I dedicate this to my dear ones.
My older daughter, Jenna, recently said: “When I was little, my biggest fear was that you and Mom would divorce. When I was 12 years old, I decided that you were fighting so much that you should get a divorce.” Then Jenna smiled and added, “I’m glad you finally solved all your problems, my darlings.”
I have struggled with Kerry, my wife, for years. Now I don’t even remember what exactly helped us to become closer again, certainly not our personalities, which, to put it mildly, did not match each other. The longer our marriage lasted, the more our differences became apparent. When I became “rich and famous”, our marriage began to fall apart at the seams and the problems only got worse. It became so difficult for us to get along that I perceived each of my book trips as a relaxation and vacation from each other. Although it almost always turned out that this vacation had to be paid for with a noisy return. Quarrels became regular, and a peaceful life seemed like an unimaginable luxury. We had put up barriers around ourselves to protect ourselves from negativity. Divorce was close. And we had discussed this topic many times.
I was on another book tour and an idea came to me. Kerry and I had another difficult conversation that ended in an argument. Kerry hung up. I was alone, upset and very angry. I had reached boiling point. And then I turned to God. Not even that: I spoke arrogantly to God! I don’t know if it can even be called a prayer, can a cry be called a prayer? But whatever it is, I’ll never forget it. I stood in the shower of a very expensive hotel and cried out to God because my marriage did not satisfy me and I could no longer live in it. As much as I hated the divorce, I couldn’t take the pain of marriage anymore. I didn’t understand one thing. Why is everything so hard???!!! I knew deep down that Kerry was a very good person. Yes, and I’m not bad. Why is it so hard for us to get along? Why did I even have to marry someone so different from me? Is it really that hard for her to change?
When my strength was gone, I sat down on the shower floor, empty and broken, and began to cry. In the depths of my despair, clarity came to me. Rick, you can’t change her. But you can change yourself. And at that moment I began to pray. If I can’t change her, God, will You change me. My prayer lasted until late at night. And I prayed the whole next day on the flight home. I prayed as I entered the house, where I was met by a cold woman who barely seemed to recognize me. That night, as we lay in bed, physically inches apart, yet hundreds of light years apart, I suddenly realized something. I knew what to do.
The next morning I turned to Kerry and asked, “What can I do to make your day better?”
Kerry looked at me angrily, “What?”
“What can I do to make your day better?”
“You can’t do anything,” she said. – “Why do you ask?”
“Because I mean it,” I said. – “I really want to know what I can do to make your day better.”
She looked at me with obvious disbelief, “Do you want to do something? Clean up the kitchen.” I think she was expecting another outburst of anger. I nodded and went to clean up.
The next day I asked the same question. Her eyes narrowed and I heard: “Clean out the garage.”
I took a deep breath. My day was already planned and this task, I was sure, was given to me just like that, without any thought. I really wanted to explode and scream at that moment. But I said, “Okay.” I spent the next two hours in the garage. Kerry didn’t know what to think. The next morning came. The question was the same.
“There is nothing to do,” said my wife. – “Nothing. Stop asking me that.”
“Sorry, of course,” I said. “But I made a promise to myself that I won’t break it. How can I make your day better?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I love you,” I said. “And our marriage too.”
The next morning I asked the same question. And the next one. And the next morning. Somewhere in the second week, a miracle happened. When I asked my familiar question, Kerry burst into tears. When she calmed down a bit, she explained, “Don’t ask me about that. The problem is not you, the problem is me. I am very difficult to live with. I don’t understand why you won’t leave me.”
I gently took her chin and forced her to look into my eyes, “Because I love you. What can I do to make your day better?”
“But, I should ask you that.”
“You should,” I said. – “but not now. Now I have to change. You need to understand how much you mean to me.”
Then she put herhead on my chest: “I’m sorry. I was so mean to you.”
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you too,” she answered.
“What can I do to make your day better?”
She looked at me with a cute expression on her face:
“Can we go somewhere together today?”
I smiled and said, “Oh, I like that plan.”
I continued to ask my question within the next month. We stopped fighting. And then Kerry asked me: “What should I do? How can I be the best woman for you?”
And it broke down the last walls between us. We started to honestly discuss what we need from life, how to make each other’s lives easier and happier. Of course, not all problems have been solved. And I can’t say we never had a fight after that. But the tone of our struggles has changed. Not only did their frequency drop, but they don’t have the intensity they used to. We seem to have taken the oxygen out of these quarrels. During our fights, we stopped hurting each other.
Kerry and I have been married for over thirty years. Not only do I love her, I really like her. I like spending time with her. I miss her all the time when she is not around me. I really need her. Many of our differences became our strengths at some point, and some disappeared entirely. We have learned to take care of each other and, most importantly, we have found the desire to do so.
Marriage is not easy. But it’s also hard to be a parent, stay fit and write books. And everything that is important in my life has not been easy for me. Walking through life with a loved one is a wonderful gift. I also learned that marriage heals the most unpleasant parts of our character. And we all have them.
Over time, I realized that our experience was an example of a larger lesson about marriage. The question every husband should ask his significant other is: “What can I do to make your day better?” This is love. Romance novels, and I’ve written several of them, are always about wishful thinking and “they lived happily ever after”. But the fact is that “they lived happily ever after” is not the result of lust. Well, or not the result of the lust that romance novels are usually full of. True love is not wanting to own a person, but wanting them to be happy. Sometimes even at the cost of your own happiness. True love is not an attempt to make the object of your love an exact copy of yourself. It is the expansion of one’s own abilities to take care and patiently do everything for the well-being of a loved one. Everything else is just a variation of selfishness.
I dare not say that my case with Kerry is for everyone. I wouldn’t even dare to argue that it makes sense to save all marriages. But I myself am extremely happy that my family is still standing and I have a wife, my best friend, with whom I wake up every morning. And I’m also grateful that every once in a while, decades later, one of us turns to the other and asks: “What can I do to make your day better?” And it doesn’t matter if the question is asked of you or if you ask it. it’s worth waking up for in the morning.