Happy 41st Anniversary!
May 1, 2023 – Today, Nagib and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary. Some days, it feels like we are still newly married – Nagib still shares with me the first bite of what he orders and offers me the last sip of his drink. Other times, it feels like we have been together forever. We were married when we were 21 and 23, so we have spent almost twice as much time together married than as singles. And while our relationship has changed and evolved over the years, this one decision I made many years ago to say “yes” when Nagib got down on one knee and proposed to me, was the single, most significant decision I made in my life. It set the course of both our lives. When we got married, Nagib was the grown-up in the relationship – resourceful, structured, process-oriented. With him, I was able to play and discover and explore. We could not have been more different from each other, and yet somehow it worked. We worked. It helped that we shared the same values of family, service, contribution; and loved each other enough to learn from the other. Nagib introduced me to baseball, I introduced him to books. He wanted to debate everything from politics to current events; I brought into our world the notion of emotional intelligence and flexibility and play. Over time, our interests merged and we both got smarter as we expanded our comfort zone.
I have been thinking a lot about love lately and what it means in the context of 41 years. My view today is that while values matter, what really matters in a relationship is how you make the other person feel, and how they make you feel. If you are your very best with your partner, and you bring out the best in them, that to me is the ultimate litmus test of a good relationship. For this to happen, there must be trust in a relationship. Trust that you can speak up and share your thoughts and feelings without judgement or criticism. The relationship must feel safe so that you can open up to the other person emotionally, physically and mentally. Because when there is no safety or trust, the relationship will deteriorate. I have also been thinking a lot about communication. As a newlywed, I would have said that the most critical skill in a relationship is communication. I still believe that, but I think even more important is the skill to manage conflict. Relationships are great until they are not, and it is when they are not that we need to know how to move positively forward. That requires the ability to really listen to each other, to be curious about where the other person is coming from, and loving the person enough that you are able to see beyond just yourself and find common ground. And I am beginning, more and more, to realize how important kindness is in a relationship. In fact, from where I am sitting today, kindness is a prized ingredient in any successful relationship, and so understated.
In a long-term relationship, it is inevitable that both people will evolve. I am certainly finding that about Nagib and me. We are not the same people we were 41 years ago, and it is so important to continue to find each other through the changes. We ask ourselves big questions when we go out on dates. Questions like, “what is the best part about being together now?”, “what kinds of things annoy you?”, “what can I do better to support you?”. As time goes by, the answers to these questions change. Because we are not static, we are shifting and changing. And, the way we feel about things or experience the world may change also. So it is worth revisiting these questions and continue to learn about each other so we are speaking to the current version of ourselves!
Relationships are magical and messy, confusing and gratifying. Our relationship has certainly seen its share of ups and downs, made more challenging over the past 12 years as I battled 3 cancers, and Nagib took on the additional role of being a caregiver. We have had to come up with new norms and creative ways to make the relationship work for both of us. And we do this because that is what love is all about. In the words of the song from Moulin Rouge, “the greatest thing you’ll every learn is to love and be loved in return.”