I was 8 or 9 the first time I watched The Princess Bride. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I’m sorry. Stop reading this article and go watch it now because it’s basically amazing. But for those who have, remember when Westley tells Buttercup “As you wish” to all of her requests? After what seems like an eternity of this, but it’s only a few minutes of movie magic, she starts to realize that every time he said, “As you wish” what he really meant was “I love you.” Oh man, my heart — along with everyone else’s in the move theater — melted.
I had always assumed I knew something about love. Or at least new love. It was about sacrifice, right? Well… yeah. But after you’ve been married for 10, 20, 30 years, “as you wish” can be replaced by the cold hard silence of two people still together, still in love, but not sure how to communicate or sacrifice anymore.
This is exactly the situation Richard Paul Evans and his wife Keri found themselves in after decades of marriage. According to Evans’ viral blog post, he and his wife were married at 21, and went into the whole arrangement with very unreal expectations of love. Which I must admit, is par for the course. I think every couple goes into marriage assuming its going to be one way, only to find out that it’s actually a million and one arguments over how the dishwasher is loaded.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my wife. We have a good marriage, but the reality is we’ve been together for 14 years and our relationship may have started out with “as you wish,” but it has turned into “take this kid before I abandon him in the woods.”
Evans tells NBC that after years of marriage, he knew he loved his wife and she loved him, but they “just didn’t know how to make it work.” Then, one day while taking a shower, Evans broke down and cried. He had an epiphany: He couldn’t change his wife, but he could change.
So he decided to ask his wife one simple question each morning: “How can I make your day better?”
Now let’s stop right there and take a minute to let that very simple question sink in. I don’t know about you, but marriage, children, family, work, all of it can be a pretty big boulder to roll. And it’s not like it comes at you five days a week, with a nice break over the weekends. It’s a 24/7 kind of thing, so having someone who is sharing in your struggle look you in the eyes and offer to help lighten the load is pretty powerful, right?
Naturally that’s what Evans’ wife thought, right? Well… not at first. It sounds like she started by asking him to clean the kitchen, and then the garage. But much like Buttercup asking Westley to chop wood and then fetch a glass, there was a lot of love in his offer to help, and eventually she had an epiphany, too.
“I should be asking you that,” she told him. She apologized, and said, “Can we maybe just spend time together?”
Now they both ask this simple question each morning, and according to Evans, it’s absolutely improved their marriage.
Now I know that there are going to be some of you rolling your eyes as your read this because the last thing you want is to do something for your spouse. You’ve got enough on your plate already, and they should be doing something for you, right? Well, that may be the case. I don’t know that much about your marriage, honestly.
But the way Richard Evans explains it, is that when he had that epiphany, he realized he was as much to blame for the state of his marriage as his wife. “I’m not as great a guy as I thought I was,” says Evans. “I have a lot of really broken parts, a lot of baggage I brought to this. And I was thinking this was her, and the truth is, I suck a lot.” Talk about some self-awareness.
They also suggested making sure that the request to help is sincere. This should never be used as a gaslighting technique, but rather a move to repair a struggling marriage. Of course, if you are in a marriage where asking a question like this could open up a new element of manipulation from an already manipulative partner, please don’t.
But if the relationship is otherwise healthy, albeit a bit stagnant or there is some animosity, asking someone how you can help them takes a hefty dose of humility. But ultimately, marriage — and love in general — takes a lot of humility. I suppose the hope is that if the person you love still loves you, then they will begin to return the favor and ask how they can better your day, just like it did for Richard and Kari Evans.
There really isn’t a quick fix to a marriage problem. I’m sorry, there just isn’t. But this question is a really good way to improve a marriage if both people are interested in making it better. So tomorrow morning, I’m going to ask my wife this question. And I’m going to hope that she asks it back.