When I was an undergraduate student, I took a sociology course called “Intro To Marriage and Family.” Ironically, my close friend Scott, a guy I’d been secretly in love with for the three years we’d both been students there, was also in the class. We were both psych majors who’d already taken several courses under the professor who was teaching this one so it made sense for us to both sign up for this class during the first semester it was being offered. I had hoped that sharing in discussions,during and after class about topics such as selecting a marriage partner, communication, current and past trends and traditions, and so on would have lead his thinking about me to broaden on occasion. Okay, I hoped that. Alas, he was pretty distracted at the time and this was not to be.
Anyway, the professor teaching “Marriage and Family” was a marriage counselor) and his wife often came in to give the "female perspective" on topics covered, as well. She also taught at the same college in a different department. They had three grown children and grandkids and were pretty open with us about the ups and downs in their marriage. To me, life experience and honesty about themselves gave them a lot of “street cred.” Dr. McManus often said successful couples with growing relationships have three vital ingredients. Those ingredients are talk, time, and touch. Now, I am a marriage counselor myself and my own experiences working with couples has shown me that he is absolutely right.
Talk. Sure, all couples have to speak to each other, but “Pass the salt,” and “Who’s picking up Chris from ball practice?” is not what I mean here. All successful couples make time to have meaningful conversations that allow them to connect on an emotional level and stay “in tune” with one another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. These conversations can include laughter and warmth but are also serious, and involve honest sharing about their marriage, personal concerns and goals, children, and whatever else is important in their lives.
Additionally, successful couples communicate in ways that are productive and healthy. They use “I messages” about thoughts and feelings, don’t interrupt, and try to see things from their partner’s perspective. They make eye contact, nod, and verbally encourage their spouse to continue sharing. They ask open ended questions that begin with words like “How” and “What,” rather than questions that require a simple yes or no answer. They provide sympathetic feedback, such as, “That sounds frustrating,” or, “I’m sorry that presentation didn’t go as well as you’d hoped,” etc. They don’t rush in to try to offer solutions until invited to share feedback.
Time. Successful couples know that they have to nurture their relationship. It has to be cared for, just like children or pets need attention and care. For this reason, successful couples make sure they plan time to spend together. They know that, if they wait for “couple time” to just naturally occur, chances are they’ll go for months without grabbing more than a few minutes together.
Couple time can involve going out for dinner and a movie as they did when they were first dating. It can also involve a shared activity, such as golf, canoeing, or volunteer work. Couple time may be fifteen minutes of talking over coffee in the morning before waking up the kids. It may be a walk together in the early evening.