My daughter and son-in-law volunteered to be presenters at the Pre-Cana conferences at their church. They shared their communications experiences and notes from when they first got together. I thought it might prove helpful to others.
When I first met Nikki, I knew only one thing for absolute certainty: Regardless of anything else in this world, I don’t need to worry about ever dating her.
But let’s back up a bit. Steven and I met in at a convention New Jersey where we were both guests. At the time, I lived in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and he lived in Tallahassee, Florida.
However, it wasn’t the 1,000-plus miles between us that was the deal-breaker. Rather, it was one subtle clue I picked up on while we were talking in one of the late-night post-panel discussions. At one point, she said:
I only like to date guys who can keep me in the manner to which I am accustomed.
Now, I knew very little about her situation, but I knew mine, and I knew that – as a part-time freelancer and full-time worker with a degree in English – I could barely keep me in the lifestyle to which I’d grown accustomed, let alone someone else. My mind kept going back to her comment, which screamed “gold digger” on some level (although I never told her this at the time). Regardless, I knew that I wasn’t going to have to worry about dating her.
Still, we got to know each other fairly well over that extended weekend, and she seemed nice enough. So I flew back home thinking – if nothing else – I might have made a new industry contact . . . and perhaps someone who could offer me freelance work.
When I got home I sent an e-mail to Nikki.
I sent one back.
We started getting to know one another by e-mail and – to make a long story short – we realized that we both really liked each other.
Here is a printout of every e-mail we exchanged . . .
. . . in the first month after we met. (That’s double-sided, too . . .)
Ours was a long-distance relationship for the first seven months.
We only met face-to-face twice more before I moved from Florida to Pennsylvania.
We were engaged four months later, and we were married about a year after we first started living in the same state, but not together.
So how could I be so confident about the possibility of forming a future with Nikki, even though we’d only met three times before I uprooted my life?
Because our relationship was built on communication.
The communication we shared in the first 30 days of e-mail weren’t an aberration; they turned out to be the norm.
Eventually e-mails were replaced by hours-long phone calls every day . . .
We used to play games by phone so we could be “doing something” in the space when we didn’t have much to talk about.
Here’s a way that Steven figured out how we could play Boggle over the phone.
Remember, this was in the far-flung past of 2004. We didn’t have all these iPads with the Words With Friends, or the Facebooks with the farming games, or the CDs you burn from the Napsters or the tattoos they put right on the . . .
Honey! You’re getting off-topic.
Oh, right! Sorry. Anyway, once we moved to the same state and had more time together, we still tried to create plenty of opportunity for communication. Mostly we did this by walking places together.
We still do! (Weather permitting . . .)
So why is communication important in a marriage? Why is it vital to work on your communication skills and make sure you have a solid communication foundation?
If all goes according to plan – as I fervently hope and pray it does – each of you will be stuck with your mate for 50 to 70 years.
That’s a longer day-to-day relationship than you’ll have with anyone else in your life: parents, children, pets . . .
They could own turtles. They live a while.
Turtles aren’t good conversationalists.
Well, they’re the silent types.
Anyway, you’re going to be with each other for a while, so you’d better have a good idea for how to relate.
So, what are some ideas for how to make a relationship work?
Keep in mind that advice for developing communication skills has filled hundreds of books, many of them bestsellers.
Five Love Languages.
Men Are From Mars,
Women Are From Venus.
I Want To Buy A Cat But My Wife Is Deathly Allergic.
I haven’t heard of that one . . .
Oh, it just came out . . . last year.
Anyway, there is a lot more advice out there than we can squeeze into even a few minutes. However, we’re hoping that we can at least spark an interest in developing communication skills – starting by sharing a few “tips” that meant the most to us when we started brainstorming this.
I bet you know what the number one item on my list is . . .
[NIKKI looks annoyed]
Wait . . . no, I didn’t mean that. No, the number one item on my list is: People aren’t telepathic.
Right. You can only be sure that someone else knows something by telling them.
So I shouldn’t assume that you just know the number-one item on my list . . .
People aren’t telepathic.
Well, number one on my list is: Be respectful.
Oh, that’s huge.
Even when we disagree, we approach those disagreements with utmost respect. We’re all different, and just because your mate thinks or does something differently, he or she still deserves your utmost love and respect. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be married to someone just like me . . .
Neither would I! I mean, I want to be married to someone just like you, not . . .
I know what you mean.
Shall we offer more tips?
Show appreciation. It’s an old truism that men want to feel needed . . .
And women want to feel wanted.
Appreciation – please,
I love you
– is a great way to accomplish both! According to one researcher, 84 percent of spouses would prefer to be complimented for being kind over being attractive.
The same researcher also found that 25 percent of couples don’t consistently say “goodnight” to each other; of those, 70 percent considered their relationship to be in serious trouble at least once in the previous year.
Intellectually we might think that our partner will grow tired of hearing pleasantries or words of encouragement, but that’s just not the case.
Which reminds me: Thank you so much for doing the dishes before we left.
Oh, you’re quite welcome! I know you were wrangling our son; that’s a huge job, and it means a lot to me.
See? Appreciation! It’s an important lubricant to social interactions.
Right! And if there’s anything that makes marital relations easier, it’s lubrication. [BEAT] Some of them laughed; get the priest!
Anyway . . . What else? Oh, make conversation part of your day-to-day life.
If you only really “talk” whenever you have something big and important to discuss, you’ll dread those times when you do talk.
But when you’re enjoying each others’ company by discussing shared interests, talking about your days, or reminiscing about your own personal histories . . .
Like that time I almost drowned in your parents’ lake, because I only learned how to swim in salt water!
Then it’s much easier to segue into topics that might be more challenging.
Yesterday I spent $300 at Meijer’s.
I want to buy a new iPad.
BOTH STEVEN AND NIKKI: What?! . . . We’ll talk later.
We’ve also found our communication is best when we do activities that give us quiet moments to be together.
We mentioned walking already, but we also like to play games . . .
Do jigsaw puzzles . . .
Go to museums . . .
Buy iPads . . .
Oh, and – if possible – share a meal together every day. Breakfast or dinner, schedules permitting. Again, it’s a great way to spend a few minutes together, and it makes sure that you always have time to talk.
Sometimes we even cook together; it’s a good way to help out with a chore, and it gives you time to talk.
What else? Oh, humor!
You may have noticed a lot of humor in this presentation . . .
I hope they’ve noticed humor in this presentation. We worked hard at this!
Some of them weren’t laughing . . .
They have no souls.
Anyway, you may have noticed a lot of humor here . . .
And there’s a lot of humor in our household. One of the things that Nikki found most attractive in me when we met was my sense of humor and my dashing good looks . . .
Anyway, we have always tried to keep our humor respectful and loving. Neither one of use uses humor to mock or belittle the other. If I make jokes, I try to do it to our shared situations, or directed at myself, or at a topic that we can both laugh at.
And we both make it known that if either of us crosses a line or touches on a subject that is uncomfortable, that we can be honest and tell the other.
Right. Actually, that’s a good point in general; when we’re chatting, some topics we know there’s no good reason to bring up, since it just ticks off the other person. Like, I try to avoid mentioning to Nikki about political hypocrisy . . .
Oh, that makes me so mad! Can you believe the way they tried to . . .
I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it!
(ahem) This doesn’t mean you avoid talking about important stuff – stuff that really matters to your relationship or the household – but some topics just don’t warrant continued disagreement or rehashing.
Especially if you disagree on something trivial like . . . which movie is the best.
[NIKKI AND STEVEN LOOK AT EACH OTHER]
And on that disagreeable note, we’d like to point out the Rules of Disagreement in your workbooks. That entire page is all useful and positive material for resolving points of contention.
One last tip: It’s okay to have wants and needs. You can’t change your partner; the only person you can truly change is yourself. However, it’s much easier for your mate to modify behaviors if he or she knows what you really want.
Right . . . like I want to buy the latest cool and nifty goodies out there.
And I want to save money for our future.
Those are both reasonable and strong wants – and we’ve resolved them to our satisfaction by talking about those issues.
. . . and changing a bit in the process. In all our conflicts we try to come up with a compromise or solution that makes us all happy . . .
. . . or equally miserable.
That’s a win in my book!
Anyway, you each have wants and needs you’d like fulfilled by the marriage.
Part of communication is making sure your mate knows those wants and needs . . . don’t make them guess.
Because, as we’ve discussed earlier, your mate isn’t telepathic . . .
. . . and if you’re doing your job right, God willing, you’ll be stuck with each other for the next 50 to 70 years.
I sure hope so!
STEVEN AND NIKKI: I love you!