I hear that asked a lot. That very question can often be seen splayed across glossy magazine covers, along with surefire tips to keep your partner happy. Countless books, articles and talk shows are dedicated to nailing it down. And couples spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on marriage counselors and shrinks, who are supposed to lead them like horses to water to find the elusive answer.
So I guess I’m lucky to have accidentally stumbled across the answer in the unlikeliest of places.
MJ and I love camping. But, truth be told, I’m not much of an outdoorsman. I don’t know my knots, I don’t fish, I can’t drive a boat and—most embarrassing of all—my campfire capabilities are dubious at best. In fact, when MJ and I were still dating, we went on our first camping trip and she told me to start the fire. I couldn’t do it. I put the wood in a pile, got one scrap of newspaper and wondered why it wouldn’t catch.
You don’t really know true humiliation until the guy camping next to you is laughing at you as your girlfriend has to keep you warm with a fire of her own making.
I remember the next time we went camping, I thought I came prepared: I brought lighter fluid. I calmly told her I would take care of the fire and I proceeded to douse the ever-lovin’ shit out of the wood. As our cooking fire turned into an inferno, it’s safe to say there were a few eyebrows raised. Not mine, of course, since I inadvertently torched them right off my face. But as anyone who understands fire knows, my chemical attempt also fell flat and my buddies had even more ammunition against me.
I’m a passionate guy. Usually this is a good thing, but prior to dating MJ it was also a big problem.
When I liked a girl I jumped in with both feet and never hesitated. I fell hard, I fell fast and I fell head over heels. I was madly in love (madly being the key word) and every girl was “the one.” Or, in other words, I started every single relationship by dousing it in lighter fluid and reveling in the white hot flames of new romance. And make no mistake, that shit was intense. The first couple of months of a relationship were my specialty. As long as the accelerant still had things burning bright, I was all in. The beginning of any relationship is new and exciting and I thrived in it. Craved it.
But that kind of intensity is bound to fade. It’s impossible to maintain that heightened level of insanity over the long term. And because I began things by doing nothing more than lighting a match and throwing it on a pile of lighter fluid, eventually the fire would go out and I’d be left with a charred pile of wood that never really stood a chance.
She showed me the importance of doing things right. She showed me how to prepare the fire and set it up for prolonged success. I discovered that searching for kindling and using it as a hotbed would not only get me an initial inferno, but also keep the fire burning hot for as long as possible. Once you’ve built the foundation, the embers on the bottom will keep things warm.
Sometimes it rains and dampens things. Other times you both get busy and forget to tend to the fire, to the point it goes out and all is extinguished.
This happened while I was camping. I had been busy and the fire died on me. I went to bed all pissed off for being so stupid. But an hour later, after I had fallen asleep in my tent, I woke up and looked around confused. The pitch blackness of the Maine woods was suddenly filled with flickering light, bouncing off the leaves on the trees. It took me a minute, but I realized it was our fire.
What I thought was dead turned out to simply be dormant. Despite having neglected the fire and poured water on it, the unseen embers were still burning hot. Hot enough to reignite the fire when neither of us thought it was possible, all on its own. But only because we took great care in making sure it was built right. Built to last. Built to burn not with early intensity which ultimately fizzles, but a long, slow heat that will see us through the rain and the times we don’t tend to one another properly.
Keep the home fires burning everyone, and trust that your embers are still burning hot even if you think all has been extinguished.
The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
Unhappiness in marriage often has a simple root cause: we speak different love languages, believes Dr. Gary Chapman. While working as a marriage counselor for more than 30 years, he identified five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. In a friendly, often humorous style, he unpacks each one. Some husbands or wives may crave focused attention; another needs regular praise. Gifts are highly important to one spouse, while another sees fixing a leaky faucet, ironing a shirt, or cooking a meal as filling their “love tank.” Some partners might find physical touch makes them feel valued: holding hands, giving back rubs, and sexual contact. Chapman illustrates each love language with real-life examples from his counseling practice.