Keeping Your Relationship Afloat

“Just one hour remaining, ladies and gentlemen—let’s get these boats ready for water!”

The announcement brought hammers and skill saws to a momentary halt, and then once again sawdust began swirling about as the work continued. My husband, Victor, was a part of all the clamor for the first time. He was in the rowboat-building competition in our town’s favorite event of the year: the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show.

Contestants have four hours to finish their boats in time for the relay race. After time has run out,  the real fun begins. Boats not built with care, start taking on water. Plus, boatmen who are used to using motors haven’t got a clue how to get this rowing thing down, and, well, the boats and the race fall apart.  It’s almost disappointing if this sort of thing doesn’t happen, because that’s part of the entertainment.

Throughout the competition that day, I had a warm feeling in my heart as I cheered my Victor on.  I was proud of him and his team as they built a really sound boat. Experienced boatbuilders were complimenting their novice skills. Now, truth be told, their rowing could use some work, but all in all they did a great job. That day made me think about the time that Victor and I had spent to build our life together. I realized how much like boatbuilding dating is!

Victor hard at work with his boat building team.

When you first start dating someone, you can feel like a newbie boat-builder. That is, the builders who feel the pressure of the ticking clock and rush through the spots that should take more time. The caulk is sloppy, the seams aren’t tight, and they sink. Many people feel similarly pressured when they are dating:

My friends are already married. I’m almost thirty. He might not stay with me if I don’t sleep with him now.

I witnessed this firsthand with one of my friends. She was worried that her boyfriend would leave her if she didn’t move in with him. She told me that she wanted to wait until they were married, but the guy she barely knew kept pressuring her to move in now. They married shortly after the move-in, but then they realized they were like strangers to each other. They hadn’t taken the time they needed to build a friendship. Their marriage quickly fell apart.  

Is that how a rushed relationship ends, in a shipwreck? What can you do to help your burgeoning relationship stay afloat?

This was one thing that Victor and I were very concerned about when we were dating.  We didn’t want to rush this part of our relationship.  We wanted to make sure that we understood each other well.  

The veterans at the boat race reminded me of the sweetly seasoned married couples Victor and I admired when we were dating. These guys were good. They didn’t even have to measure. Their craftsmanship was flawless. And you just knew their boats were going to cut through the water like a knife. That’s what we all want our relationships to be like, right? A beautifully crafted marriage that takes to the seas of life with grace and strength. But we needed help doing that.

That’s something the boat building teams understood too. The guys working on the boat construction couldn’t see all that needed to be done because they were too close to the project. But the third member of the team was there exclusively to coach from the outside. That’s what Victor and I wanted before we got married, which we found by seeking out a premarital counselor. He could see the things we needed to work out, share some tips, and cheer us on.

Victor showing off his handiwork

The foundation that we built for our marriage while we were dating is keeping us afloat today. We spent time, lots of time, getting to know each other. We saw each other living through triumph and tragedy. We got to witness firsthand how the other reacted to the good and the bad. There were no major surprises when we got married because we were deliberate about knowing each other beforehand.

But even if you build a really strong boat, you still need to learn how to row. That’s what got some of the guys in the boat race. They couldn’t keep pace, and they couldn’t stay on the course. The race is not the place to figure out this much-needed coordination. Similarly, marriage is not the place to finally figure out if you and your significant other can both work as a team. That should be practiced while dating so that it is second-nature by the time marriage rolls around.

Sure, Victor and I wanted to start that life together as soon as possible. We also knew we were compatible. But I am really glad that we didn’t pay attention to the clock. Now, when the waves get choppy, and the clouds above us look ominous, we don’t have to worry about our boat taking in water.  We understand our relationship, and we understand that this ‘boat’ of ours needs maintenance to stay strong.  

So when we went to bed that night after the race, and Victor so sweetly asked me, “Do you want to be on a team with me in next year’s competition?” I told him “Oh boy, do I!”  I know this is a man I can build a boat with. This is the man who I row through life with. I love our boat.                

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