I need to start with an admission, I am divorced. So, I stand in awe of any marriage that lasted 52 years, especially one that endured as much as what Nancy and Ronald Reagan's did. The mutual support, caring, compassion, and commitment that they had to each other is something that should inspire us all, regardless of our individual political ideologies.
But there is more to this story that touches us, especially those of us who are builders, leaders, and entrepreneurs. Perhaps most of all those of us who still seek that uniquely powerful life partnership. There is much to be learned from the relationship that the Reagans had and the grace and dignity with which they approached life's challenges.
"Don't judge it or yourself and don't allow others to do that. This is what's right for you, it's that simple. And the most important person in all of this will be the partner you choose to live your life with."
The simple truth is that being your own boss carries a high price. You are driven by an unyielding ambition to succeed; it is in your DNA and it fuels your spirit in a way that only a fellow entrepreneur can fully understand. I get it. Much of how you define yourself is rooted in your ability to succeed and you will make untold sacrifices to achieve that goal. But doing so is not a solo flight. It requires that you surround yourself with people who also get it and you. There is no right or wrong here. You've chosen this path because it is the one you need to follow. Don't judge it or yourself and don't allow others to do that. This is what's right for you, it's that simple. And the most important person in all of this will be the partner you choose to live your life with.
In reading and listening to the story of the partnership that the Reagans had I've often thought about how it applies to all of us. Here are three things I think we'd all be wise to learn and practice. And I'll be the first one to come clean in that I wish I'd followed much of this advice in my own marriage and partnerships. But it's never too late to learn.
First, be open with your partner about your ambitions and the things that drive you, even when it's not all admirable. Often what drives us most are our flaws and our wounds. Great partnerships are built not despite those flaws but in acceptance and unwavering support of them. Strength ebbs and flows between great partners. When one wanes the other steps in.
"The man who would become one of the most determined President's in our nation's history was just as human as the rest of us."
The same was certainly true of the Reagans. One of the things rarely talked about was that Ronald Reagan's divorce from Jane Wyman had left some deep emotional scars. Wyman and Reagan had argued regularly about his political ambitions and the tumultuous relationship left him uncertain. He and Nancy dated on and off for three years before getting engaged. Reagan was ambivalent, he dated other woman, and simply couldn't decide. The man who would become one of the most determined Presidents in our nation's history was just as human as the rest of us. And a partnership that would endure 52 years to become one of the 20th Century's greatest power couples almost wasn't. But Nancy was not dissuaded. She would often say, "Being his wife was the only role I wanted to play." Unwavering support and belief in your partner is ultimately a choice.
Share A Common Purpose
Second, find common purpose and a confidant who does not judge or feel jealousy but rather wants to be an ally in every way, small and large in achieving that purpose. Your partner's interests, values, and beliefs have to align with yours. Nancy and Ronald Reagan had a partnership in the truest sense of the word. Each protected the other. Each supported the other. Each celebrated the other. But each also shared a deep conviction to better their nation through service and sacrifice. That sort of shared ideology is not optional, it is the foundation on which a lifelong partnership is built because the world rarely supports our dreams. But that kind of partnership requires the most intimate form of trust and mutual respect. There is no holding back here. You will need to share things about yourself, your fears, and your desires that expose the most vulnerable parts of you.
"...shared ideology is not optional, it is the foundation on which a lifelong partnership is built because the world rarely supports our dreams."
But that is also how you will evolve, overcome those fears, and accept your own power to achieve. Never underestimate your ability to provide this support to your partner in the simplest and most subtle acts of confidence. One of the most poignant stories about how this played out with the Reagans was Nancy's role in the changing relationship between the USA and the USSR.
As reported by FOX analyst K.T. McFarland, who served in national security posts for the Reagan administration, during a reception for Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at the White House--the first time a Soviet official was publicly received at the White House.
"Mrs. Reagan welcomed Gromyko to the White House at a reception prior to the lunch. When she greeted Gromyko, he leaned down to her and said, "Does your husband believe in peace?"
She responded, "Yes, of course."
Gromkyo responded, "Then whisper 'peace' in your husband's ear every night."
Without missing a beat, Mrs. Reagan replied, "I will. And I'll also whisper it in your ear."
It's an insignificantly small vignette of how influential Nancy was, but it also illustrates how seriously she took her role in a partnership that ultimately ended the Cold War. Set aside you politics for a moment. The point is not political, it's about the importance of being in a partnership with a common purpose. Nothing is more powerful.
Don't Take Each Other For Granted
Third, don't take each other for granted. Yes, you both signed up for this journey, but there are parts of it that neither of you could possibly have predicted. You will be tested by both success and by failure. Your commitment is not to simply share in the upside but to endure the downside, not in just the glorious moments but in the darkest ones as well. And to do so with grace and respect. One of the most amazing things about the Reagans was that they simply never argued. They were fierce supporters of each others dreams. During the days following the assignation attempt on President Reagan Nancy stayed by his bedside constantly. For the ten years that her husband slipped slowly into the depths of Alzheimers Nancy was his constant care giver. I saw this with my own father during my mother's decade long battle with dementia.
"Who will you be buried next to? I can assure you of one thing, it won't be your business."
Partnerships are not about just making a choice to share in joy, they are about making a choice to endure. It is not always rational and it is rarely logical. It simply is. Take every possible opportunity to reinforce your commitment to each other. Because of their respective schedules the Reagans spent considerable time apart. Yet, in his diary the most frequent mention was of how much he missed Nancy when they were not together. In president Reagan's own words:
"I more than love you. I'm not whole without you. You are life itself to me. When you are gone I'm waiting for you to return so I can start living again."
There's a lot of talk today about the difference between co-dependence and interdependence. Yes, we should all be able to stand on our own, but that doesn't mean we can't stand taller together with the right partner, and many times hold them up when they can't stand on their own.
Most of all, throughout the coverage of Nancy Reagan's death, I've been struck by the way in which their partnership was a role model for all of us. Yet, oddly, one thing has stuck with me more than anything. It is the comment that has often been added as an afterthought to virtually all coverage of Nancy Reagan's passing. It is the comment that she will be laid to rest next to her husband.
It makes me wonder, and I'd suggest you consider it as well. Who will you be buried next to?
I can assure you of one thing, it won't be your business.