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Relationships are like Classic Cars

Have you ever known a classic car owner? My friend Jeff, who owns a '57 Chevy Bel Air, is a fanatic about his "Vicki," and describes himself as a typical owner. He pointed me to the 7 Commandments of maintaining a classic auto which he follows religiously. The car pictured here is not "Vicki," and the owner of this car in my neighborhood surely does not follow the Commandments.  Many stories have been told of valuable classic cars found in garages and barns after decades of neglect; disuse causes them to deteriorate slowly to the point where significant repair is needed just to get them running again. (For a tragic example from France, click here.)

Jeff explained to me what happens when a car is neglected or not used: the fluids go bad, the seals and rubber parts dry out, dust can cause the paint to wear and the body rust, and eventually the chassis can fall apart. To proactively prevent these things and keep Vicki in top working condition, Jeff spends a little bit of time each day tending to her, driving her regularly, changing the fluids, buffing and waxing the paint, cleaning the dust off the engine and wheel wells. He even has a climate controlled garage!  Every day, Jeff is thinking of his car. And his efforts have paid off; when he took me for a drive recently I was amazed by the like-new quality of the ride and how well this 60 year-old machine operated.

Keeping it Critical

When Jeff was describing to me the failures caused by car neglect, I was reminded of many of the stories of strained relationships that I hear frequently in my office. These accounts involved such failures as unmet needs, passive-aggressive communication, resentment, and hurt feelings. And it occurred to me that a little bit of daily proactive care can prevent many of the issues I hear about and am ultimately called upon to help fix. By the time couples enter my office, their relationships have reached a critical point. They are needing significant repair, and it will take quite a bit of time, commitment, and faith to get back in shape. Unfortunately, by this time the couples' faith has waned and one or both already has one foot out the door. They are ready to scrap their old, run-down relationship and trade it in for a newer model which doesn't require as much maintenance.  Maybe they have already test driven a new relationship without the consent or knowledge of their partner.  

To prevent this catastrophic failure, I have taken the approach of "Keeping it Critical."  In other words, every day the relationship is critical.  Just like Jeff, I wake up thinking about the needs of my relationship.  What does my partner need?  What will make her smile?  How can we be a better team today? How can I listen to and communicate with her more effectively?  How can I let her know that I make decisions with her in mind?  How can I manage my stress in the face of potential conflict?  As I told one client, whose wife was named Janet, "You have a '74 Janet (she was born in '74)...a classic! She is worth protecting and maintaining because you want that relationship to last the rest of your life."

By keeping it critical everyday, you will prevent your relationship from getting to a truly critical state of disrepair. You too can wake each day with the goal of edifying your relationship, nurturing it to make it stronger and more resistant to weathering. How can you let your partner know you're thinking of them? Maybe she has been asking you to plan a nice weekend for her. So you spend a little time researching garden tours or sporting events which you know she'll love. He let's you know how hard a day it's going to be for him, so you find a babysitter and plan his own special "spa night." Sweet notes in her lunch take very little time to compose, but will be remembered all day long. Flowers sent to his workplace might give him the energy he needs to push through the day. Get creative and put some extra thought into the specific needs of your partner and your relationship. Find new ways of telling each other how much you love and appreciate them. Just like with Jeff's classic car, a little daily care can preserve the life of your relationship for years to come. After a while, it will become a habit to keep it critical.

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