We just did the math – my husband, Kenny, and I will celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary this week.
How did that happen?
Good question. Every year on our anniversary we lament over how we have stayed together this long against the odds – as in what were we thinking? Like most marriages, my husband and I have many important things in common – our shared faith and belief in God, our treasured and expanding family, and some shared interests and hobbies including music, walking/hiking, dogs (mostly ours), and movies.
We are also different in just as many 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 likes things orderly. I am a slob. I spend, he saves. He is a retired elementary music teacher; I am more the entrepreneur type and will probably never retire.
Relationships are hard.
I know this isn’t news for you in long-term relationships – but we’ve learned that enjoying a good marriage is really hard work. Especially in those early years.
We’ve also learned that it is usually how well we communicate, or how we don’t communicate that makes or breaks our time together. Without exception, our biggest struggles come when we aren’t communicating well.
So how has our marriage made it through jobs, kids, teenagers, illnesses, family crisis’, deaths, quarantines, and the nitty-gritty of daily life together?
I’ve put together my top 10 communication tips – mostly learned as lessons the hard way – that have helped us get to 42 years together.
Pro-Tip: These skills work well to improve ANY relationship.
1. Pray for your relationship.
I put this on at the top of the list for a reason. We can’t do this life thing without help. 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.
2. Laugh often.
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.
3. Ask for what you need. Don’t assume ANYTHING.
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, respond with: “I don’t get it, please explain”, and “Help me understand what you need”.
If you expect something and don’t tell the other person, don’t be surprised when they have no idea what you’re talking about because, quite frankly, mind reading is frustrating.
4. Don’t blame. 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?”, or “Okay, talk to me”. Then listen without interrupting (hard for me) or trying to problem solve.
Use “we” instead of “you,” when things go wrong. “I thought we agreed to go to this party tonight” works better than, “Why are you home late again?”
We know each other so well that we know when we are pretending that nothing is wrong or that we aren’t upset, angry, sad, etc. The pestering is annoying – it’s easier to just talk it out.
5. Say you’re sorry.
Be the first to say that you are sorry for your part in whatever misunderstanding is going on.
6. Show appreciation and gratitude – Every day.
Showing appreciation and gratitude is an intentional effort that you should practice on a daily basis. Focus on what you like, not what you don’t like.
Say what you appreciate – “I love that you make coffee in the mornings!” Try showing small acts of kindness (give a flower from the garden, offer a drink or snack, compliment on what they are wearing).
7. Show genuine interest, even if you’re not.
If your spouse has a specific interest that you could care less about, try your hardest to listen, find something interesting to comment on, and be patient while they’re talking.
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.
Try to look for the positive in every situation. When in doubt, hold your tongue and choose to smile. Sometimes the best way to cope is to simply stop talking and keep smiling. Things can always be worse.
9. Have other friends and interests.
We are blessed with many good friends. Some friends that are couples, and some that aren’t. They know us both well enough to help us keep things in perspective and offer good advice and support when needed. I go on at least one vacation a year with girlfriends. Kenny has coffee and/or beer dates with longtime friends.
10. Slow down and remember.
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 hear the voice of unconditional love from your spouse.
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.
Being married to a complete opposite isn’t easy, but it is totally worth the hard work. 42 years and counting….
Do you find yourself wishing you could be a better communicator both at home and at work? Learn these skills and develop the self-confidence you need with my online course, Communication Skills for Success. For any questions or to learn more, you can also contact me for a free 30-minute consultation.
Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.
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