What makes a relationship endure? My husband and I have been together for 29 years. He’s changed from being Hank, this really neat guy, to my friend, sweetheart, true north and National Treasure. I’m sure I’ve changed too.
We have influenced each other in ways not imagined when we began in 1989.
IDEAS THAT WORK:
The two biggest ideas that have helped us are to remember we are a team, and to be honest in ongoing communications. Not always easy, eh? But we’ve learned along the way how to express our thoughts in ways that lift up, and don’t blame.
I recently shared a story (Leave-Taking) from Seedlings, Stories of Relationships that tells all about this. It’s been a process, as my therapist might say.
HOW IT USED TO BE:
“Hank and I were almost smug the night we shared our Rules for Fighting Fair (at our couples support group). After almost two years of Hank’s icy silences as an argument deflector followed by my high drama of crying and/or storming out of the room, we admitted exhausted defeat in our old ways of spousal conflict resolution. We now committed to open verbal communication and were learning “active listening” with each other.”
WHAT WE STRIVE FOR NOW:
I no longer grabbed the car keys and stormed out after he winged a sarcastic, “Fine, I don’t care” at me in the middle of an argument. We were becoming pros at, “So what I hear you saying is you think three hundred dollars is a tad too much for a birthday present for a preschool grandchild.
We glided through “Yes, I love to do things with you. However, if we don’t plan ahead, it won’t happen.” This was countered with “Yes dear, I agree about planning ahead, and (“and,” not “but”) I am having difficulty planning activities in fifteen-minute time slots between your meetings and luncheons. How about we slot our activities first at the beginning of the week?”
We knew about avoiding “gunny-sacking,” that dramatic but emotionally costly weapon of saving up resentments and then dumping them out over one seemingly minor event.
Hank and I had also learned to choose times to discuss an issue so we were more likely to get a positive response. I did not greet him at the door at 6:30 p.m. after his two-hour commute with “What the heck happened with the recycling this morning?” He did not pose any questions to me when my hand was gripped around my first mug of coffee.
Most of us in our couples group had eliminated red flag phrases like “You always…” or “You never…” from our disagreement conversations. We had added soothers like “I have a request,” and the universal bridge over troubled waters, “Thank you.” – Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.
For me it comes back to my favorite phrase, “Words are powerful.” Sure, the timing, and tone of speaking are important. But we have to commit to speak. And occasionally, when both of us are tired, or hungry, we regress. But sooner or later, one of us stops and starts to laugh, (or hint at a smile if the other is really losing it). “Just remembered, we’re on the same team.”
For more on our relationship and others, pull out your copy of Seedlings. Read “Leave-Taking,” or “Rules for Fighting Fair,” or “Kind,” or “The Heel.” You’ll be entertained and may get some new ideas for your relationships.
Or check out “Breaking Bread” aka The Heel on Odyssey Storytelling
What helps your relationship endure? Leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ideas that work.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.