Zen and the Art of Marital Maintenance
I had to get my oil changed the other day.
I HATE getting my oil changed. My resistance to the task is completely irrational, far greater than the time or money required to actually complete the necessary maintenance.
It’s an easy errand, yet one with little reward outside of my ability to cross it off my to-do list. As I pull out of the drive-though service center, the only signs of the clean oil are the new sticker on my windshield and a charge on my credit card. There’s no satisfaction of a job well done, no excitement about tackling something difficult and energy associated with starting something new.
Maintenance is inherently unsexy. We have countless reality shows that feature creating something new, from motorcycles to relationships. Yet, can you fathom a reality show centered on the care and maintenance of that which already exists?
Instead of old homes being gutted and rebuilt, we would watch people spending hours cleaning the baseboards and washing out the gutters. Sharktank would be replaced with footage of janitors thoroughly scrubbing down a school at the end of long day, resetting it back to its pristine state, ready to welcome the children again. Gone would be the shows that feature budding fashion designers. And instead we would be shown how to fix a broken zipper and the best setting on the washing machine to prevent excess fading.
Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it?
Yet imagine a world without maintenance. Where everything became single-use, to be discarded as soon as it began to show wear. Where no oil was ever changed, no siding ever repainted and a broken chain was reason enough to throw out a cherished necklace.
It seems absurd, doesn’t it?
Yet that’s often how we approach our relationships. We summon the energy to build them, feeding off of the excitement that accompanies novelty and possibility. And then we become lazy, falling into patterns and forgoing periodic inspections.
We accept the fact that our cars require regular attention and occasional overhauls to keep running smoothly, yet we expect our marriages to keep on humming without requiring any added consideration.
While I was sitting in my car listening to clangs and whirs of the old oil being drained, I flashed back to day I purchased the car, almost three years ago. It was more than a car for me, as I jettisoned the sixteen-year-old vehicle that was an albatross from my first marriage. I felt so proud the day that I was approved for the loan, a huge accomplishment after the horrific repercussions of the financial betrayals I had endured.
In those reflections, I saw the required vehicle maintenance in a new light. Rather than feeling annoyed at having to spend the energy on these unsexy and uninteresting tasks, these undertakings are a perfect opportunity to say “thank you” for having something valuable enough to care for.
And that’s the attitude I’ve held in my second marriage. The attention and upkeep is never a burden. It’s not something to avoid or something to complain about. It’s not always fun; it’s not always sexy. But it’s always worthwhile to take of those things that are the most important to us.
Here’s a cool idea to try in a new or established relationship in order to build and maintain connection.
And I promise to try to maintain this attitude the next time my oil needs changing.