Forgot the Talk?

Way back in my early twenties, I was a waitress at an upscale bar. It was a typical darkly lit “date” club. I remember being able to pick out the couples who had been married for a long time….they weren’t having as much fun as the couples who were just dating. I remember that the older (meaning in their 40’s!) couples didn’t talk or laugh so much. I remember that during the lunch rush, these couples would read separate sections of the newspaper and not speak at all! And when they did talk, they didn’t lean into one another, hold hands, or stare into each other’s eyes. I remember thinking that this would NEVER be me. I would never allow my marriage to become silent or dull.

Well, I do understand some of this now, and I can appreciate it. Reading the paper over lunch isn’t such a bad thing. HOWEVER, almost always, Steve and/or I will find some nugget to share with the other. For instance: “Oh, Lord, look at what our president said now,” I might say to Steve and continue on to read the quote to him. We will then have a short conversation about our frustrations with our government before we go back to our respective reading material.

I also understand that, as the years pass, speaking isn’t so necessary. We know our spouse so well; we don’t need to have the conversation. In fact, why would Steve and I need to rehash our conversation about the President? We both know where the other stands on this. Right?

Perhaps not. Perhaps this is a relationship black hole. Once you skirt the periphery of this kind of assumption, you are in trouble. The hole sucks you in faster and further until one day you turn around and realize that you and your husband just don’t talk anymore. Not only this, you don’t even know what they think anymore.

It’s a TRAP. And a tricky trap at that. We can be talking to each other all along, and still find ourselves losing the essence of one another. The tricky part is that we get caught up talking only about the minutia of life: schedules, remodeling, fixing the car, daycare, bills, TAXES, cleaning, new purchases, etc…. Of course, in order to keep our lives in order, we must talk about all of these things. However, it is my contention that quite often it is in place of real communication.

I bring all of this up as part of my series to recapture “that lovin’ feelin’”. As I have on my other “lovin’” topics, it is helpful to think back to our dating days. What did you talk about then? You didn’t have the house or the kids or the cars or TAXES back then. Most likely you talked a lot more about your dreams, your plans, what you liked/disliked, how you felt.

Aside: Sometimes it seems like the only time we speak of any of these things it is in the middle of a disagreement: “I hate it when you….” or “I am so mad that you…” Communicating? Nah, I don’t think so.

So what to do? Seems pretty easy on the face of it: we just need to set aside time to talk with our spouse about our dreams/thoughts/needs/desires/feelings. But when you get down to the nuts and bolts, maybe not that easy. First of all, who has the time for a long heart-to-heart? If there is any time left in a day to communicate, then we have to talk about who will pick up the kids from day-care and how the car is going to get in for servicing.

Well, there’s always, ummm, DATE NIGHT (four blogs ago). If you haven’t set up date night yet, why not? Please think about it.

Either way, there is one key making the time. Multi-task (after all, we are experts at this, right ladies?). Walk and talk: begin a daily walking program to get into shape together. Drive and Talk: grab the time to talk when you find yourselves alone in the car for more than a few minutes. Eat and Talk: just because the kids are there doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful conversation. One night a week (when the kids are a bit older), pick a meaningful topic for all of you to comment on.

My favorite is the walk and talk. Try to take a walk together at least once a week without the kids. You must make rules otherwise it is just too tempting to fall back into the usual chatter. Pick a subject for the walk. For instance: Where do you want to be in 5 years? I AM SERIOUS HERE. Seems corny, or like an interview? Come on, when’s the last time you talked about these things? Isn’t it important to talk about the future in terms of dreams and not only how much you have paid down your mortgage?

Some more (clichéd?) ideas: what passion(s) have you been ignoring in your life? How has our relationship changed the most? What do you miss about our relationship 10 years ago? Where do you want to retire? What would you be doing if you didn’t need to work for money? What is the thing I do that most annoys you (be o.k. with this – we all do annoying things and better to know about it!)? What is that which most turns you on? What surprises you the most now that you are “all grown up”? ETC………..

As hard as you can, try to keep these conversations non-critical. Try not to take what the other says personally. For instance if he says that he is bummed that he gave up playing the guitar because he had to work more to bring in more money so you could stay home with the kids….don’t get defensive! Just listen, and be o.k. with it. Understand that neither of you are in this conversation to hurt the other. In fact, both of you should put on your “empathy” hats for the walk so that whatever you hear is padded with understanding, not judgment. (I better stop here before I get any more hackneyed!)

The hope here is that these talks will spark other talks so that when you go out on that dinner date, the waitress might just see two people completely engaged with each other. After all, it is a lot easier to gaze into each other’s eyes, and hold hands over the table, while talking about your dreams than it is while talking about the bus schedule….

This concludes another view from my married life.