What We Learned About Communication After 38 Years of Marriage

I was once asked if I played the piano. I replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never tried. I might be good at it.” We all know it takes years of practice to be proficient at something like the piano.  The same is true of marriage communication. I’ve counseled married couples for over thirty years.

So why is communication so hard?  Like any discipline, communicating is paying attention to the right things. Kim and I have helped over a hundred couples with premarital counseling. 

They all have one thing in common: they come into marriage with unrealistic expectations. Not the least of these is communication. We just assume that we can talk; so we will communicate, we will be heard, and things will be fine.

Three reasons why communication is important 

First, you are the only one who knows you. Your spouse doesn’t. Marriage is an incredibly intimate relationship that requires us to keep in touch and let the other person know what is happening inside us.

Secondly, you are always changing. This is what can make it difficult. There is a saying that I think of often:  “About the time I think I can make the ends meet, someone moves the ends.” Relationships can feel like that.  It may feel like by the time you get your spouse figured out, they have become someone else. You may think that you are like a stone statue, but that’s just not so. Life events change us.  

Here are some things that have changed me: leaving the family farm, my sister’s death from cancer, my mother’s death, getting married and having children, having the kids grow up, having an empty nest, financial gains and losses, and having cancer of my own. Let’s not forget aging –– turning 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 will change you. Through the years all of these things have molded me into someone different from who I was before.  

So I’m not a statue, but instead, I am clay that is constantly being molded. How is Kim going to know this if I don’t tell her? People come for marriage counseling and say, “This isn’t the person I married years ago.” I know that. I want to tell them that this is true of everyone and that the key is to communicate these personal changes as we go along.

None of us is the same person we were when we got married. The bottom line is that we change and letting each other know how we are changing is good communication… and it is key to the marriage relationship.

Thirdly, keeping up with these changes is what keeps you together. It’s like a coffee pot that percolates. Communication keeps the marriage bubbling with life. I don’t really care for the word suck, but once I was talking to our son about a certain couple’s issues and he remarked that it seems like they suck at marriage. Well, I wouldn’t word it like that, but they do lack communication skills. When people come and say, “We don’t talk,” they are saying, “We haven’t done well at communicating.”

One of the most important reasons to communicate is that your spouse needs encouragement.  With the limited space I have, I will give just two ways people need to be encouraged.

I will just say that most women have the need to be loved for a lifetime. They feel safe and complete if they know their man will be there for them always and forever. Most men, on the other hand, have the desire to be needed or accepted. A man needs to feel he would be missed if he weren’t there.

Three Things That Will Help You Communicate Better: 

Listen. 

The greatest problem with communication is the assumption that it has taken place.  If you have problems listening, use reflective listening. Say, “What I hear you saying is ___________” (and then repeat what they said). This technique will force you to listen and it will show them that you value them and that you are hearing the words they say.

Be unselfish. 

Usually, there is a talker and a quiet person in a relationship. The talker needs to learn to listen and draw out of the quiet one.  Kim tells people there was a time she sensed that I was consciously trying to draw out her opinions and how much she appreciated it. If you are the quiet one, try to realize that your spouse needs to know what is happening inside you. The best way to build a future is to build it within. Kim used to not share what she was thinking, but she has come a long way. She realizes that for us to thrive as a couple, she needs to share what she is thinking.

Dream together. 

Realize that you are a team.  Dreaming together makes for a united future.  Guys should especially grasp this concept. If you work towards what builds the team rather than what you want, you will actually be happier and have a better end result.  Teams dream together and dream of winning the championship. The marriage team is no different. Kim and I have a monthly finance meeting so we both know where we are going in this area.  As we reach our goals, we have the mutual satisfaction that we are accomplishing something of value together. We dreamed and planned so that when we turned fifty, we sold our home and business, lived in a motorhome, and traveled the country for three-and-a-half years.  Later, when I got cancer, we were so glad that we had done this.  

Plan and dream not just your budget, but work, hobbies, time together, goals for raising children, and what your future will look like. We’d especially encourage you to plan for retirement, even if it’s several decades away for you. Retirement isn’t the end of your life, but rather it is a chapter in life that you can live well if you have planned well for it.  Also, in planning your retirement together, you are anticipating being in retirement together, and that is a good thing to have in your mind.

After thirty-eight years of marriage, I am happier than I ever thought I would be.  In fact, I think I understood love as well as I could when I got married, but I didn’t really know what love was. Actually, I was pretty bad at it. Looking back, I was more in lust than love. But I sought to love Kim, to understand her, and to work on my own weaknesses instead of hers. I had to experience love and grow in my communication with Kim to become better at it. Now love is beautiful. I never knew I could learn something I knew nothing about and then thrive at it.  It’s like playing the piano… you have to submerge yourself in it, experience it and work at it to master it.