – helping the other person to win.
The Business Paradox
We hear about win-win relationships in business all the time. Many of us practice it on a daily basis. We solve our clients' problems. We root for their success. We build bridges and foster long-term collaboration.
So why not with our spouse? Why is it so hard to be courteous, considerate and open? Why do we take each other for granted? Why can't we afford them the same respect and service we do our customers?
If our most important decision is who we share our life with, then it's incumbent on us to serve them, listen to them and dignify them as much as possible.
For as long as I can remember, my lucky number has always been three… and this is my third marriage, so the correlation is clear.
If I screw this one up, my lucky number will have to change, and I'm just not prepared to do that. And so for the rest of my days, I'll be treating my bride better than any of my customers.
Because she is, quite simply, my customer for life.
PS. If you want a nice simple guide to mastering your midlife, get my free guide here. I created it just for you.Every relationship is an exchange of value, and as with any transaction, you must give value before you receive it. Click To Tweet
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Also published on Medium.