Communication. That may be one of the harshest, ugliest, and loneliest words of the English language. We would all like to think that we have good communication skills, but truly, does anyone?
This week, I thought it would be interesting to co-write this article with my husband. We have both been previously married, experienced bad divorces, and struggled to rebuild ourselves. We have known each other for two years, been a couple for 23 months and married for five months.
For thirteen years, Sara was a single parent. Yes, she was married for a period of that time, but it was always just her and her daughter. She is outspoken, independent, and self-reliant. She prides herself on not needing anyone. Sara spent ten years completing two master’s degrees, caring for her aging grandparents, building a career and raising her daughter.
Rick has spent all of his adult life working for the U.S. Army, first as a soldier, then as a contractor and currently as a civilian employee. He prides himself on his work and has worked on his education and plans to finish his Bachelor’s degree in December. For him, family is the most rewarding aspect of life.
When we met, we were both interested in something serious, not a fling nor wasting our time. We were looking for companionship and a partner to share our life with. We spent a month asking each other every question imaginable, learning everything about the other person, and building an incredible relationship. No topic was off limits, we discussed our goals, our plans for the future, even going into an in-depth discussion on our financial situations. We were both anxious to meet the other, as we had grown so close together and were both afraid of losing one another.
We started with a long-distance relationship, talking constantly. You would think that this lead to great communication in our relationship. Unfortunately, this was not the case, we have struggled, fought, hurt each other and cried. Through it all, we have dedicated ourselves to our relationship and have grown individually and as a couple. Because we value each other and had a friendship, we were able to work through the problem every single time.
Through all of these struggles we have developed a system that works well for us. First and foremost, we try and remember that we are a team. When one of us wins, we both win. It shouldn’t matter who is right or wrong. No one person is in charge, we are a team and cooperate to meet our goals. Every idea is respected, you love and respect your partner so you should not disregard their ideas nor suggestions without good reason. Discuss them, iron them out, and together come up with a solution that both of you are comfortable with. Finally, remember that you both want this relationship and each other to succeed at everything. We have come a long way, and we are proud to say, reached a milestone, where we can remain calm and see each other’s perspective.
Here is what we have learned:
We have incredibly different personalities. Sara communicates on every level, verbal, with her body, tone of voice, inflection, every way possible. Rick does not.
We both need to feel valued and respected.
We both need to be heard
We have both been hurt and betrayed, and trust is easily broken.
It was incredibly, INCREDIBLY, hard for both of us to learn to listen to each other, to really hear what the other said and then to process it. But, being able to to see the other person’s perspective has helped us, and has helped us become more a unified team.
Now, when we have a heated conversation we practice listening to each other, not interrupting the other one, seeing the other person’s perspective, truly understanding why they feel the way they do, and finally, we have learned to end things quickly. We ask each other if we are ok, and if one of us isn’t we work through the conversation until we both are. We have learned how to be quiet and not respond to every word. We have also learned to to hold our tongues, think, not respond out of impulse or anger, and really hear the other person.
We are far from perfect, but we are practicing naming our emotions and talking. When either one of us has a stressful day at work, we allow the other one room to vent. We support each other and listen. But more importantly, we never allow an argument to hurt or damage our relationship. We have learned to communicate in writing, that seems to work best for us. Personal pride can also be an issue, but we try not to let that overtake our emotions because it can cause rifts between us. And when we have slipped up, we have learned to apologize to each other and mean it. We always end a difficult conversation with a kiss and an “I love you.”
We have talked about attending counseling, and both feel it would make us stronger and able to communicate more effectively. Communication is key to every relationship, love will only get you so far. If you can talk to your spouse and truly hear them, you will have a stronger relationship.
If you and your spouse are struggling to communicate, if you feel overlooked, seek out counseling. It is almost a guarantee your spouse doesn’t mean to make you feel that way. If your spouse will not join you for counseling, go by yourself. One person seeking assistance can be just as effective as both. If you worry that a mental illness could be affecting your relationship, seek out medical care immediately. Remember, building emotional intelligence and awareness will make you stronger.