When you get married, or even just when you are in a relationship, it seems like there are two factors touted as keys to a successful relationship; communication and trust.
I stand by the notion that without trust a relationship is doomed to fail. It isn’t realistic to assume that you can be with your significant other every single minute of every single day. I also think it’s healthy, not only for your individual self, but also for your relationship, for each person to have a life of their own. And that is not really possible without a certain level of trust being shared. I’ve had numerous people ask me over the years if I’m not worried about Husband meeting someone during one of his stints away. I really can’t help but laugh inside at the question. Husband and I have always had a considerable amount of trust in each other. Of course I joke that between his incredibly picky tendencies regarding women, and his “unique” personality, it would take a very special woman to catch and hold his attention 🙂 All kidding aside I’m happy to say that trust is a non-issue for us.
But this post isn’t about trust. It’s about the communication side of things.
Everyone will tell you it’s essential to be able to communicate effectively with your mate. But what they don’t address is just how difficult it can be to find the time, the right mental state, and a private place in which to have those important conversations. I would love to think that talking is as easy as opening your mouth and spewing forth words whenever you feel like it. If only it were that simple
Most weeks Husband works late, and gets home while I’m in the last few steps of finishing dinner. We eat on the couch (I hate to admit this) while watching an episode of whatever series we are currently into on Netflix, and once that is done we pack our lunches for the next day, I shower, and it’s time for bed. Generally, regardless of whether we are in bad moods or stressed, or in good moods, weekdays are not good days to have any sort of serious talk. Our minds are busy on getting through the week, on our to-do lists and what-not.
So that leaves the weekends. It can be easy to assume that many great and wonderful things will happen on the weekend. You have all that free time right?
I have found this to be wrong.
When the weekend arrives we are usually beat come Friday night. One of us picks up a six pack of beer, I try to fix something a little fancier than our weekday fare, and we crash on the couch watching a movie working up to a slight beer-buzz before calling it a night.
Saturdays are jam-packed most weekends. Between running errands that we couldn’t find time for during the week, cleaning the house, or getting out and exploring some new place we haven’t seen yet, there lacks a time to sit down and get down to the business of really talking about what’s been on our minds, and how we are feeling emotionally. And it’s even less likely when Husband has to work all weekend.
And then there is Sunday. If Sunday isn’t a repeat of Saturday’s craziness, it still involves a great deal. And on top of Saturday’s activities, we tack on getting ready for our week. There’s laundry to be done, grocery shopping to complete, and the need to just chill and zone out for a few hours before Monday rolls around again. This again doesn’t provide an ideal opportunity for that pesky communication thing.
I think it is this continuous feed of non-stop activity that creates the biggest barrier for communication, and it’s so easy to let it take over. Then you find yourself months down the road, not having had a quality conversation with your mate, and you couldn’t be more disconnected.
In a frazzled moment when you are feeling a bit upset over this or that, or just the lack of connection in general, you may attempt to force a conversation at a bad time. In my experience, it doesn’t matter how much your husband loves you and wants to make sure everything is ok, if you broach a touchy subject (or anything that is a shade heavier than the normal high-level weeknight banter) when he is not mentally prepared to discuss and especially not to deal with it, you might as well ram your head into a brick wall. It’s equally as effective at resolving the situation.
You may try to set a time each week devoted solely to talking. About anything and everything. This works for some people. For us however, we have stated our desire to commit to one night a week eating dinner at the dining room table and catching up multiple times, and have yet to put it into practice.
It’s at this point that communication can feel like an unbeatable obstacle.
Since we moved to South Dakota, learning how to talk to each other has been one of our biggest on-going goals. Now that Husband has had to assume the role of not just being my partner, my husband, and my lover, but also my best friend, advice-giver, and rubber wall to bounce anything and everything in my mind off of, we have had to really work on how to talk to each other, and when to make those conversations happen.
I can’t just assume that he is open to my conversation whenever I feel like talking.
I also have to acknowledge that he isn’t inclined to easily offer what’s on his mind, and along with this, I can’t just pry whenever I’m curious.
Communication is all about timing in my opinion. Both of you need to be open to the conversation, otherwise you won’t really be listening to each other and you will get nowhere in your resolutions. You also need to have the comfort of knowing that you have enough, or unlimited, time to address everything you need to.
These are some of techniques and little practices we have sort of put into place to try to boost the effectiveness of our communication.
Pay attention to cues from your partner and learn to recognize when they are open to talking. I can usually tell when Husband is worn down from the day, or the week, or when he is just too wound up to be able to sit and talk to me. If I feel like I have something I really need to get off my mind or heart I either tell him that I want to set aside a time later when he is ready to talk, or I send him a quick email asking the same thing, or possibly even spilling whatever it is and telling him I want to discuss it when he can.
Utilize the speaker-listener technique. I read part of a book a while back that covered this technique, and at the time I thought it was a bit ridiculous. In fact, I didn’t even tell Husband about it. Then, to my surprise one night as we were heading into heady subjects, Husband started using this very technique in talking to me. He explained it is a method he uses in his job when talking to his clients. I was absolutely astonished at how constructive our conversation ended up being. We made huge headway on some issues that we had been arguing over for a long time. Whether using this specific method or not, it’s imperative to talk in a way that allows both parties to feel heard and acknowledged, and that you find a way to talk calmly and effectively regardless of how touchy the subject may be.
Be mindful of the words and tone you use. This is why the aforementioned speaker-listener technique is so beneficial. When there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in a conversation, it is easy to let them override your ability to talk rationally and civilly about the subject at hand. More often than not we tend to be accusatory in either our word choice or our tone, and that alone sets both parties into defense mode. At that point it’s nearly impossible to effectively listen to each other. I try to speak in regards to my personal feelings and reactions, rather than general assumptions and absolute statements. Saying things like “when you do XXXX, it makes me feel XXXX, ” or “I feel like you are/seem XXXX.” Rather than “You never XXXX,” or ” You always XXXX,” or “You’re such a jerk because you XXXX.” I try to remember that whatever issue or concern I have is built solely on my interpretation of the situation. And even though my feelings may be justified based on my interpretation, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t another side and another perspective to explore.
Have a couple of drinks. Please note I said a couple. It may not be something to brag about, but some of Husband and I’s best conversations have happened over a few glasses of wine or a couple of beers while sitting in the corner of a bar somewhere and just talking. I tend to be an open book about most everything in my life, except when it comes to talking to Husband. He tends to be very closed about everything, to everybody, including me. For us, having a few drinks allows us to relax a little, let down our guard, and just talk. This is why date night is crucial for us. It is time that we have set aside to just be together, and we give ourselves a whole afternoon to enjoy it. Seeing as it usually involves dinner, it provides the perfect time to enjoy each other in a relaxed setting, have those drinks I talked about, and reconnect.
None of these things are clinically proven. They are simply the practices that work for us in our relationship. Marriage is work, it takes practice, and this is one area where we have really done our homework and tried to improve. I sometimes think it’s so exciting to realize that there are always areas in your relationship that can be improved. It’s like a promise that things will just get better and better.