Relationships: Success Is All About Me Changing Me

On the evening of July 3, 1979, Karen and I sat on the grass at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York. I had just handed her my softball mitt. When she opened it and spotted the microscopic $395 “diamond” ring, I said, “You’re a great catch!”

It was her turn:



“I’m not marrying you.”

Hmm, this was not going according to plan. Denied thrice by my 18-year-old quasi-girlfriend.

I say “quasi” because just weeks before, I’d broken up with her, which hurt her and her mom. I later learned that my kids’ future grandma uttered these words:

“If that boy never comes around here again it’ll be too soon for me!”


But here we were, post-Joe’s Restaurant Italian dinner, on the grass, moments after a random and wild-eyed hippie accosted us with, “Hey, man, you two are a beautiful couple!!!”

It was the ‘70s after all.

And, no, Karen—I did not hire that guy.

Back to our dialogue …

Karen: “No. No. No.”

Undaunted, I applied a strength of mine that at 21-years-old I didn’t know I possessed: The ability to persuade.

I sold her.

We tied the knot on June 21, 1980.

Five states, seven kids, and seven grandchildren later, we are hitting 37 years. Relational success! But, we admit, it’s been a rocky road, mostly because of what we did not know back then:

We’re different.

I mean, really, super, completely different. How different are we?

Karen would live sans schedule. I want to know what we’re doing next and how long it will take.

Karen is spontaneous, to which my response is, “Sorry, that’s not part of the plan!”

Karen is energetic and creative in the evening. I’m up thinking, creating, and planning while the rooster is still snoring.

Karen’s #1 need, per Myers-Briggs, is “harmony.” Mine is “fairness.” I have been known to say these whiny words: “But that’s not fair.” This does not create harmony.

Karen is extremely others-centered. Me, not so much

Karen views our pets as part of the family. I view them as, well, animals. (Yes, I know, 87.5% of you will side with Karen on that one)

Karen’s rivers run deep. She is a quiet ponderer. On the other hand, I, as she wrote in Raising Accountable Kids, share every thought I have out loud.

Karen’s patient, thinking through decisions. I want things done yesterday. My middle name could be “knee jerk.” (That’s knee jerk, not jerk)

Yes, we’re different.

But here’s a belief we have in common—which took us years to acquire:

Karen can only change Karen.

John can only change John.

This is the essence of PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY and all that is taught in the QBQ! book.

A popular question nowadays is, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” My answer to that question is in red above. It’s just that simple.

In closing, a few notes:

Note to Self #1: Just keep working on me. Life is better when I do.

Note to Self #2: Apologies never end with “but,” “however,” or an explanation.

Note to Self #3: It’s my job to cherish my wife; she is a gift from God.

Note to Karen: Thank you for traveling this chaotic, challenging, and crazy “broken road” with me. I pray there are many more years ahead!

Note to Our Readers: Go ahead, admit who you’ve been trying to change and promise today to let them be them. If you care to share who that person is, leave a comment below!


12 Responses

  1. John, I find myself giggling because your definition of your relationship and personalities matches mine and my significant other…it makes me giggle because it is so true and maybe, just maybe that different between men and women as well! I will quit trying to change anyone other than myself and work on acceptance. Thank you for this article…I think it goes for kids too…you have to let them go at some point and accept them for who they are 🙂

  2. This one really resonates with me. I learned this lesson quite a while ago as well and actually use the Serenity prayer on a daily basis, at least once or more depending on circumstances.

    Happy Anniversary to John and Karen!

  3. Good points to reflect on, John, I “know” them intellectually, but don’t always act like I do. Life is a journey and as Julie posted above, I often remind myself often of the Serenity prayer. Long life, John and Karen, and many more adventures together.

  4. We are approaching 49 years of marriage. Even though I became a bride 10 days before my 18th birthday; I realize now that I knew who I was getting; & I knew that I needed to accept Steve as he was. So many people (even mature College educated folks) go into marriage with the thought that they will change whatever personality trait doesn’t suit them in their spouse. You name it: Steve & I are different in our tendencies. I’m pretty “perky” & can talk to a post. Steve is more introspective & quiet. We both love the out of doors; yet I have a tendency to keep moving & he stops to “smell the roses”. Family is #1 to both of us; yet he calls himself a “half-assed Budhist & I am a liberal Christian. We raised kids that are good friends to their friends & would be the first to bring a meal to someone in need of help. Congrats on your long marriage.

  5. Amen and amen! We are celebrating 20 years today and I cherish every single day. I am pretty sure some days he looks at me and thinks 20 years seems like a lifetime. It’s a blink. Marriage is not 50/50; it’s 100/100; some days you are giving the 100; some days you need the 100. I have found looking for the good rather than nit-picking the stuff I don’t care for and having an attitude of gratitude makes the road “more fun”. After-all; he is doing the same with me……right? We have also learned to laugh at ourselves and each other and keeping God as our center-point is an absolute. God will bless your socks off is you allow him.
    Here is to now and forever, grow old with me, the best is yet to be!!!

  6. I have a guy friend that I’ve met. We are two different people, I’m “Spiritually” and he’s not, meaning I believe in God and he doesn’t. He considered me a church lady, I say, don’t judge me!! I will not change who I am because I came a long way. He’s different … I will not change him or judge him because I feel that he will find his own way for us to have a better friendship.

  7. Hi John,
    I’m writing to comment on your marriage to Karen. What a story….I can relate as I answered a few questions that he could share with his son who is getting married this Saturday. Your story was helpful to me getting focused on my engaging his questions.
    I was wondering how you might answer them. Please give me your feedback to:
    What is one thing in your marriage that you are glad you do regularly or have done at some point?

    What’s hard about marriage?  (The sooner we help young couples know it’s hard work – and continues to be as long as we’re married – the better.)

    What’s one extremely practical piece of advice you’d like to offer Jeffrey – husband to husband?

    In what way would you like to see Jeffrey blessed and led by God as he enters a marriage?

    What’s one hope you have for Jeffrey and Jenna in the years ahead?

    Thanks John!
    Jeff Warner
    P.S. You had a big impact on my group at our meetings in Palm Springs in 2015
    Remember Family Restaurants (Village Inn) and Flavor West (Qdoba)?

  8. Happy Anniversary John and Karen! What a great touching article. Thank you as always for sharing your relationship insights that help families focus on what is important.

  9. For better or worse, in sickness or health… make lemonade and move lovingly forward. For us it will be 38 years this August!
    Happy Anniversary John & Karen!

  10. Hello
    In your speak to your daughter’s high school you mentioned that you are just starting to grow up or something to that nature. Well at 59 I am just starting to grow up and realize I can’t change my spouse or anyone else. Learned this lesson late in life but what a valuable lesson it is. I am still working on not changing my spouse but like Gru says in the minion movie “light bulb” at least the light came on. Thanks

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