Sara, my wife, said something the other day that made me laugh and think. She noticed something around the house that needed fixing or cleaning or throwing out (I can’t remember what it was exactly, for the reasons you’ll read in a minute). When I looked blank (which is common), she said, “You mean you never noticed (that it needed fixing or cleaning or throwing out)?!!” Needless to say, I hadn’t noticed. Something that so obviously needed fixing or cleaning or throwing out, and I hadn’t even noticed. Ever. Not once. Didn’t cross my mind. Completely under my radar.

That’s when she said what we’ve both known for 26 years of marriage. “In combination we think of most everything, but we never both think of the same things.” The list in my brain of things to do, worry about, and discuss with Sara is completely different from the list in her brain of things to do, worry about, and discuss with me. As a result, we surprise each other a lot. “Really, you think the door needs refinishing? Which door? Why?” And then, inevitably, after she shows me the door she’s been obsessing over, I say something lame (but true) like, “But, it looks fine to me…”

So what makes us compatible for 26 years? How have we reconciled our lists? After all, I never consider the way the dog looks before out of town company arrives, but that’s exactly when grooming the dog soars to the top of Sara’s list. She doesn’t stress about the kids’ drop-add deadline for college classes like I do. I never notice when my shirts develop yellow armpit stains; she does, and also vacuums the inside of the van which I would never think of. I can’t figure out how to turn on the cable TV; she knows how to reboot the whole house. My car leaks oil, so I put a big piece of cardboard down to protect the garage floor; Sara changes the sparkplugs and replaces the leaky gasket (or pan, or belt, or whatever) to stop the leak. I’m thrilled she plastered the hole in the ceiling; she’s upset because the patch doesn’t look smooth – I didn’t notice. “You mean you never noticed?!!”

As parents, too, there’s a distinct distribution of labor. The kids know exactly who to call with any particular problem. I never hear about clothes, checking accounts, credit cards, or car problems. Maybe that’s because they all start with “c,” but I think it’s actually because I don’t really know anything about those things. Sara never hears about tests, term papers, thesis defense, or trades the Broncos or Rockies just made. Maybe that’s because they all start with “t,” but I think it’s actually because the kids need something to talk about with me after Sara takes care of all the important stuff in their lives. The kids also know exactly who to ask about fun things or expensive things they know I’ll be a killjoy, party poop, and wet blanket about. Sara’s in charge of fun, I’m in charge of setting limits and saying “no.” That’s because Sara IS fun, and I’m practical. So…are we compatible?

On the BIG ITEMS, thankfully, we’re on the same page. Always. Family, health, faith, core values, dreams for our kids – our BIG ITEMS lists are a perfect match. And, in the end, I’ve concluded that’s what makes people compatible. So, for those of you lucky enough to have a partner, but may never notice the same things that need fixing, or cleaning, or throwing out, here’s my advice: Respect each others’ lists; if something’s important to your partner, try to make it important to you, too. Be grateful for all the things getting done that you don’t have to do yourself. Share your accomplishments of the day at dinner, and marvel about your partner’s plans for tomorrow – even if you never would have thought about doing those things yourself, or even think they need doing at all.  Never minimize what your partner does, and never aggrandize what you do.

Lists are good things, because they remind you of what needs to get done. But don’t get too hung up on what does or does not make your partner’s list. For the long run, as long as your BIG ITEMS lists align, it doesn’t really matter so much how you deal with the oil leak.

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