There are certain milestones you hit in your life that make people scratch their heads and start asking questions. One of them is a long and happy marriage. My husband and I have been married for almost 20 years. And we’ve faced many changes and challenges that usually lead to divorce! Everything from having a blended family, a child with Autism, saving a child from death’s door (literally) and even addiction. And of course, we’ve dealt with all the usual marriage strains. You know, financial struggles, in-law drama, exes and simply raising 5 children together. There isn’t much we haven’t faced! It makes people wonder (and ask) how it is that not only have we made it to this point! But we’re happier and more in love than ever! Well, we’ve discovered the secret to creating a stable, long-term, loving relationship!
Communication: The Secret to a Long-Term, Loving Relationship
I’m sure you’ve heard it before but I’m going to break it down and make it super simple! The secret of course is communication. But not just ANY communication! There are facets of communication that are difficult and challenging. There are differences between the ways men and women communicate. And there’s a lot more to consider than simply talking!
Types of Communication
Talking to your life partner isn’t the same as talking to an acquaintance. And sometimes it’s even different from communicating with a close friend. There’s a lot more depth and vulnerability required. And it feels like there’s a lot more at risk. It can take a lot of patience and trust!
At the end of the day, with a friend, you go home and get a break from them and you don’t have nearly as much interdependence. So, for example, you might not tell your friend that their habit of chewing with their mouth open drives you nuts! You just avoid going out to eat with them! And if they want to quit their job to start a new dream business you might not express your concerns. Afterall, you won’t be dealing with the lifestyle consequences and sacrifices!
There is no way to avoid the tough conversations with your partner! You can’t simply avoid eating with them and you need to be able to express your concerns about a career change! Unfortunately, people often struggle to have the real and tough conversations they need to with their significant other! But this is the secret to a lasting relationship!
You must tell them the truth! I don’t mean in a harsh or humiliating way! I mean in a kind and gentle way! When you don’t, believe me, it will come out! You might blurt it out publicly, complain about it to a friend or allow resentment to build. But one way or another, it will negatively impact your relationship!
What Prevents Honesty
Many people aren’t honest in their relationships because they are fearful. They don’t want to hurt their partner or create conflict. Often people feel that it’s part of loving someone to accept and support everything. That isn’t true at all! If you really love someone you want the best for them! You want to bring out the best in them! You should be able to rely on each other for truthful guidance and support.
And always keep in mind that change takes time and sometimes you just have to have an honest conversation that leads to compromise! Just because you want your partner to break or make a habit doesn’t mean they will or that they can overnight! And if they struggle with the change or want to compromise that doesn’t mean they are rejecting you or your idea. This is where MORE honest conversation comes in.
What Happens When We Aren’t Honest
Probably the 3 most destructive things that can happen when there’s a breakdown in honest communication is public call outs, complaints to friends (or social media) and building resentments.
Public Call Outs
We’ve all been there… in a group of friends where we witness a public call out. It might sound like a joke or sarcasm but it’s typically a thinly veiled jab. And often you can tell that the person it’s directed at didn’t see it coming at all!
When you call out your partner publicly, no one likes it! Plus, it breaks down trust and vulnerability in the relationship! You’re each other’s witnesses and secret keepers. You should know and trust each other more than anyone else! Making private information public is very hurtful and feels like a betrayal. Voicing something you’re struggling with about your partner publicly is very harsh and humiliating. It’s a long road back from this type of behavior!
Complaining to Friends
I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t complain to their friends about their significant other. But there are 2 ways of complaining and most people have heard both. One results in a good laugh around the table followed by “oh, yeah, mine does that too”. The other ends with interventions and possibly a referral to a divorce attorney!
Complaining to friends can very quickly lead down a bad path! You don’t want your friends to be against your relationship and you don’t want them to think your significant other is a terrible person, so don’t give that impression! There’s a big difference between complaining that your significant other forgot to buy milk at the store the last 3 times they went and complaining that they deliberately disregard your needs.
If you feel like them forgetting to pick up milk is an indication that they don’t care about your needs tell them… NOT your friends!
Do you know who’s responsible for resentment tearing apart a relationship? The person carrying it! Don’t be that person!
When you refuse to have an honest conversation with your partner but also can’t let it go, you’re creating angst and resentment. NOT THEM!!! They don’t even know! You are responsible for sharing your perspectives, needs, and struggles in the relationship with them. They are not responsible for being psychic! And here’s the thing… that is what you’re expecting!
Thinking “they should know” or “this would bother them too” doesn’t get you off the hook! You need to tell them as honestly and calmly as you can. You need to have a discussion and open communication, or you can’t have a successful long-term relationship! So, you’ve told them before… well, tell them again! Change can be difficult, and people often struggle. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. Re-addressing an issue to prevent resentment isn’t nagging, it’s smart, kind and generous! Assume your partner is trying and work with them through honest communication to find a solution that works for both of you!
Everything and I do mean EVERYTHING that happens when we don’t have honest communication leads to a lack of vulnerability! If you’re humiliating your partner, over sharing with friends or building resentments there’s no room for vulnerability! And here’s the thing… honesty leads to vulnerability which leads to intimacy. That’s the real measure of success for a long term committed relationship! It isn’t the easiest thing to create space for vulnerability or to be vulnerable and typically one leads to the other, so get started!
Be the First
It can be scary to be the first person in the relationship to be vulnerable. It’s hard to be the first to say, “I love you” and often even harder to share more. But remember, you are trying to build intimacy and connect with your significant other. That means opening yourself up in a way that you may never have before! But to have what few do you have to do what few are willing to!
Have a real heart to heart with your significant other and tell them about your deepest dream or fear. Tell them your insecurities. I know… telling them might actually be your biggest fear! But there really is no other way to be vulnerable than to well… jump in and be vulnerable! So, share something with them that others don’t know and encourage them to do the same. It’s easier to respond than it is to start the conversation so often your partner won’t even need encouragement.
Keep in mind that they might not respond exactly how you would like or may have rehearsed in your head. But, if they love you, they won’t reject you or use this information to hurt you either. Instead your revelation is likely to bring you closer than ever and create deeper understanding.
Ask for What You Want & Need
Ummm… in order to do this you’ll have to figure it out first! And you should know that it can change! You could be wrong about what you want and need or overtime you may refine it or come up with something entirely different. That’s ok! You’re not locked in once you communicate this information!
Remember that you’re trying to be vulnerable here! The last thing you want is to make your partner feel defensive or attacked! So, when communicating your needs, use “I” statements to take the pressure off them.
Early in my marriage my husband traveled for work and I was home 4 days a week with 5 children 2 – 12. We had just moved to a new community and I was struggling! He worked in Manhattan, so he had long days, often followed by business dinners and activities. But without fail he called every night.
The problem was, I was used to him splitting his time between working from home and at an office. I was lonely and missed him terribly. Waiting to talk to him until the late evening felt isolating and I felt like I had been left behind. So, I told him. And I mean I TOLD HIM!!!
Going in Hot
I said (or more likely tearfully yelled), “It must be NICE FOR YOU to go out EVERY night to nice restaurants with ADULTS!” I actually knew, because he had been open and vulnerable about it, that he really didn’t care for this aspect of his job and was very uncomfortable with it. Then I went on to say, “meanwhile you’ve just left me here to do all the heavy lifting with OUR kids and forgotten all about me!”
I’m betting you can guess how this went over!!! Yeah, not well! He became defensive and was hurt by my words. Afterall I was more than implying that he wasn’t making sacrifices for our family and had abandoned us, and I disregarded his struggles with being away and his work commitments. It wasn’t my finest moment!
We continued to talk each night that week, but I didn’t bring it up again (the timing was terrible too). Instead I thought about what I really wanted. What would make it better? Then I waited until we had a quiet evening that weekend and readdressed it using I statements. That went more like this. I started with an apology for my previous outburst & then said, “I feel lonely and I miss you when you’re gone. Sometimes I feel like you don’t miss me too. I think it would help if I were hearing from you more. I understand your days are long and busy, but I was hoping you could reach out a couple times during the day.”
At this point you might be thinking he said, “I miss you too honey, no problem, I’ll reach out more.” But that isn’t what happened. Instead he told me that he was very busy and couldn’t “reach out”. He doesn’t have time to be calling home throughout the day! Yeah… I wasn’t specific enough! So, I clarified and asked if he could just text every now and then, which he was happy to agree to (and did). We both acknowledged each other’s struggles and created a good foundation for navigating that challenging situation together.
Tah-Dah… I statements for the win!
It Means Just as Much
We often think that if we have to ask for it, it won’t mean as much! That isn’t true at all! Again, your partner isn’t psychic, and they won’t just know what you want and need if you don’t tell them. NO, it isn’t common sense! And here’s the thing… there’s something really touching and powerful about your partner doing something for you just because you told them you want them too! So, don’t be afraid to ask for flowers or compliments more often! And, change your thinking! Stop with “They just did that because I told them to (or they HAD to)” and instead think “they prioritize my needs / wants”, “they go out of their way to do that just for me because they know I like it!” If you put it into that perspective, if you start paying attention to all of the little things your significant other does just to make your day a little brighter and your heart a little happier, you’ll have a much more successful relationship!
Keep At It!
Nothing here is one and done and this is the furthest thing from it! The difference between couples who “grow apart” and “grow together” is often a willingness to be vulnerable with one another! You will never know everything there is to know about your partner (or even yourself). You are both constantly changing! Continuing to share your deepest truths with each other will keep your relationship strong! And guess what, there is no end to love and intimacy! You’ll be surprised at how deep your connection will be when you truly open yourselves up to one another and continue to do so!
Dang… this is probably starting to feel like a lot of hard-core work (and no fun at all)! So, remember to keep light-heartedness in your communication as well!
It’s important that you can simply share about your day and experiences. Talk about the crazy driver on the commute to work, that frustrating co-worker or something you saw on the news! It doesn’t have to be relationship building all the time! You want to simply have open casual conversation too! Make sure you make time for this!
Regardless of how busy we were my husband and I always set aside some time every day to catch up and reconnect. Simply sharing the everyday stuff of life. Because of this, there is no one who knows my everyday pet peeves or my big accomplishments like he does and vice versa. He is my best friend and I am his! And while this has a lot to do with honesty and vulnerability it also relies heavily on the casual conversations and banter we have with each other.
A Fun Side Effect
Plus… we LOVE to laugh and have fun together! Creating honesty and vulnerability with each other has had this amazing side effect. We can both be silly and say absurd ridiculous things to each other without fear. This makes everything more fun and enjoyable! That means we love spending time together. And if you love spending time with someone it’s a piece of cake to have a successful relationship with them!
Some Additional Tips
There are just a few factors that play into being able to establish amazing communication that need to be taken into consideration. So, here’s some extra food for thought as you set out to create a deep connection with your partner through communication.
When it comes to communication timing is often everything! It’s very important to be sure that you have distraction free time just to talk on a somewhat regular basis. It can be very beneficial to even have a date night and to take a few weekend vacations a year (alone, as in, without the kids). This give you some time to really connect, enjoy each other’s company and have uninterrupted conversations.
However, there will be things that come up in between those times you have set aside that need to be addressed too. Be wary of starting these conversations when your partner is distracted, busy or otherwise having a difficult day. You want to set yourselves up for success and this isn’t the way to do it! If you need to talk and one of these factors is present, you can either wait (which is preferable) or mention to your partner that you’d like to connect to discuss a few things when they’re good with it. You should also mention if you want them to let you know when it’s a good time.
Try to avoid saying things like “we need to talk” or “I need to talk to you” unless it’s urgent. For many people these types of statements create anxiety or defensiveness.
Spaghetti & Waffles
This one might shock you… men and women are different and tend to communicate differently!
Let me just clarify before I begin here that we are also very similar. The belief that men don’t have feelings and aren’t sensitive is absolutely incorrect! I have 2 younger brothers and 2 sons; they might not want me to tell you this, but they are every bit as sensitive as my sisters and daughters! So, despite what we see on tv and in movies, they aren’t hard as stone and appreciate tenderness.
That said… I read a book a while back that made an amazing analogy that’s helped me a lot. It said women’s brains are like spaghetti and men’s are like waffles. What does this mean? Everything in a woman’s brain is interconnected and everything in a man’s brain is segregated. Furthermore, I’ve noticed, there’s a big sign over the spaghetti bowl that says “hyper-analyze it all” and that sign over the waffle says “can we fix it? YES, we can”.
How This Affects Communication
What does that mean when it comes to communication? Well, it means that a man is more likely to say what he means and mean what he says while a woman is likely to analyze and read into it. And a woman is more likely to just want to talk and vent and just want to be heard while the man is pre-occupied with fixing her “problem”.
Keeping in mind that we communicate differently both in how we hear things and how we respond can be very helpful! When he said he doesn’t like that dress it wasn’t because he thinks you look fat and when she told you about a problem, she’s having with her job she doesn’t want you to solve it.
Oh… and by the way… the man in your life really might be thinking about absolutely nothing, it just depends on what waffle box he’s focused on! So, stop reading into it and over-analyzing!
A little appreciation goes a loooong way! Our brains tend to latch onto things that are even the most remotely negative and fixate. So, anytime you must have a difficult conversation with your significant other it’s important to make an effort to offer lots of positive feedback as well. And everyone likes to feel appreciated so do your best to catch your partner doing things you’re grateful for and tell them! They’re very likely to repeat the action over and over again if you point it out in a positive way. They are also less likely to feel attacked, defensive or reluctant about the tough stuff if you’re generous with compliments!
Here’s another handy tip… when you do have to have a not so pleasant conversation try using the sandwich method. Start off with a compliment or expression of gratitude, then say the tough thing, and end with another compliment or expression of gratitude. If you can’t come up with 2 compliments / expressions of gratitude you might want to wait to talk about it. You may be feeling too heated which isn’t likely to end well. And guess what, this method works with everyone so just get in the habit of using it!
One of the most important facets of communication is listening. I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what to talk about and how to do it, but listening is actually the much bigger deal! When you and your partner talk, pay attention… and I mean really pay attention. This doesn’t mean reading into what the other person is saying. It means hearing them, not thinking of your response or looking at your phone, but giving them your undivided attention. This can be very difficult, with all of life’s distractions but it’s necessary. Ask them questions about what they’re saying. Work to really understand what they’re trying to tell you. And make sure that they feel heard and valued!
If you can both share your deepest thoughts, feelings and struggles and know that you will be loved and accepted it will build tremendous intimacy. And you’ll create a stable, incredibly happy long-term committed relationship that can withstand even the greatest of trials life throws at you!
Share this piece and help those around you create long-term loving relationships!