Leaning into Life…Together
The #LeanInTogether campaign launched earlier this year did an amazing job shining a bright light on the power of partnership. The campaign – focused on the role of men in creating an equal world for both genders – brought men into the work/life dialogue in a natural and beautiful way. For me personally, it also made me reflect on the fact that having a true partner is a rare gift not to be taken for granted. A gift that needs regular love and care.
My husband and I are celebrating nine years of marriage today – nine years that have encapsulated two graduate degrees, multiple moves, three children, spectacularly beautiful moments, and a few seriously low points (like the time when he assured me that if we got through the kids’ toddler years without losing our jobs, our marriage, or the respect of our children, we’d consider those years a huge win). Over the past nine years, we have supported one another in leaning into work, but more importantly, we have supported one another in leaning into life.
Leaning into life isn’t always neat and tidy – in our case, it has involved its fair share of rapid-fire kid handoffs, groggy mornings, redeye flights, races run solo, scrambled eggs for dinner, and childcare drama – but giving it our all has enabled us to live lives that make us feel whole and show our children what it means to nurture not just partnership and family, but individuality too. Although we’re still in the dawn of marriage by most standards – not even 20% of the way there if we’re lucky – every year is an opportunity to reflect on how we’re living and what sort of foundation we’re building for the future. In honor of our first nine years, here are a few of the practices helping us #LeanInTogether.
Align on what matters most. We have regular conversations about what is most important in our lives, right now, at whatever stage we’re in. We talk about how we’re prioritizing our work, workouts, social lives, and family and keep each other honest when we’re not living lives in accordance with these priorities. Part of aligning on what matters most is getting clear about what can fall by the wayside when life gets overwhelming, and being honest about what tradeoffs we’re willing to make and which ones we can’t make. Being vocal about the tradeoffs makes them feel more real, and helps us ask for the support we need in holding onto our top priorities. There are great tools out there to help with alignment – two of my favorites are the ANCHORS-OPTIMIZERS-LET GO framework (for more on that, read this post), as well as Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project resources.
Set individual and collective goals. Before we met, my husband and I had our individual bucket lists – places we wanted to go and things we wanted to achieve as people, irrespective of whatever relationship and family structures our lives grew into. We have worked to honor those goals in simple, everyday ways (I do a later workout on Saturdays so he can get long training runs in, and he regularly asks me how my outline for the book I’ve always wanted to write is coming along), and we’ve also learned to set and work toward collective goals (we’re working to save money and design lives that can support a sabbatical year of global family travel in a few years). These goals keep us focused on designing lives that support the future we want to have as individuals and as partners. For inspiration on collective goal setting, check out this article about how my friend Jessica Jackley and her husband set goals together.
Share goals with loved ones, including the kids. My husband and I are transparent with our kids about our personal and family goals. We talk openly with them about the trade-offs involved with these aspirations – a level of honesty we’ve seen build understanding about why I might be at the gym instead of the stovetop in the morning, and why we aren’t always able to do school pick-ups when other parents they see at school are. Involving our kids in our life planning gives them a sense of responsibility, it makes them feel trusted, and it helps all of us make peace with the messiness that comes along with building full lives.
Design and stick to a weekly schedule. I’d love to say we have a long-term set schedule, but knowing that’s impossible due to early meetings, work travel, and kid activities, we work hard to stick to a weekly schedule we’re both on board with. We spend a bit of time Sunday mapping out the week ahead, including who is handling drop-offs and pick-ups, who is cooking what for dinner, and who gets the coveted early morning workout slots. A predictable schedule removes the noise and the negotiation from the already busy weekdays.
Recalibrate early and often. Every now and again, we check in about how things are going – what’s working, what’s not, and where we need to make changes to stay in (dare I say) balance. Recalibration can be painful – it’s the time when one person usually needs to give a bit more than they’d like because some change has occurred. For example, if I know I’m heading into a busy time at work, I may need to ask my husband to pitch in more at home. And if he’s had a few months of heavy travel, he may need to sign up for a few more drop-offs and pick-ups than usual. Successfully recalibrating is about intention, honesty, compromise, and acceptance.
Don’t expect perfection. This is sometimes the hardest, yet most important part of building a partnership that supports carefully designed lives. It’s about believing that although there are inevitable bumps in the road, and the partnership doesn’t always feel like a 50/50 split, each of us is doing the very best we can. Much better at this than I am, my husband leans heavily on gratitude for what is, versus frustration about what “should” be. The very best prioritization, goal setting, and life design are rendered moot without an underpinning of deep kindness, nurture, and unconditional love.
On our wedding day nine years ago today, a dear friend read the excerpt “On Marriage” from The Prophet:
…let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone…
As we lean into life together, we’re striving to honor these words – believing that growing as people will helps us grow as partners and as parents….designing lives we’re proud of. The spaces in our togetherness create room for each of us to lean into life.
Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
I can’t wait to see what the next nine years bring.
Happy Anniversary, Brynn and Sean. Well written, as usual.
Happy Anniversary guys! You are certainly role models for Liz and I in this big journey of togetherness
Miss you, Josh Cleveland! Come back to the US soon! Or at least post more photos so we can live vicariously through you and Liz!
Beautiful and wise, Brynn. And just what I needed to hear this week! Happy anniversary to you both.
Beautiful and inspiring, thank you. Happy anniversary!