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MCLEOD: How the story about the lady and the baskets made me a better spouse

My friend who is a divorce lawyer says, “Most marriage failures are not the result of infidelity, substance abuse or in-laws. Most marriage failures are the result of selfishness.”

Ouch.

When I was in sixth grade our class read a book of short stories about survival. One of the stories had a profound affect on the way I viewed marriage.

It was the story about a boy and his mother in a cabin, in the woods, as they struggled to take care of his sick father.

The story was set some time in the late 1800s. The boy and his mother did not have enough money for food. The father was delirious with fever, the crops had not come in, the situation was dire. The boy’s mother sent him to the woods, and asked him to cut some vines. When the boy came back with the vines, the mother wove them into several baskets. The mother didn’t want to leave the sick father’s side, so she sent the boy into town, to sell the baskets, and use the money to buy food, and medicine.

The boy came back with enough food and medicine for a few days. The mother sent him to the woods to get more vines, she wove more baskets, and the boy went to town again to sell them for more food and medicine. At this point in the story it was revealed that the mother was pregnant — very, very pregnant.

A week later the father came out of his delirium to find his wife beside him with a new baby girl, medicine and some hot soup. While he had been ill, and his crops had failed, his very pregnant wife had found a way to keep their family afloat.

After we read the story, our teacher, Mr. Torbick, asked the class, “What do you think the father thought when he woke up and realized what had happened? “

I blurted out, “I bet he was really glad he married her instead of some other girl!”

My teacher, a man who had been married for many years, laughed out loud.

I haven’t been a perfect spouse, far from it. But that simple little story helped me be a better one. There have been many times during my own 25-year (and counting) marriage, I’ve found myself thinking, “Are you going to whine, or are you going to get over yourself and be like the lady who made the baskets?”

My divorce lawyer friend is right: Selfishness causes marriage failure. Like so many character flaws, selfishness is easier to spot in others than in ourselves. In marriage, selfishness can be subtle or overt.

It may the partner who won’t change to accommodate new realities. A spouse unwilling to embrace new roles that they don’t feel they should have to take on.

It may be the spouse who refuses to address emotional issues. The person who claims, “I can’t do this because I wasn’t raised that way.”

Or the spouse who feels their job is the hardest, and has no empathy for their partner.

When life gets challenging, as it does in all long-term marriages, people often question whether or not they chose the right spouse. If reading the above list has prompted you to ask that question, perhaps a better question might be, “What can I do at this very moment to make my spouse glad that they chose me?”

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud.”