Today I flew from St. Louis to Houston next to a couple who were clearly very in love. When I first sat down, I thought that the woman was much younger than the man and they were so into each other--ahem--I assumed they were dating.
Pretty soon I figured out that they were about the same age (early 50s) and affluent and deeply connected. They chatted and laughed together for awhile, worked on Sudoku together and separately before she fell asleep on his lap and he stroked her hair and her back as she slept. Later, she was nervous about the turbulence and he reassured her quietly, offering to share his headphones so she could listen to music. I noticed wedding rings and wondered if they were in a new or second marriage.
When we landed, I mustered up the courage to tell them that I was a counselor who worked with couples and wanted to ask, "What is your secret?" The woman was thrilled: "A counselor noticed our marriage!" Then this fascinating conversation ensued:
She: We've been married 31 years! Our secret is that he's calm.
He (smiling): And communication.
She: Yes, communication. You've got to be able to give it and you've got to be able to take it.
He: Because if you don't say what's wrong, it builds up and then you might blow up. I've learned that.
She: And if you don't let the other person tell you what is wrong or how you can improve, how can you ever get better? There's no accountability. Your friends probably won't tell you.
Me: You don't know what you don't know.
She: Exactly! So you have to tell each other and you have to listen.
He: And you can take it because you know the other person has your best interest at heart.
She: Yes, and we never busted the trust between us. We've always been able to trust each other, no matter what happens. He travels a lot but we've been really careful about that. So we always know the other one will do anything for us. Do you have a happy marriage? Do you have children?
Me: Yes, I do! And we have two children but they're grown and gone.
She: Isn't the empty nest the BEST?!
It was a fun and fascinating conversation. As we were going our separate ways, the wife thanked me again for noticing their marriage. "I just feel like I won a trophy!" she squealed. Her husband put his arm around her. "You're my trophy wife, sweetheart. Let's go." And they went toward their gate and I came home. The end.