About 10 years ago I had this incredible idea that I would begin speaking about how to communicate effectively with your spouse. My speech title was going to be “Them There Are Fightin’ Words”. Super clever, based in what I knew (at the time), and I was struggling to figure out where my most relevant material was to come from. The relationship I had with my wife at the time was, in my humble opinion, pretty amazing.
I had just started working for a guy that was building a speaking business and had quite a few clients that were paying him big bucks for an hour of his time. He served as my mentor, my coach, and often someone I thought was completely full of himself (and full of something else too!). But, on many occasions, he would point out to me a critical flaw in my thinking – basically putting me in my place.
Such was the case with my brilliant speaking topic.
“How long have you been married, Adam?” he asked me.
“Just under 4 years.”
“And you believe that makes you qualified to teach other people how to communicate with their spouses?” (Crickets.) “When you’ve been married 10 or 15 years, then come back and revisit this topic.”
So, I’m now encroaching on 14 years of mostly wedded bliss and feel like I know even less than I thought I did when still a ‘newlywed’. It’s not age or years of marriage that makes you intelligent about this stuff, but doing stupid things, not talking decisions over, fighting about child-rearing and schedules, and eventually working out your solutions that makes one an expert. That being said, I now believe there are at least two keys to my marriage being as successful as it is, and am now qualified to share them.
The first may seem simple enough, but it’s amazing how few people make this a priority with their spouse/significant other. It’s all about remaining playful.
When you begin seeing someone, there is a great deal of playfulness between the two of you because your attraction level is heightened and it’s just plain fun to be in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of coupledom. However, over time, the level of playfulness tends to wane. The little things you both used to do to make the other laugh are now less important than paying the bills, cleaning the house, and making sure everyone gets to where they need to be on time.
So, if you’re in this less playful phase, it’s time to take it up a notch. Figure out how to bring play back into the relationship – wrestle, tickle, playfully tease, pick him/her up and carry them into the mall – whatever it takes to get them saying, “you’re silly.” Because silly is good. (And silly can lead to a LOT of different things.) 😉
Secondly, and probably the most important key to a successful relationship is having an intense desire to know and be known.
One of our favorite restaurants is PF Changs and while dining there one evening, I glanced around the room at the couples that were eating together… and not saying anything. Some had this forlorn look in their eyes as if they were a thousand miles away while eating with their soul mate. Some were obviously talking about random daily BS like schedules and who was taking the dog to the vet. I could tell by the absolute lack of passion on their faces.
The ones that always got to me were the senior citizens who ate together, some of whom said nothing to the other the entire meal.
I vowed never to have dinner with my wife where I had nothing to say. Instead, I got prepared. I did my research. I compiled a list of questions of things from my wife’s childhood and adolescent years. I put together a list of dream questions and travel questions and ‘what would make you super happy’ questions. After we’d exhausted our usual ‘tell me about your week’ dialogue, I pulled a few sheets of paper from my jacket and told her I wanted to know her better than she knew herself.
She was floored. And happy. And she called me silly.
Now all of our dates revolve around asking questions of each other to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the other’s likes, dislikes, fears, desires, dreams and aspirations. I get her and she gets me a whole lot better now than we did when we just had 4 years under our belt.
Most importantly, we’re connected and stay connected by being playful while fulfilling each other’s desire to know and be known.