Someone wrote these words to us about empty nesting:
"We loved our time raising our kids.
Now, we don't have anything to talk about."
We wonder how many people find themselves in that boat. In light of that, here are some thoughts we have on the subject of communication.
Bruce: Tracy and I have actually always been pretty good at communicating. As I said in an earlier blog, we can spend hours driving in a car without listening to the radio. We're pretty good at chatting.
I believe letting stuff incubate without talking about it is like marital cancer. Often conflicts in communication arise out of unspoken feelings. Your spouse can't read your mind.
This might help: We learned a great communication tool from our counselor and friend, Leah Springer:
1. This is what I have seen/witnessed... (facts, unemotional)
2. When I observe this it makes me think...
3. When I think that, it makes me feel..
4. My hope would be...
Most importantly, I have had to learn to let things go. I used to hold onto past resentments and treat Tracy in light of the past (and bring them up way too much!). Forgiveness is a key to having healthy, current day discussions. I love being close to my wife and being able to share anything with her.
"Vulnerability is not weakness.
And that myth is profoundly dangerous." - Brene Brown
Tracy: It's interesting to find couples that sleep in the same bed every night, but do not really "know" each other. We are really into intimacy. This requires a level of vulnerability. Communication needs to feel safe. It is crucial to "be" a safe place for your spouse to share even the most difficult of topics. How do we do this? I'm still growing in this area; however, this is my list:
NO SECRETS is our policy. This includes, sex, (how often you desire it, what works for you, and what doesn't) feelings, thoughts, concerns, money, opinions, successes, in-laws, laundry, TV, calendars, spiritual matters, children, health, work, friendships, and a whole lot more.
Timing...be sensitive to the best timing for a discussion.
Let's not assume motives. This is so important. Judgement kills intimacy.
Listen....I mean really listen and minimize interrupting. (I'm working on this!)
Exercise genuine compassion.
A harsh tone stirs up anger...If your spouse uses one with you...consider answering gently.
Let's minimize being defensive. (Again, working on it...)
Extract anxiety and harshness from your tone.
Assume the best of your spouse and that they love you.
Even if you don't agree with all their perceptions, find places to validate their thoughts and feelings.
Don't be a doormat. Love, listen, and respond with care for the other person, but maintain dignity and kindness for yourself and your needs. Speak the truth in love.
A few more thoughts:
I like to be listened to. Here is something I have learned about boys and men in general. It's a brain thing. Both of my men, Bruce and our son, Josh, start to daydream if I get too long winded. I probably use two times more words when I talk about the same subject with my girlfriends. My son and husband both do better if I can consolidate my thoughts. Exercising self-control has increased my chances of really being heard.
"Expectations are resentment waiting to happen." Anne Lamott
Expectations. Let's talk about those. I am personally a great lover of FREEDOM. I really don't like anyone telling me what to do. If I find myself in a relationship where I sense someone is judging me, wants to take from me, or trying to control me in any way, you will often find me gently distancing myself. I try and extend my respect for FREEDOM to others. In the early days, when my traveling husband signed up for three softball teams, I was pretty sad, frustrated, and disappointed. I remember approaching him about the subject. However, when I told him of my sorrow over his choice, I had no expectation of him quitting. Most importantly, I wanted to be known by him. So, I acknowledged that he was an adult and could do whatever he wanted. However, I let him know how his choice was effecting me and the kids. He would never do that now. He would tell you himself that he was being foolish and selfish. My lack of expectation allowed me to get what I ultimately wanted, the intimacy of being known, even if he didn't choose to stay home. If he had stayed home with a crappy attitude, what good would that have done me? I win? Win what? I had control over him knowing me and my heart. By communication without expectation or judgement, it made a difficult situation bearable. Yet notice I didn't get everything I wanted. In the end, I respected his freedom.
"You may win the battle but lose the war. In marriage, it's either win-win or lose-lose. If you both don't win, you both lose."
Bruce and Tracy:
We believe the most significant factor in healthy communication is LOVE. Let's remember, life is so fragile. Any conversation could be the last one we ever have with a person. Live a life of no regrets. TRUTH & LOVE, let's "do" both!