Do you ever look around and think “where did the time go?” This month, as I look around I’m thinking, We’ve been married 40 years? The good news is that my husband, Kenny, is stuck on 33 years – he’s been telling people that for a decade.
Sometimes we lament over how we have stayed together this long against the odds.
We got married very young. I was 19 and Ken was barely 21. We met on a college choir trip to England over a summer, got engaged on Halloween, and married the next summer. In remembering our wedding day, he will tell you I made him wear a baby blue tux. He has never really forgiven me for that, but it really did look great with his blue eyes.
We took a 3-day honeymoon to Canada (I was sick the entire weekend) and came back to the middle of summer school. During our first year of marriage, we were both seniors in college. And if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, we soon figured out that we are opposites in many, okay most, ways. Kenny is an analyzer-type. He must process and research and discuss. I am more of the ready-fire-aim type. Let’s get it done and ask questions, maybe even get permission, later. He is a neat nick; I am a slob. He is a retired elementary music teacher; I am more the entrepreneur type. The list goes on.
So how has our marriage made it through jobs, kids, teenagers, illnesses, deaths, and the nitty-gritty of daily life together?
Through working through these communication lessons:
I put this on at the top of the list for a reason. We can’t do this life thing alone. Ask for guidance and pray for your marriage and each other on a daily basis. It gives you strength and hope on days that are hard, and joy on the days that are easy.
Talk openly and honestly.
Talk about your expectations openly and honestly. Ask for what you need and be as specific as you can. What does it look like, sound like and/or feel like? If it’s not clear, we try to respond with: I don’t get it, please explain; and Help me understand what you need.
Mind reading is frustration and can erode relationships. If you expect something and don’t clearly tell the other person so that they understand, don’t be surprised when they have no idea what you want them to do.
Don’t fake listen
Look up, put your darn phone down and pay attention. Use your active listening skills. Nod your head, make eye contact, and listen to understand.
If your spouse has a specific interest that you could care less about, try your hardest to listen, pick out interesting parts, and comment. Be patient.
Show appreciation and gratitude.
Focus on what you like, not what you don’t like. Showing appreciation and gratitude is an intentional effort that you should practice on a daily basis.
When frustrated with each other, focus on what you appreciate about each other. Say what you appreciate (“I love that you make coffee in the mornings!”) and do small acts of kindness (give a flower from the garden, offer a drink or snack, or compliment him or her on how cute they look in their new shirt).
Say You’re Sorry.
Say you are sorry for your part in whatever misunderstanding is going on. Try saying I’m sorry for my part in this – even if you aren’t sure what you did to upset the other. When things don’t go well try to use “we” instead of “you”. I thought we agreed to go to this party tonight works better than why are you home late again?
Say I Love you.
We say I love you to each other every single day. Even when we don’t like each other. It’s hard to stay mad when you see compassion and caring in your partner’s face.
Slow your life down a bit and take time to give your relationship the attention that you did when you first met. Put regular dates on your calendar, take a vacation together, hold hands, and snuggle up.
Look for the why.
We work through conflicts by trying to get at the root cause, for example, This isn’t about the dishes, is it?
Laugh a lot.
Humor keeps us sane. Try to look for the positive in each situation and laugh at yourselves and each other. This was pretty much our parenting strategy as well. It’s hard to be mad when you are smiling.
It has not been easy. We struggle to communicate effectively daily. We work hard at it and hold each other accountable. And, most importantly, we try to focus our relationship on what we do have in common.
Our biggest commonality: our faith and our beautiful, expanding family. We welcome two grandbabies later this year.
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transform your life at work and at home, 52 Communication Tips, and Gladie’s Gift – all are available on Amazon.com. To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit cornerstone-ct.com.