Lesson 5 – Two Hearts Are Better Than One
‘Lesson from the Road’ is a series on the discoveries I made about myself both as a man and husband whilst walking almost 600 kms together with my wife Deborah.
Our journey followed The Way of St Francis, an ancient pilgrims’ route through central Italy. It was a beautiful and uplifting time for both of us. But along with the joy we also experienced tears. As we walked, issues came up I’d never fully addressed and could no longer push away.
I’m glad to say by the end of the pilgrimage, my twenty-five year relationship with Deborah was stronger. These stories from the road recount what I learned on the way. I hope they entertain, illuminate and even help in your relationships with the people you love.
Here is lesson five.
Two Hearts Are Better Than One
“… Once I spent my time playing tough guy scenes
But I was living in a world of childish dreams
Someday these childish dreams must end
To become a man and grow up to dream again
I believe in the end,
Two hearts are better than one
Two hearts, girl, get the job done
Two hearts are better than one…” Bruce Springsteen
I’ve lived most of my life believing a man must be self-sufficient and all-knowing, or at least pretend he is. I got it from my father who modelled it to the extreme.
Sometimes it did not go so well for him. Once he took the family out into the open Atlantic in a rented sailboat with no idea how to sail it. He hadn’t asked because he thought he should know. Soon, however, the breeze picked up and the boat started heeling over. Dad hauled in the sail hard, thinking it would get us back on an even keel. But anybody with just one sailing lesson knows hauling in does the opposite, catching even more wind.
We kept heeling over and started shipping in water. Poor Mum was on the downward side, desperately trying to stop falling backwards into the ocean. ‘Pull the sail in!’ she screamed. Of course it made matters even worse.
Fortunately for all we were soon grounded on a sandbank and walked to shore safely.
Every other time, however, Dad somehow seemed to get away with it. On moving to Canada he set up a business building bridges, roads and later multi-storey buildings. He learned as he went along, all without formal training. A number of his projects were recognised as firsts in North America in terms of energy efficiency and creative construction methods. And none of them fell down! I was so proud of his ability to learn and turn it into something real.
But I also know he was often under great stress, which he always dealt with on his own. He would withdraw completely through these periods. It was hard to watch.
I carried similar behaviour into adulthood. I need to have all the answers and don’t naturally seek the input of others. It has frustrated my wife to no end.
Some of my best life decisions I resisted fiercely at the beginning, such as leaving a high flying investment banking job I hated (but could not admit it), or moving the family to Australia. It took Deborah months of negotiating, discussion and argument to drag me into heaven!
Another time, years ago, I’d started my own consultancy and was confident of instant success. Deborah did not share my optimism. She advocated we use my redundancy money to pay down some of the mortgage and reduce our monthly payments.
I disagreed. I had a graduate degree in Economics and fifteen-years’ experience in investment banking, so you’d think I knew what I was talking about.
But my perspective was based on a spreadsheet, whereas Deborah was looking from our values. She waged a long, hard campaign to get me onside. It turned out to be a great decision. I was grateful not to have the pressure of a mortgage.
It was not until years later when we were on the road in Italy, walking every day together, did I accept how hard I’ve made it for her to contribute to me.
And vice versa. I’ve also missed many opportunities to contribute to Deborah. I didn’t think she needed it. Right from the start of our relationship, for me she’s always been independent, strong and competent. Everyone loves her.
But as I’m discovering, ‘two hearts, girl, get the job done’.
The marriage vows I took almost twenty-six years ago declared we had become ‘one flesh’. To someone with no religious background at the time it seemed just a quaint expression read from a service book by a dear old gentleman in a funny robe. Now I know he was pointing to something eternal and wise.
We need to get behind each other and intertwine, Deborah’s strengths bolstering me and mine hers. She wants my encouragement to face the world every day, no matter how strong and competent I think she is. I’m going to have to develop new habits and skills to do this well.
And I need her to help me, starting with little things like packing a suitcase and organising travel. Then there’s the big things I can’t do by myself, like feeling I’m a whole, complete man. I need her respect, desire and admiration.
The ‘old me’ does not want to depend on her generosity, but I need to surrender.
‘To become a man and grow up to dream again
I believe in the end…
Two hearts are better than one.’
Have you ever found some people intolerably judgmental? Me too. I couldn’t stand them. Then I realised how judgmental I am! Look out for lesson six.