Trying to Communicate

April 25, 2022

Dear Lisa,


My husband and I have been married for 25 years. It is easy to think we know what each other is thinking and often finish each other’s sentences. How do we show respect and actively listen? 


Trying to Communicate



Dear Trying to Communicate,


First of all, what a wonderful reminder you're giving us all that we are working on relationships at every point in our lives.  I think sometimes we assume that because someone has been together for a long time, the relationship is set and doesn't need our attention as learners.  When we are first together, we are learning about each other every day --- we tell the stories, hash out the hurts, stumble into insecurities and kiss the relationship boo boos.  We lean in, we give our full bodied listen... 


But as we mature, it's easy to forget that we're all still works in progress --- our ears and noses aren't the only things still growing until we die --- so is our wisdom and understanding!  


Your question indicates that you know that and that, like me, perhaps you're one who tends to helpfully finish your love's sentences? If so, our intent is helpful, but the impact may not feel that way.   And with familiarity we stop leaning in sometimes and, instead, lean back --- expecting that we know what is coming.  


My husband Dave is a walking miracle -- he's survived multiple strokes and brain changes and is a voracious learner.  He is sharper than ever in many ways and the changes are hard to detect, but our conversation style has needed to change.  A small interjection or "helpful" sentence completion by me has the power to throw him off his train of thought completely.  Changing my communication style is a work in progress and I sometimes fail in my quest to hear him out but this new maneuver is so important for us to practice:  He speaks -- I wait -- then I respond.  Then he responds -- I wait -- and respond some more. 


Since you're asking the question, I'm inferring that someone is getting unhappy somewhere in the communication stream.  I wonder if you are referencing a similar dynamic:  a husband whose thoughts are forming in different ways or who is changing the way he thinks and wanting more space to complete his thoughts?  Or perhaps you are needing that kind of space?


Interdependence requires really listening to each other at all stages, doesn't it?  It feels good to feel so aligned with another human --- I picture high speed doubles figure skating, where you know what you can depend on....  But even high speed figure skaters have to slow it down when they're learning new routines.  And if we're alive and vibrant -- we are ALL always learning new routines in our lifetimes.


I wish there were more words to describe relationship -- we have "dating", "partners," "engaged," "married," "divorced," .... but none of that covers what a 25 year intimate relationship looks like compared to a 25 year connected-by-default relationship looks like.  Perhaps we should develop levels.  "My relationship is functioning at I9" (as if there are intimacy levels 1-15).  It's an interesting thought and the point is that you can be as connected as you were that first time you talked all night... or more deeply than that ... or as disconnected as when you didn't really speak for days.   


You've asked the question, which means you're aware of your own answer -- your ears are growing so that you can hear more and more deeply, and your nose is growing, symbollic of your growing ability to sniff out wisdom... and with intentionality, your relationship is growing too.  


I don't have all the answers, but I love this question.  And I'm still listening...