My friends Betsy and Warren Talbot have written a new book about how they got their failing-fast marriage back on track. Not just back on track, but seriously, positively, thriving. They happened to sell all of the possessions and travel the world together in the process (but you certainly don’t have to do that part.)
I got to see an advance copy of their book, Married with Luggage: What We Learned about Love by Traveling the World, and so I had a few questions for them. You can read our short interview below. Their journey clearly highlights so many of the things I write about in terms of connection and closeness being our natural state, and how it’s the feeling rather than qualities, conditions, or “having things in common” that matter.
If you like our interview, consider checking out their book. It’s an incredibly inspiring love story!
Amy: One thing that kept coming up for me as I read Married with Luggage is what a difference perspective makes, and what a difference it made for the two of you. It’s everywhere, from the huge perspective shifts you had after Bo’s heart attack and Maria’s health crisis, to the more understated way that travel is constantly changing one’s perspective. A change in perspective is what opened the two of you up for some amazing adventures, not least of all the adventure of falling in love more deeply than you ever had.
Does the importance of a new perspective carry through to your life now? For example, when things are humming along…maybe when you find yourself in one place for a while or you begin to settle into your comfortable relationship and take things for granted a bit, do you consciously aim to shake up your perspective as a way of making sure you’re living the life you want to live? How might others do that?
Without experiencing a family health crisis, and without needing to sell all of their belongings and travel the world, how might readers experience a new perspective that allows them to see their relationship and their life in a new way?
One thing we did in our first burst of clarity about our life and relationship was make a list of what we wanted our life to look like, right down to where we lived, what we ate, and how far we drove to work each day. Just by thinking about the life we wanted in real, everyday terms, we were able to shift the perspective we had about not being happy, because we realized we could do something about every single item on that list. It was exhilarating, like finally finding relief for an itch you’ve had for years.
Another perspective is to imagine how your partner sees your life together. Does he or she like it? Could you be a better partner to him or her? What one way could you make his or her life better? So often we think that we do all the work in the relationship (“If it wasn’t for me holding things together…”), and that’s almost never true. It’s good to be reminded of that.
When you spend too much time inside your head, it weakens your heart.
Amy: The two of you are very different in many ways—you seem to use those differences as a way to make you a better team, rather than expecting the other person to be more like yourself and having those differences tear you apart. Can you say a bit about how you do that and how your differences actually make you a closer couple?
Betsy: Well, it didn’t start that way! We’re both headstrong, first-born children who want our own way, so there was a lot of head-butting in the beginning. In fact, there is still a bit of that. But what we’ve learned over time is to appreciate how our strengths add value to the relationship and how our weaknesses are supported by each other’s contributions. One way we learned to appreciate this was in teamwork, something we didn’t do so well those first couple of years. But trying new things together, embarking on small and large challenges, has helped us build a strong partnership. This could be as small as learning to cook a new meal together to small home improvement projects to learning Spanish. When you see your mate doing something well, you realize how lucky you are to have him or her as a partner.
Take our podcast, for example. We’ve been on the air now for over a year, and those first couple of months were tough. We fought about the tone of the show, the format, the guests…just about everything. But we finally realized that Warren is a better talent finder and editor and I’m a better researcher and script writer. So we’ve each taken our roles and done them and it’s made a huge difference in our working relationship and the quality of the show. When we get compliments from guests and listeners on our chemistry, we realize how much we each contribute to the overall success of what we do. If it was all my way or all his way, it wouldn’t be nearly as good. I think especially when you take on business or public projects together, it’s easier to see your individual contributions and the value you each bring to the table.
Besides, think of how bad your relationship would be if your partner was just.like.you! The thought makes me shudder!
Amy: As you know, my belief is that connection is our default nature. We are naturally and effortlessly connected to everyone around us, and it’s only getting lost in thought (thinking too much, living from our heads) that makes it so that we don’t always feel that connection. Do you agree with that, or do you see deep connection in a different way? When you look back at the ups and downs in your relationship, can you see how being lost in your own thinking, judgments, expectations, fears, determined the closeness you felt at various points?
Betsy: This is such a true statement, Dr. Amy. For years, I was harming our connection by over-thinking, by reading between the lines in everything Warren said and rewriting my life story as it happened. It was almost the end of us at just two years into our marriage, so that’s how harmful this thinking is. It was a destructive pattern, and I didn’t realize how much until we had a huge blow-up fight in Scotland.
True connection is virtually effortless, I agree, and we only harm it when we try to make it happen or make it happen in a very specific way. For instance, if he tells me he loves me but in a way I don’t like, then he doesn’t really love me. That’s ridiculous, of course, but this belief was true of me and true of many people I know still.
Perhaps it is because Warren and I are together 24/7, it’s just too hard to keep over-thinking without having a brain meltdown, and I finally just grew weary of making up these stories in my head. We now have a rule in our relationship that we have to assume the best intentions of the other person at all times, even if they say or do something in a way we don’t like. (He’s not out to get me!) It has transformed the way we interact with each other, and it has cleared up about 80% of the junk in my brain. And boy does that make us both happier!