I was angry at my boyfriend. Well, angry might be too strong a word. I was irritated with him. It was over something petty, a silly little thing that doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of our life together, with aging parents, growing kids, bills to pay, health issues, and everything else that being adults throws at you.
But I was irritated with him. And I was at that tipping point. You know that point I’m talking about. It’s that point where you could decide to let it go, admit it’s silly and not a big deal and just move on. Or you could decide to dig in your heels, insist that your perspective is valid, completely justified, he’s wrong and you’re right and get downright pissed off at him.
I Was Tipping Toward Downright Pissed
And I was tipping toward the latter. It was a silly issue, yes, but one I’d brought up before and he was constantly brushing off. To me, it was really important and I needed him to not only hear me, but to acknowledge that I was right and promise that we could change it. So I was leaning hard toward getting downright pissed off at him, right down to plotting in my head the things I would say when we argued about it later.
And then my grandma called. My incredible, 88-year-old grandma, who lost her husband almost two years ago, after nearly 70 years of marriage. She was calling to talk to me about something else, and in fact, the argument with my boyfriend never came up. He came up, but only because I was letting her know about our recent decision to move in together.
That’s when she said the magic words that totally shut down all my frustration.
“Just remember, it’s not 50/50.”
She continued, “Sometimes one of you is going to give more than the other, that’s just the way it is. But if you’re only giving 50%, then you’re not really trying. It’s give and take, always. At some point, whoever’s taking at one moment will be the one doing the giving later. You can’t keep score.”
This wasn’t something she hadn’t told me before, to be honest. I remember her telling me that when I was married many years ago. The problem was, at that point, I did all the giving because I was married to a selfish asshole who was all about taking. My entire marriage was about me putting in all the effort, and it still wasn’t enough. So when she said that to me back then, I couldn’t hear it because I knew, with that man, it simply wasn’t true. He was never going to give anything to me (except for my two beautiful and amazing children, but he even managed to be selfish about doing that).
Forget the Score
But I heard her that day. I heard her that day because I know that my boyfriend is the kind of man who gives. He tries. He cares. He loves me. And I realized that what I was upset about wasn’t worth being that upset. It may not change right now, but eventually it will. I just have to wait. The circumstances will change and as a result, what I’m upset about will naturally go away.
I was expecting him to meet me halfway, but my grandmother’s words made me realize that this is one of those times where he needs me to be the one who gives more. He needs me to be the one who goes a little further to make everything easier and keep things going.
That realization was all it took to completely change everything. In that instant, my irritation vanished. I had no desire to argue with him anymore. The situation I was originally upset about still exists, and I still believe it’s not ideal and wish it were different, but I no longer feel like I need him to hear me. I feel like I can let it go and wait (perhaps very impatiently) for the day it will change — a day that I think is coming eventually.
As a woman with a failed marriage and several other bad relationships in my past, I would never say that I’m qualified to give anyone relationship advice. But when that advice comes from a woman who had a marriage that lasted almost 7 decades, I feel safe in saying that it’s advice worth listening to.
Don’t calculate. Don’t draw lines in the sand and say, “We have to meet here so that we’re putting in equal effort.” If you truly love your partner, get rid of the scorecard. Give it everything you have, and trust that they’ll do the same. And in the end, you’ll be in your 80s, able to tell younger people that they need to remember it’s not 50/50 — and they’ll listen to you, because if you’ve made a relationship last that long, you clearly know what you’re talking about.
**A version of this post was originally published on Medium.com