One of the secrets to a successful relationship (friends, marriage, family and so on) is an acceptance of the other party’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, no matter how crazy, absurd or inconvenient we find them.
We all have our unique approaches to situations and challenges, our coping strategies and sometimes just our way of being. In a healthy relationship we can overlook or smile at these foibles; in an unhealthy one, they send us through the roof.
Richard and Sandy have a great marriage, one that has lasted close to 40 years. They have lovely children and some delightful grandchildren. They are warm and devoted and solicitous of each other’s needs. It is a picture of harmony. Except when they travel. Then something, somewhere deep inside Richard, flips.
No one can figure out why but his anxiety climbs and his behavior veers out of control. He insists on leaving for the airport extra early; he pushes his way to the front of the security line; he has to be first to board and first to disembark. He is oblivious to the hostile stares and comments of the other passengers.
Not so his wife who wants to sink through the floor. Once they reach their destination, the trip is great and they have a wonderful time. But on the journey home, it begins again. Since this behavior is inconsistent with the rest of his character, Sandy has learned to let it go. Her marriage is more important than dirty looks from strangers.
Melissa and Suzy have a different challenge. Best friends since 5th grade, they have learned to be tolerant of each other’s quirks, calculating that preserving their 30-year closeness trumps the minor inconveniences. So Melissa puts up with Suzy’s punctuality issue and Suzy is understanding of Melissa’s reluctance to pick up the phone and initiate contact.
Likewise with Dave and Jon. Jon keeps quiet when Dave explains to him his latest fad diet and Dave only sometimes pokes fun at Jon’s tendency to hypochondria. College roommates, these indulgences have kept their friendship strong for 25 years and counting.
Mark and Elizabeth have also been married close to the 40-year mark. Elizabeth is a devoted wife and mother and the house is organized and run with precision. To the point where there is only one way that T-shirts can be folded and arranged in the closet. Although, when pressed and when his wife is not within earshot, Mark will acknowledge that he thinks it’s a little nuts, he folds his T-shirts just so. His priority is to preserve the peace – and his wife’s sanity.
And doesn’t every family have a grandmother or great aunt who loudly proclaims her opinion of – your haircut, your clothes, your weight – for everyone to hear? And doesn’t everyone decide that despite this behavior, holidays with the family just wouldn’t be the same without her, that the behavior can be ignored but the relationship can’t?
In Ethics of our Fathers, we are advised to “buy yourself a friend.” The traditional explanation is that we have to pay for our friendships – in time and commitment. But one of the commentators suggests that the price we pay is to ignore their small flaws or idiosyncrasies. As mentioned, this works with families and is a great tool for marriage as well. Everyone has “something”. Make peace with everyone else’s and they will make peace with yours.