be the partner your partner deserves
I realize not everyone has a life partner, or even wants one but I will say that since I am in a heterosexual marriage, my examples often come from that experience. However you identify, you should have just as much right and responsibility to be miserable or happy as the rest of us. Whatever your preference, the takeaways I’m going to expand upon when it comes to how you show up for your partner and what you expect from them in return––are universal.
Finding my lifesaver
A committed relationship has been a game changer for me. It’s not an exaggeration to say my wife has been a lifesaver. I was in my early 20s, drifting personally but masking that reality with professional success and a lot of alcohol. I had left Miramax and was living my dream of being in the film industry. I was an independent producer with a couple of films under my belt: Two Ninas, with Ron Livingston (yup, the guy from Office Space), Amanda Peet and Cara Buono; and Boricua’s Bond, a hip-hop movie which to this day I’ve still never watched.
I literally fell for Kate while in California on a trip to sell the foreign rights to these movies. Actually, I fell over her drunk at the Skybar at the Mondrian Los Angeles hotel. I was a mess. To this day, I have no idea why she took pity on me and gave me a chance to talk with her again. I would never recommend this as a pickup attempt, but nevertheless, we did start dating. After several months of doing the long-distance thing, I convinced her to move down to South Beach, where I was then working for The Shooting Gallery (another indie film company whose claim to fame was The Billy Bob Thornton movie, Sling Blade) to discover whether or not things were really going to work between us.
It was a do-or-die moment for the relationship. I hadn’t been in South Beach very long, so neither of us knew anybody. While I wasn’t partying as much once we started dating, I was still drinking too much. It took a huge leap of faith for her to accept that invite. I was not in a good place, but she saw something in me that made her willing to take that monumental step. Even then, when I was an idiot in so many ways, I was smart enough to understand that she believed in me more than I believed in myself. If that’s not a trait to hang onto, I don’t know what is.
Truly, almost immediately after Kate got to Miami, I started to turn myself around. I reduced a lot of the drinking, got back into the gym and began to regain some of my health. Within two years, Shooting Gallery was belly up but Kate and I were very much in business. We took a two-week bike trip through French wine country to figure out our next move. I grew up in Great Neck on the north shore of Long Island—yes, Gatsby country—and had started my film career at Miramax—yes, Weinstein country; more on that later. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the New York lifestyle anymore. After discussion, we landed on locating to Houston–the same place Kate was from. We were really ready to begin shaping our future.
Kate, in every way imaginable, grounded me. If how she influenced me in just those first three years was impressive, just think what magic she’s worked over the past 25 years of marriage. I can only hope that I’ve given her a portion of that value as a return on her investment. Kate’s made me a better partner, no doubt about that. The result is that we are an incredible team that keeps getting better. Whether parenting, encouraging each other to expand our horizons, confront our insecurities, or balance what we can afford with what we really want and need, we are in this together. Full stop.
However, if you’d had told me in my 20s that I’d be married with kids and living in Houston, Texas, I would’ve told you, “Bet the under, it’ll never happen.” That’s life for ya.
I got lucky. I can say that with no apology, no self-deprecation, and no gloating.
I recognize that I am blessed to have found the love of my life and just as importantly that she accepted me, good and the bad, and that we discovered each other early enough that we’ve gotten to build a long life together.
If that makes you want to tune me out, I get it. But grab your phone and take that selfie first. And when you’re checking yourself out in that selfie, here’s what you should be saying to yourself:
“Every problem I’ve had is my fault; every success I’ve had is shared.”
And that goes for every endeavor you’ve ever had and any you’re going to take on. It sure as hell includes your marriage. When you’re a selfish, reckless, drunk, close-minded narcissist, you won’t do well in the world. You know how I know that? Because I WAS that, for far too long. I even made it look like I was being successful going that route, but that comes with a steep price of a lot of pain and emptiness. If I had success that way, at least by society’s fickle standards, then I know I could have had so much more if I had created success by standards that I defined. Being selfish and close minded is not the way to play the long game. Even the drunk narrator of “Margaritaville” finds self-discovery—from “I know it’s nobody’s fault” to “hell, it could be my fault” to “I know it’s my own damn fault.” If Jimmy Buffett can make that shift in four minutes, so can you. Self-awareness, deeper relationships, opinions that evolve…that’s how you reach midlife knowing there’s a lot of gas left in the tank and miles of roads well worth traveling on.
Believe me and say it with me again: “Every problem I’ve had is my fault; every success I’ve had is shared.”
Create a Winning Team
Teamwork is a common thread I hear from successful men when they talk about their spouses. If there is a lack of balance between what both partners bring to the table, the relationship can’t last. You’re both going to have strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re a strong team you can use those to help each other and navigate daily life. In a sense, that’s the easy stuff.
More importantly, you both have to be contributing and filling the cup of the other in an equitable way if you’re going to play the long game. Emotionally, cognitively, sexually, when making important decisions, when dealing with crises, when telling hard truths. Don’t expect your partner to be all things at all times. That’s not fair to them anymore than it’s fair for them to expect it of you. We all need our guy time, our alone time, our coaches and confidants. But you sure as hell better be able to communicate clearly about when and how you need their support, when you need to seek it elsewhere, and how to respond when they ask you for your support. It’s not how well you do all of this that matters as much as it is that you’re authentically making the effort to do it, consistently and willingly.
You’ll get better at it over time if your intention is clear. Trust me.
Better yet, trust your partner. They’ll let you know.