Before you get married, everything is so simple.
After you get married, you meet the minefields. In my particular case, these are chiefly my wife’s birthday and Mother’s Day, for these are the days in which the pedestal must come out and my wife placed upon it as I — preferably from a kneeling position yet with hands raised in supplication — fete all that she is for a minimum of two days (despite the name, Mother’s Day apparently covers the weekend).
Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.
Now, I’ve gone through three major phases in my marriage regarding these minefields. In the first, I did not know they existed and thus bungled right into them, careening from one explosion to the other until, after 48 hours of horror, I emerged extremely scathed on the other end.
Then, after a few years, came the phase in which I realized the minefields were there, but failed to appreciate their extent, and thus still stumbled out quite scuffed up before everything was said and done. Now, after 10 years, I think — I hope — I’m “getting it,” and so now bring my checklist skills to these celebrations.
For example, here was the Mother’s Day plan:
- Watch the kids
This year, however, a little monkey wrench was thrown into the last item. I had signed Tyler (my 8-year-old son) up for a Memorial Day Weekend baseball tournament, and he had practice on Mother’s Day from 12-2. Luckily we were able to get brunch in from 10 to 11:30. This resulted in a slight tremor in the minefield, but nothing serious.
And then there’s my mother, the one who my Mother’s Day attention naturally focused on until I became a father, at which point I now had two women to celebrate on the same day. Luckily a solution to this sticky situation has been worked out, as my sister and I take my mother out to lunch during the week after Mother’s Day.
It’s clear that working out all these minefields and conflicts — which are especially acute on holidays when there is limited time to be in multiple places — is one of the hardest parts of being a newlywed, and then, a new parent. You are still learning about the other person and what matters to them and — as if often the case with men and women — different things matter to each of us. Sometimes, the extent to which something matters or doesn’t matter to your better half is almost mindboggling. Nonetheless, as in all cases, we must adapt to survive.
And it’s also clear that new relationships in your professional life have important similarities to those in your personal. Perhaps you are going to, or have just begun, working at a new institution, and you’re learning the cultural and individual minefields. Perhaps you haven’t moved, but a new executive — either above or below you — has come on board, and you must learn to deal with their preferences or idiosyncrasies. Take something as simple as punctuality. To one person, being a bit late is no big deal, but to another, it conveys a lack of respect and consideration. Very simply, the formula is: different feelings about the same issue equal minefields.
So at home and at work, try to gain a sense of where the important people in your life are coming from, what matters to them and what makes them tick. Chances are there will be areas where you are from Mars and they are from Venus (or vice versa) and chances are you’ll hit some rough patches as you navigate this new and strange solar system. But the key, as with everything, is to observe (“Wow, she’s mad”), adjust (“Note to self: make a reservation next year”), and apologize (“I didn’t know you wanted a card”). Eventually you’ll develop a mental map of the minefield to the benefit of all.