The two most important things to say

About thirty years ago I met a blonde girl on a blind date.  Not only was it a blind date, but it was my first date ever, and I was terrified.  I washed my car, got a nice trim haircut, and donned my only sweater before heading out to pick her up.  My tactics worked and the date went well, and we’ve been together ever since.

Love is an immaterial thing that I believe is the strongest force on earth.  My enduring marriage has become something akin to words found in the Old Testament poetry: “Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it.”

We’ve been through thick and thin, and it’s been way harder and way more amazing than I ever imagined.  Now, armed with greying hair, tasteful wrinkles and a nearly-empty house (our three sons have joined the military, only our daughter is left), we find ourselves in a green pasture.  Somehow a relationship that weathers the storms becomes sweeter as the years go by.

I still take my wife on dates, grab her randomly and kiss her all over the neck.  We still cuddle in public.  Sometimes I am asked by younger people how to beat the odds and stay in love.  Just last week I found myself being interviewed.

“How do you keep a relationship vibrant for many decades?”

I’d offer two phrases that serve as great relationship advice.  These apply not only to marriage but really to any friendship.  They, once memorized and used liberally, pave the way for enduring and joyful interactions.

Two simple phrases, here we go.  I’m sorry.  Thank you.

First: I’m sorry.  Very powerful words there.  If you believe in forgiveness, it can do wonders in your life.  Often our first reaction in a dispute is to load up our proverbial gun with bullet points to fire away as we accuse and condemn the actions and words of another.

But maybe a better strategy is this: Rather than emptying our gun on others, we empty their gun for them before they can shoot.  If there are bullets rightly aimed at you, you can eliminate them by asking for forgiveness.  If your partner, spouse or friend has a heart, they will forgive.  Sometimes this is much easier said than done, especially when a deep hurt is inflicted.  But it must be done or roots of bitterness will destroy any relationship.  People who stay offended are people who will not stay loyal.

So look inside yourself, address not what has been done to you but what you have done, and make amends.  Instead of trying to demand others change, work on you first.  They need to change their own self, that’s not your job.  You work on you.

Second: Thank you.  Familiarity breeds contempt and before long we might find little to like in our spouse or friends.  Cultivating appreciation for others does wonders for any relationship.  Rather than focusing on what is not, we learn to celebrate what is.  Rather than trying to have what we love, we learn to love what we have.

This takes some soul work.  Before gratitude can root too deep in your soul you have to make room for it by pulling out the weeds of criticism and expectation.  It is amazing how joyful we can become in relationships once we stop focusing on what is wrong with other people, and instead appreciate what is right.

Once employed, gratitude can refresh a relationship in a miraculous way.  I don’t really understand how it works, but I know love flourishes in an atmosphere of appreciation.

Be encouraged today to use these two small phrases with those you love – I’m sorry and thank you – and you will soon find renewed joy and fulfillment in your relationships.

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