The Phrase You Must Use If You Want A Lasting Relationship

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man and woman embracing and laughing

Does every couple recount a single anecdote of their lasting relationship?

Maybe your story is worthy of a When Harry Met Sally ending, “and just like that, I knew it was meant to be.” Mine is about a time I proved my husband, Nate, wrong.

At the heart of the tale is the advice we received at our wedding.

“The most useful phrase you will ever say to each other is not ‘I love you,’” a couple informed us. “It is, instead, ‘It turns out you were right.’”

If I tell this story to people who don’t know him, sometimes I mention that Nate is sharp as truth; he's rarely mistaken, which I find sexy. I’d note that with brilliance comes a bullish sense of infallibility.

But I always remember to say Nate that is a helluva guy, a guy you’d want as a lifeline on a game show.

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My marital anecdote took place in Madison, Wisconsin in 2004. As childless newlyweds, we decided to drive to Chicago for the day.

I’m an organized person — both of my kids were born on their due dates! — so I planned ahead and bought tickets online to see the Sears Tower. I heard the tickets were less expensive if I bought them in advance, and I’m the type of frugal chick who loves saving a few dollars.

By the time our appointment rolled around, we were veteran sightseers. We’d eaten a hotdog, strolled the Magnificent Mile, and toured the River Esplanade. Arm in arm, we rounded a corner to face a giant building.

Nate moved to cross the road, but I stopped and motioned him to bring out the map. He gave me an impatient look that said, “Look at it! It’s obviously the Sears Tower. Let’s go.” We went.

When we arrived, I looked up, wanting to absorb the magnificence from an ant’s-eye view. This impressive structure even seemed to create its own weather; at close range, the powerful wind nearly knocked me over. As I was taking it all in, I noticed a sign on the building that read, “John Hancock Center.” Hmm.

I turned to Nate, pointed at the sign, and said, “Are you sure we’re at the Sears Tower?” He replied, “It’s not going to say Sears Tower. It just is the Sears Tower.” 


We went to will-call to pick up our tickets. Because you’ve figured out what was happening, you already know the ticket lady couldn't find our name on the list. I cursed my choice not to print the confirmation.

With minimal explanation on my part, this sweet gal working the window lets us in without tickets. God bless the Midwest.

We got in line to ride an elevator to the top. A track played on a speaker above with David Schwimmer’s voice providing facts about the building. I listened up.

There are over 700 condominiums!

I cock my head. “Did you know there were so many condos here?”

“No idea,” Nate shrugged.

The tower boasts its famous residents, such as Jerry Springer.

“What?” I crinkled my nose.

“Huh, that’s weird,” he said, still not ready to admit defeat.

The tower features both America’s highest indoor swimming pool and skating rink.

Raising my eyebrows, I gave him one last out.

“Are you sure we’re in the Sears Tower?” In a marriage-defining instant he came to regret later, he said, “What do you think I am, an idiot?” I had nothing to say. I was not sure of the answer yet. I went back to listening.

The John Hancock Center is the fourth tallest building in Chicago. 

Hands up in surrender, I blurted, “Okay, I’ve heard enough.”

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I had reached that moment in the proverbial car trip where the wife wrenches open the door of the moving car so she can roll out to ask for directions.

With a flourish, I pulled out the map. Here we are, I note, in the heart of Michigan Avenue, at the John Hancock Center. The Sears Tower, which incidentally is called the Willis Tower now, was way across town in the financial district.

I brandished the map in his face with glee, like a toddler bringing her mother a freshly picked booger to admire.

At this point in our relationship, I relished the opportunity to be right. I even developed a little jig to do when he was proven wrong, a number I unimaginatively referred to as the “Nate’s wrong dance.”

He looked at the map, and for a split second, he was dumbstruck. Emboldened by his newfound humility, I seized my opportunity to sidle up to the woman ushering people into an elevator and whispered our mistake. She smiled and said, “Just go ahead back in line. You’re fine.”

A stickler for the rules, and evidently not one to understand subtlety, I told her again. Without blinking, she said, still smiling, “I’m trying to help you.” She shooed me back. This is how Midwesterners are: they want to help you, in spite of yourself.

The silver lining is that because of the kindness of the windy city and my husband’s doggedness, we got to see both “Sears Towers” that day. Here’s a tip: the John Hancock Center has a better view.

The chance to use the advice came up again. On our tenth wedding anniversary, we celebrated in October by heading north to peep leaves in Quebec. Nate insisted we rent a car in case our 14-year-old Saab, which has had its share of problems, couldn’t make the ten-hour round-trip.

I thought it could; maybe it’s because it was my first car, I tend to rush to its defense, but I let Nate have his way. In the history of matrimonial debates, this one hardly registers.

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We were sitting in the rental car, which refused to start. Was this ironic? I wonder. I’m always getting that wrong.

While Nate white-knuckled the steering wheel, I was in a state of calm reflection. In the midst of uncomfortable silences, I am usually a talker — in a marital counseling session, our therapist had to tell me more than once to stop interrupting.

This time, I resolved to say nothing. No gloating, no dance.

For a meditative moment, we were motionless and quiet but for the rustling of leaves outside. I was content to be exactly where we were, which was at a rest stop somewhere between Montreal and Quebec City.

I glanced out the window. The splendor of the leaves was stunning in a way that rendered us speechless except for the occasional monosyllabic uttering of “Wow!” or “Gosh!” If you couldn’t see the toilets, you might have thought we were in a lovely arboretum.

The beauty and banality of the setting reminded me of our marriage. At more than a decade in, we’ve accepted each other’s peccadilloes. Is it picturesque amidst the potties that keep us hanging in there through the challenges?

I thought of how, even in my silence, I was still trying to win. This ridiculous notion made me laugh out loud.

Nate loosened his grip. He turned to me, smiled, and said, “What, no dance?”

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Justine Uhlenbrock is a writer and doula. Her work has appeared on Mamalode, The Good Men Project, and The Mid. Visit her website for more.

This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.