It’s Saturday night as I write this, and I’ve only just gotten home a short while ago after a pleasant dinner with a couple from back “home”. I went to school with the husband, and already felt as though I knew his wife through her Facebook posts, although we’ve only crossed paths a couple of times “in real life”.
(B and I were in Chorus together in high school, and the strongest memory I have of him is his deep bass recitation of a portion of the Gettysburg Address. I can sing / recite the first few paragraphs myself, thanks to that group. Strange, random recollection, I know, but there it is, pulled from the depths of my “cesspool of useless knowledge” as one former boss once declared my brain, although I’m pretty sure he meant it in a complimentary way…)
In any case, they have been traipsing all across Florida visiting friends and family for the past two weeks, and we were finally able to connect this afternoon, their last in the state. We spent a few hours talking about life and family, me learning how their love story began (a volleyball to the head, if you’re interested!), and (my counterpart) C asking me about ours.
She then jokingly asked about the secret to the longevity of our story, as they are set to celebrate “only” 19 years in a few days. I thought about it for a moment and responded that as cliché and trite as it sounds, the key really is communication. Although the phrase “let’s talk” can strike fear into the hearts of men (and women), conjuring up the worst case scenarios, talking is absolutely essential in a relationship.
A could talk. I mean really talk. My friends and family never heard me utter the common marital complaint “my husband just won’t talk to me”! And we had many, many discussions (and sometimes “discussions”, which were an entirely different thing) about the same thing. Over and over and over again. There were many times we would get into a heated exchange only to realize we were saying the same thing, but apparently with a Martian versus a Venusian brain filter. When one of us finally realized we were saying the same thing (usually me), s/he would call a time out on the conversation and straighten out the other party.
So while communication about the important matters such as raising children, finances, and where to go to dinner is important, so, too, is dialogue – verbal and non-verbal – that demonstrates your love for the other party.
I will remorsefully admit that I didn’t always read A correctly, and he would have done the same. Too often we project our feelings onto the other party and interpret (or more often, misinterpret) the motivation behind his or her behavior. Because let’s be honest, there are times when all of us mindlessly (and thoughtlessly) do something, and, on the flip side, completely misconstrue someone else’s actions.
A was a fidget and a bit of a perfectionist, a sometimes annoying combination of traits. He hated clutter and could constantly be seen picking up empty glasses or papers or anything that was out of place. Until we got to the point where we could honestly tell each other how we felt, I (mis)took his habit of grabbing my coffee cup just as I finished as a non-verbal insinuation that I wouldn’t remember to put it in the dishwasher. It took literally years before I finally understood that it wasn’t a criticism about my housekeeping, but rather something that made him feel more comfortable in his own home.
By the same token, I was so conditioned to his protective behaviors (and so young and naive when we first began dating) that I didn’t see the significance of many of them for far too long. One time, more than a decade ago, a friend and her daughter flew down for an extended weekend visit. As there would be a total of 7 of us and we only owned a car that seated 5, I rented a convertible for the weekend, because that’s the fun thing to do.
One day, we took a trip across the state from one coast to the other, my friend and our daughters in one car, and my husband and our other two children in the other. My husband, in full protective mode, drove behind me to keep eye on things. All of a sudden, a car being driven erratically, practically ran us off the road. Before I could even register what was happening, I saw my husband zip by us to follow the other driver. We later learned that he was on the phone with the state police to provide the license plate of the car.
When all of this was happening, I just shook my head thinking something along the lines of “that man”. My friend, however, who was in the middle of a divorce remarked, “if my husband ever did something like that for me, we would still be together.” It was a bit of an eye opener for me, because what I saw as A going all alpha male, she saw it for what it was, a man protecting the woman he loved. Same behavior, different interpretation.
It would be several more years (and dozens of arguments) before we finally hit a wall in our marriage. It was the kind of crossroads where one direction would lead to a stronger relationship, while the other would cause the roots to shrivel and die. Despite constant talking, we were still sometimes lacking in the communication department.
We both had carried hurts and disappointments and secrets, and so much misunderstanding around with us that we were unable to properly relate to one another the way we needed to. When everything finally came to a head, we both let go of some serious baggage that we had been holding onto for far too long. Things that despite being together for many years, we still hadn’t shared under the mistaken assumption that we were protecting one another.
So we each talked, which is important. And we each listened, which is just as, if not more, important. And the conversations weren’t easy. And they were definitely painful. There were lots of tears, on both sides, and anger, and resentment. But underneath it all, there was also love. And you know what? It was necessary to break through to the next chapter of our lives. It was as if that was the breaking and resetting of a symbolic “marital bone” that allowed us to truly heal.
The point of all of this verbosity is to simply say this. If you want a relationship to be strong – any relationship – communication is key. But remember that the unspoken is just as as valuable as the spoken. Don’t just listen to someone’s words, pay attention to their actions, as well. But do listen. Hear the message they’re truly trying to convey. And if you’re not quite sure you’re getting the message, keep asking questions and having continued discussions until you do understand.
The next time someone close to you says “let’s talk”, think of it as an opportunity to fortify the bonds you have with that person. Go into the conversation with an open mind and an open heart and really communicate with him or her, talking and listening. You might be surprised how tenuous relationships will strengthen, and strong relationships can strengthen even more.
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