Relationship Lessons Learned With Lee Mowatt

Posted by in Communication, Lessons Learned

Welcome to the first ever Love and Money Matters Lessons Learned!

A few weeks ago, I asked you to give me some questions you’d like to have answered by people who’ve been in a relationship longer than you.

I’m talking couples with multi-decade long relationships.

Couples who’ve been through more ups and downs than an elevator.

Couples who’ve truly learned how to knit their lives together into something beautiful.

(And maybe even folks who haven’t made it.)

Together, we came up with 9 questions designed to help us learn how to make it as couples and have the best relationships possible.

And today, we have our first answers, courtesy of Lee Mowatt.

Introducing Lee Mowatt

Lee is the kind of person who removes all of our excuses. Whatever it is you think is stopping you in life, meeting Lee will convince you otherwise.

Lee doesn’t do this by brow-beating, or talking down to people. He just lives his life in such a way you just can’t help but try to keep up.

A few years ago, Lee was in a horrible motorcycle accident leaving him in a coma and at risk for having his leg amputated. The doctors weren’t sure he’d ever wake up, let alone walk again.

Today, though, Lee isn’t just awake and walking. He’s taken up gymnastics! Lee is the probably the “oldest” guy in the world to ever land a roundoff back handspring. See what I mean about excuses? With Lee, they just don’t apply.

Here are the basics.

Lee’s been married for 45+ years with grown children now out on their own. He’s a retired engineer, but now hosts the Inner Game of Aging Podcast where he helps people grow older without ever growing old.

Lee was kind enough to record his answers to our questions. I’ve done my best to transcribe and edit them into text below. If you’d like to hear the original, unedited audio, enter your email address in the form below.

Hear Lee answer our relationship questions!


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Sorry, no tips for doing hand stands. Maybe next time.

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There’s some really great stuff here. A good mix of actionable tips and deep, really deep thoughts. Enjoy!

What mistake in your relationship have you learned from the most and hope to never repeat?

I’m a very dominant personality. It’s not that I command or I’m not commandeering, but my personality presence is rather strong and can be overbearing at times. This is one of the more trivial lessons I’ve learned that I hope to always keep in mind as I relate to more people.

Another lesson that I’ve learned that I hope to never repeat again is that I, or anyone, cannot define how my spouse should be. Only they can define that. You can only be a mirror to them, to show them how they are. You cannot label…cannot call things good or bad. That is up to them.

Through living with my spouse I’ve learned a lot about me and she has learned a lot about her. This is a natural progression, but for me to define how she should be or the other way around, it simply cannot lead to good things.

Still another…we all must be allowed to make our own mistakes, including our spouses. We learn through our mistakes. And to prevent ourselves from making mistakes is to compromise our own learning. We must always be in a position where we can learn. To be protected from own mistakes, in the long run, doesn’t do us much good.

What do you believe now that you did not believe earlier, that would have helped you in your relationship?

There are two things really. The first one is that there is no need for things to be exactly as I would like it to be. As a younger man, of course this was a lesson I had not yet learned. There’s simply no need for things to be exactly as I would like them to be. The variances and differences are of little concern.

Another answer to this question would be that my spouse and I are very different. And that is a good thing! Earlier in our relationship (we’ve been together close to 46 years now) we saw these differences differently. I suppose we did not appreciate our differences. We felt each other should be like we were. And that’s a big mistake. Trying to turn her into me, or me turning into her, is is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. And it’s a infected us quite a bit. We are growing to know better these days.

What’s been harder about your relationship than what I expected?

Three things that come to mind.

Communication has been so much more problematic than I thought it would be. There are various reasons for that, but not all of us are brought together understanding the same things about communication, its purposes, and its need.

We come to realize that we have to share of ourselves to communicate properly. There are things we don’t say because we don’t know how to. Or we fear we may hurt the other person or somehow disturb the balance. And so we don’t say it.

That is usually the wrong choice, especially over time. It may work for the moment you’re in, but over time it won’t work.

This has been hard for both my wife and I. I’m not going to point fingers here or there. That’s not what this is designed to do, but we’re both understanding that communication is not as simple as we thought it was. Primarily because we are emotional creatures and we tend to hide behind and be controlled by those emotions.

Another thing that’s been harder than what I would have expected is, basically again, looking at myself and learning how to have compassion. Compassion is a concept that seems to escape us when we are young and when we’re embroiled in becoming who we are. Raising a family, establishing a career, making our material mark on the world so to speak. Compassion seems to take a backseat.

Learning how to have compassion is a different way of holding your heart so things that appear so black-and-white to you…or good and bad, start to take on more of a gray image that suggests good and bad are things we define. We can find ourselves in circumstances that could be judged in the same way we are judging others.

Compassion is a learned trait and learning this has been hard for not just for me, but for most people. It’s hard because it’s hard to put ourselves in other shoes. It’s not a natural thing for us to do. But we learn to because we all get along better and create better things when we do.

The third thing that was very difficult, more than I expected, is we have to understand that it is quite natural and normal for two people to grow in different directions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it always requires adjustments that we may or may not be ready to make. When we are holding onto our original expectations, the years will do things to our thinking…to our outlook of the world…to our conclusions, in our philosophies, and they will affect each of us differently.

The conclusions we make personally inside of ourselves don’t have to be the conclusions another person will make. And when communication is difficult, as it sometimes is, you’re not able to align the conclusions and growth that you’re doing with the other person and the growth they are doing.  So growing in different directions or different rates or in different areas may sometimes be a problem as well.

What is easier about you relationship than you expected it to be?

The first thing I can mention here, which is somewhat trivial because of the different focuses my wife and I have, daily maintenance has been very easy for me. She takes care of most things that have to be done on a daily or even weekly basis. She maintains our cooking, laundry, and does the bulk of the maintenance. She’s the “everyday manager” of the house while I tend to do special projects for the for us and around the house. So my daily maintenance would be a lot harder for me if I wasn’t in the arrangement that I am with my wife.

Another thing that has been much easier than I thought it should be, although this is not a good thing, is how easy it is to fall into bad habits with each other. This is especially true during the years that we were raising our children.

Raising children, going to work every day, making money, putting food on the table, trying to get the better things of life…all this stuff tends to take our focus away from some of the more important stuff in life. And I didn’t come to realize that until where I am now…after our kids are grown and they’re off into the world. We are left with each other to look at the mistakes we’ve made during the years in handling each other. It is extremely easy to fall into bad habits with each other and I thought I would be more aware.

I’m not sure what my spouse thinks about this, but I’ve always been attentive to the habits I’ve kept…especially as it relates to people. And yet, we fall into bad habits. Both my spouse and I, on both sides of the fence, fall into habits that minimize who we are as people and reduces us to set of assumptions is the other person’s eyes. That process is way easier than I thought it should be. So you always have to be on guard for how you hold the other person, your spouse, in your thoughts and how you label them, and how you account for their characteristics.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself on your wedding day?

This might sound strange, but what I would say to me on my own wedding day is “be careful, this person is not as she seems.” That may sound a bit negative, or definitely needs an explanation. I got married very young, I was I think 20 when I got married. And at this point, we’re both still forming into the people that we are ultimately going to be. I did not realize that at the time of course. At 20 years old, you think you’re all set in the world. You know everything. There is no one who can tell you anything.

But we were both be still becoming the people that we would finally end up being. And, you know, when we listen to other people tell us how to be…when we adhere to other people’s expectations…these are not the best conditions to find out the person that we ourselves are.

We did we get married too young. I’ve watched people get married when they’re young and old. And at this point my suspicion is, yes, we were both too young to be making the commitments that we were trying to make at that time. So I don’t know what’s a good age. Depends on the maturity and thinking of the people involved, but I’ve seen some good connections…good couples that seem like they have a future and some couples that I know they don’t.

So yeah… I was basically too young to make the commitment that I was making at the time. And this goes for my spouse as well. We did not understand that we were only half formed as people and that the people that we were to become had not yet entered fully into the picture that we were creating.

When you think about your relationship what are you most proud of and why?

I believe there was a time, 12 years ago, when I had my (motorcycle) accident that my wife really stepped up to the plate to take care of the issues surrounding my accident. I was out for the count for close to four months.

One, she stopped my leg from being amputated.

Two, she kept everything together while I was indisposed and she nursed me back to health.

It’s this that i’m most proud of. Of course, there are other things to be proud of as well, but off the top of my mind this stands out. Her accomplishments, bringing me back to life from that devastating accident stands out from my memories here.

When you think about your relationship what do you regret the most and why?

I regret that it took me so long to develop into the person that I’ve become today.

We all make mistakes and we all need to grow, but you know when you have kids and a career, a job you have to go to every day, that doesn’t leave a lot of space for the personal growth that you have to do to become a better person or a better version of yourself.

Having kids puts a tremendous stress on relationships, too. They’re bundles of joy, alright, and you can very much enjoy playing with them. But what they do to you and your spouse is very often not the thing that you would want. Having a child turns a woman into a mother and a man into a father and the difference between woman-to-mother and man-to-father can be very difficult to adjust to inside of a system that has been interacting with itself or 12, or in our case 13 years.

So my biggest regret was that I didn’t see who I was for so long and did not…could not…grow to be the person that I am today. If I had always been the person that I am today, things would have turned out far better and there would have been a lot more memories to share.

What are your thoughts on keeping things fresh over the course of a relationship?

The answer to this question depends heavily on how long the couple has been together.

For example, keeping things fresh in a five-year-old marriage is very different than keeping things fresh in a 35 year old marriage. But there’s a couple things that both of those have in common.

As long as you are having fun together then you’ll be able to keep things fresh. For me, this question equals how much fun are you guys having. Fun equals freshness. As long as you have fun, things will stay fresh. When they start to get stale, you’ll find that you’re not having as much fun. And that’s a message to you to freshen things up…to maximize your fun with each other.

When the fun stops, staleness creeps in.

If you could ask the people reading this to do one thing, what would it be and why?

This is not an easy question to answer, but there are some critical lessons to be learned on the path of maturing in order to have a really good relationship.

Emotional intelligence has to be there. Your willingness to be part of the other person’s life. Your own priority systems and value systems have to be in balance in order for a good relationship to happen. A good relationship is sort of like a reflection of yourself.

The thing I would ask people to understand, more than to do, is that there is no problem, issue, circumstance, or condition that you could point to in your spouse where you are not also involved in the making of this problem, condition, circumstance, or whatever. You have to realize that there is a system of communication and a system of interaction that creates whatever problem you are experiencing. Even if you are the one experiencing the problem, you have some hand in making that problem exist. And that problem will go away sooner if you find your role in causing that problem. The problems that you see, or that your spouse sees cannot happen without at least two people being involved. And if there’s kids involved, they’re probably involved in every problem you see as well.

We all play a role in the problems we experience. And to understand our role in the problems we think are coming from our spouse, is an important step in communication…in self-maturity…in becoming the person you know you can be. Yes, other people will give you problems, but you are part of the problems that other people may give you.

And that does include your spouse.

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