I had the opportunity to meet with a group of high school kids from some tough schools as part of Chicago Ideas Week. They were great: smart and engaged. They had just heard my story, but what made their eyes go wide was my husband. The girls and the boys were stunned that a guy would not only stay through a surgery, but marry someone going in the shadow and valley of death. It made me realize that I have never really posted about what I feel made mine and Yoni's relationship work and what as women we should expect from the men around us. So here are a few things I think were really essential for me and Yoni during our relationship:
1. Neither of us expected it would turn into anything. You know that feeling. You've met a guy and you're pretty sure they're "the one". You match up on paper, you're terribly attracted to him and you've had a sneaky suspicion or a testimony that this is the man you are eventually going to marry. Yoni and I were friends and knew each other for 2 years before we began to date. Once we did, I had a few signs that Yoni might be the man I was supposed to spend my life with and I took NONE of them seriously. We were very different people and even if we were falling in love, the complicating factors were too vast to reconcile. This fact removed any stress from the relationship. We were able to be our selves anf from the beginning we got to know one another instead of being distracted by trying to be the person we thought the other person wanted us to be. Which brings me to point two.
2. Be honest. This doesn't mean telling him each and every family secret on the first date, but as soon as I realized I liked and was getting ready to actually love Yoni, I let him know very clearly what my values were, what my relationship with faith was, how complicated my family was and how serious my disease was. The last thing I was interested in was falling in love with a man who wasn't able to accept that.
3. Know your non-negotiables and be consistent. I'm not talking about tall, dark and handsome. I knew Yoni and I had very different upbringings so I knew I couldn't just expect him to know what was acceptable to me and what wasn't. He actually asked me very early on in our relationship because ... well, because he was a nice person, he loved me and he wasn't interested in hurting me. I sent him a list of behavior and benchmarks -- of things that would have to happen if we were to continue our courtship and things that I was not going to engage in before I was married to someone. I think there was definitely a time where he wanted to figure out what he could get away with. But as time went on, he held to the rules I set as firmly as I did. We also had a clear idea of what progress we needed to make if we were going to continue a relationship.
4. Make sure your non-negotiables are compatible or the same. One of the biggest problems in marriages is when people have different and deeply held objectives and goals. Maybe you want tons of kids and the person you're dating doesn't want any. Maybe you have deeply held religious beliefs and your partner can't stand religion. Maybe you want a partner who will be an active part of home life and they have a big career that keeps them very busy. Figure these things before hand. Do some serious soul searching and figure out what you are really willing to compromise on and what you know you will regret in 10 or 20 years. When you're doing this, talk to your friends and your family. They know you as well as anyone. The cloud of love can be quite intoxicating and their advice and guidance can be invaluable. Even if you don't take all of it -- you're looking to marry you're partner, not your mom and your mom might never "get it" -- but see what underlying values you are willing to compromise on and what is sacred. Once you figure out what that second group is, don't compromise. If you do, you'll resent your self and your partner for it.
5. Forgive. There was recently a study on why people get divorced and why people stay together. What they found was married and divorced couples had the exact same problems but some people decided to stay together and some people didn't. There are certainly situations where divorce or leaving someone is absolutely justified and necessary. No one should be subjected to abuse, violence or addiction and sometimes, friends need help and support in leaving an abusive relationship. No one should judge someone else if they leave because of infidelity. In the same breath, no one should judge if someone doesn't leave in the face of infidelity. Forgiveness is the basis of all love and of all meaningful relationships. I am certainly not the most gifted in this one -- ask Yoni -- but Love Story was totally off. Love is kissing and making up. It is being willing to admit you're wrong. It's being willing to forgive when people don't admit it and it's the commitment to make things work despite the 101 reasons it shouldn't. Without practicing this element of true love multiple times a day, a relationship will never survive. With it, love can last for eternity.