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There’s a joke about a couple who’ve been married over 50 years, and one night in bed the wife looks over at her husband and starts to complain.
She says, “You know, when we were first married, you’d reach over and hold my hand. It’s been years since you’ve reached over to hold my hand at night.”
Despite his arthritis, he thinks, “Well, I could reach over. . .” so he reaches over and takes her hand.
Not satisfied, she says, “When we were first married, you used to snuggle up with me, and we would lie close to each other. You’ve been on your side of the bed for years.”
Even though he’s comfortable in his spot, he cuddles up to his wife on the other side of the bed.
Still not happy, she says, “You used to nibble on my ear.”
He throws back the covers and hobbles out of bed into the bathroom. “What are you doing?’ she asks.
“I’m getting my teeth.”
It’s easy to hold hands and snuggle and nibble when everything is new and exciting.
But for us to continue expressing love when the relationship appears to wane takes extra focus. Something deeper grows in us when we ignite a spark that has grown dim.
At some point, as we grow more comfortable, the mundane really can get that way and our true love’s charming eccentricities start to annoy.
We stop asking questions, because there is nothing more to know. Or so we think.
Remember the thrill of getting to know someone new, when every moment is a mystery to be unwrapped?
The smallest secret revealed is cherished and savored.
As a counselor, minister and life observer, I am not one to say that we should remain forever in a relationship of nurturing, loving energy.
Sometimes, we need to recognize that we love ourselves enough to let someone go who hasn’t the desire or capacity to truly offer what we need.
But I have seen far too many couples end a relationship when it hit the doldrums or became difficult. Years, later, they’ve mused that had they only tried harder, maybe they could have grown happy with one another.
I’ve also seen parents who mistook ordinary teenage independence as a sign that they were no longer welcome and withdrew from their children’s lives.
Years later, both parent and child wished they could talk to one another heart to heart, but they no longer knew how.
No place is sadder than a heart filled with regret, when we look back and wonder what might have been.
We don’t have to look back and wonder.
We can rekindle our “natural curiosity” right now.
Natural curiosity isn’t about being nosy.
It’s a way of seeing loved ones as fluid, changing individuals as opposed to merely symbols of our long established beliefs about Mom, Dad, son, daughter and spouse.
When you get to know someone initially, you’re constructing a moving picture of that individual.
You’re in a constant state of discovery.
The picture changes and grows.
But as your attention shifts from getting to know someone to thinking we know him or her, the pictures freezes, becoming a snapshot instead.
Yet every one of us continues to change and grow every day.
When I see my wife at night, I don’t know what she is fearing or thinking or wondering, unless I show her that I want to find out.
The woman I have dinner with at night is ever so slightly different from the woman I awakened to that morning.
I want to keep discovering. The first time Kathy held my hand, the hairs on the back of my arm stood up.
And after all these years, that hasn’t changed. My natural curiosity has not ebbed one bit, because I nurture it every day.
George Bernard Shaw put it best when he said, “The only sane man I know is my tailor, because he measures me anew each time I see him.”
Relationships are eternal. Letting them stagnate goes against our true nature, because God imbues us with sufficient curiosity to last a lifetime.
Our natural curiosity can’t run out, but it can get buried under layers of routine.
Bob Mueller is the assistant vice president of mission & stewardship at Hosparus. To read previous columns, visit www.BobMueller.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.