I sat with my feet up on a cheap hotel bed. The plastic blankets rubbed up against my legs, back reclined against a wooden head rest. I was in Seattle in December of 2015, for no reason other than to leave.
Nervous and excited, I didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I walked out of the hotel. There wasn’t much around, other than a curry fast food place with bright lights that stood out against the darkness of the cold evening.
I was left alone with my thoughts:
Tonight might be the last night I live in my home country. Today might be the last day I have a job. This flight may be the last one I take before being transported into “the rest of my life”.
I would be flying to London, to surprise my future wife with an engagement ring.
Was I ready to give it all up?
I Didn’t Expect My Wife to Give Up Her Life
Not to sound too much like a misogynist, but us men should be the more adaptable half of the couple. The Bible says that a woman is like a precious vase and a man is meant to protect her.
This is displayed by that man who takes the night shift at work to make sure his family can eat, the man who works long hours to keep the roof over his family’s heads, or the man who picks the more difficult position, because it pays better and can afford his family a few luxuries.
The problem is that in practice, this “self-sacrificing” nature only seems to apply to work. Women are expected to sacrifice their careers for children. They’re expected to give up their homes and parents and move away to be with their husbands. Wives and mothers are typically expected to cook and clean and take care of the kids, even when they may be better suited to run a PR firm, or get their doctorate degree.
In a true partnership, each partner supports the other’s vision, and a man should be just as likely as a woman to give up his career for kids or for the aspirations of his partner. If a man really was the more “adaptable” half of his partnership, he could take on the kids just as easily as he could an extra shift at work.
Love is Selfless
There are two kinds of love. The first one is an attraction, or an intense emotion. You feel an extreme amount of this as you “fall in love” at the beginning of the relationship. Then, that feeling fluctuates over time, largely dependent on the other type of love.
The second type is not an emotion, but an action and a choice.
I’ve had to relearn this multiple times, because I’m selfish by nature. But the act of selflessness is an act of love.
When you take a second job so your family can afford a nicer place to live, it’s an act of love. When you add 45 minutes to your commute, so that your spouse can chase her career, it’s an act of love. When you drop your career entirely, so your partner can move to the other side of the world, that’s an act of love.
After saying this, someone once asked me, “how am I supposed to be selfless if my wife isn’t?”
You’re missing the point.
You love (verb) your wife, when you act selflessly, regardless of how she acts. Seflessness is not conditional, and doesn’t necessitate a direct selfless response from your spouse.
Your spouse can choose not to be selfless in that moment, because none of us are all the time.
When to Give It Up For Love
Every person has a vision for how their life is going to turn out. Everyone has their own aspirations, but couples have to have joint visions too.
At some stage in every healthy relationship, a couple has to discuss 1) what each of them brings to the relationship, 2) what they want out of the relationship, and 3) what they can or want to accomplish together.
If I had told Deborah that my aspiration was to get a tech job in San Francisco, buy a nice house, and find a wife to come live with me, our relationship would have ended in this stage. It wouldn’t have ended because she didn’t like (or love) me, nor would we have ended because there could never be a possible future there. We would have ended because our individual visions were contradictory right at the beginning.
Could one of us have changed for the other?
But the one may have felt a loss of identity, and possibly even resented the other. People do change over time, but when they start out on the same page and continue to develop, there’s much less in the way feeling like it was the other person who changed you.
We often talk about compatibility as synonymous with attraction, but this is only a small fraction of the battle. Real compatibility is with aligning individual and joint visions.
Ask yourself, what do you really want in life? What can you live without? How does that match up with your partner’s? What are you willing to give up before you get to the stage where you need to become selfless?
I enjoyed my life in Oregon, but I gave it up, because it wasn’t part of my grander vision. And I continue to give it up every day, because I’ve decided that my best, most important roles are dad and husband.
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