Spoiler: Not saying "I told you so" when you are right.
Also, you don't have any control over another person's actions, even when you are married!
I've been bedridden from a debilitating cold and reliant on my husband for care in the past week. On the fourth day, fearing that this was too burdensome, I struggled out of bed, determined to cook our dinner.
He offered to get food on his way back from work. Worried about adding to his already long day and even longer list of things to do, I declined repeatedly. His sleep is already disturbed by my coughing through the night, I should try to help more!
An hour of prep turned to two. When did a leek and mushroom stir fry, braised eggplants and fried eggs become so difficult to make? In my fatigued and semi-unwell state, chopped vegetables fell into our dirty sink, the pan got overheated and burnt. Even worse, our rice cooker started to make pfffttttt-pfffttttt noises and splattered hot, starchy water all over the counter and floor. Thinking about cleaning up later brought fresh waves of despair. Why didn't I just go along with my husband's thoughtful offer earlier? OMG we could have saved 2 hours!
At 9pm, he walked into the kitchen, surveyed the scene, took a look at me, and gently asked, "Not here to rush you, and I'm not hungry. Would you like any help?" It was like he'd heard the worries in my mind. Instead of feeling relief, I took a deep breath in, and shot him a look of immense guilt. "Thank you for being helpful, I'm glad you're not that hungry, but I will like to finish this on my own. I will clean everything afterwards, ok?"
Nick nodded, smiled, and softly said as he retreated from the war zone, "it's just rice and cleaning up, you know? Let's do it together later."
In the many highs and lows of married life, this moment, with his calm contrasted against my chaos, would be fondly remembered as how kindness can pierce through even the stubbornest fogs. He could have said "I already told you I will get dinner, look at this trouble now!" Or he could have insisted on coming into that tight space that barely accommodated both of us, to attempt to speed things up.
However, he respected my choices (however questionable) and gave me the space. He didn't try to rescue me from the completely preventable situation I got us into. He didn't judge my decisions. During dinner, as we silently ate, I shared my anxieties.
"I've been sick for a while now. I'm worried I'm a burden. You have to work, take care of me, check on my folks on our behalf, you do so many things."
"It's ok dear. Part and parcel of life. Chores, getting sick, working. It's normal. You are not a burden."
"This dinner is not even very nice, because I can't taste to season."
"It's ok dear. I'm not complaining. The food is ok."
"Are you saying this to not hurt my feelings? Or does it really taste decent?"
"You know I won't lah."
I was doing the dishes after, and noticed him crouched on the floor, carefully cleaning the sticky rice water off the floor, bit by bit with a dish cloth. He sensed my gaze and looked up. "Aiyah, the outside of the rice cooker and the counter hasn't been wiped for a long time, and we need to deep clean the floor anyways."
An immense gratitude came over me. This is the man who promised, for better or for worse. Here he is, living his vows in his typical understated way. Valentine's Day is coming. It is often a time of big showy gestures, perhaps, a private candlelit dinner in a fancy staycation suite, or a getaway to another country because celebrating in Singapore is too pedestrian...
However, in marriage, the years are short but the days are long. An extravagant celebration does not make a relationship more special. Yes, they become beautiful memories and wonderful stories. And yes, significant milestones ought to be cherished. Truth is, there will be many more dreary days than brilliant ones. What keeps a relationship alive then, is sustained kindness and commitment through the daily tedium. Offering to help even when you are tired. Recognising when your partner is having a bad moment, day, or even season. Empathising with your partner as best as you can, when they are cranky and you bear the brunt of this behaviour. Knowing when to take a few steps back or forward. Showing compassion when they mess up. Giving more when we have capacity, and receiving without shame when we are in need.
Ask yourself, this person you are with, or considering being with, how are they in crisis? and not just that, how are they, with you, in crisis? Because love doesn't usually disappear overnight in black swan catastrophes. Love tends to fade soundlessly, with small, mundane, persistent frictions, cooling the hottest flames to dying embers.
So on 14th of February, I want to appreciate my husband. And also myself. For in this relationship with him, I am working on being someone who is willing to share what's going on, instead of keeping up pretenses that I'm fine. In crisis, I aspire to be honest and authentic. I want to keep putting one foot in front of the other even if it is tough, because he will be right there by my side. Ok, sometimes I will still need to take a few deep breaths or have a good cry. Above all, I want to trust myself, I want to trust him, and the strength and foundations of our relationship.
We all have this magic inside us. This Valentine's day, may we celebrate wonders that are within, and continue discovering more in the days to come.
P.S. "I will clean this" are very powerful words, really. Also, not eating the last 2 squares of chocolate is an equally effective strategy. Better yet, refill the chocolate so it miraculously never runs out.