(photo by Tiffany Burke)
Charlie and I have been together for 12 years, and married 8. That seems like a blink when I imagine the long haul of decades ahead of us, but the reality is that we’ve lasted longer than many marriages and seem to be on the right trajectory as we are only falling more in love, like, and ridiculous ‘HOW DID I GET MY FAVORITE PERSON FOREVER?!?!’ each day. Or, most days. . .
The ups and downs are there, of course, and as such I wanted to share a few tips that help us to stay more up than down and keep us moving forward in our respect, understanding, and mutual love.
- Ask for what you need. This feels obvious, but it’s a lesson we’re both still learning. I’ll give a little example; Charlie works a really physical job and is someone with an incredibly fast metabolism, so he needs to eat. . . a lot. Whenever he would get home from work (after bike commuting too) he would be famished! He would be irritable, shaky, and short tempered. But still, we plugged along, me annoyed that he wasn’t immediately helpful to our household, and him HanGry (it’s real). This past week he started texting me a bit before he left saying “would you mind making me something so I can eat it when I get home?” and I did. It wasn’t a ton of extra work (the kids ask for what they need, food, all.the.time. I can whip up one more apple and PB!). I liked that I wasn’t being expected to anticipate his every need (this is an important note, I could have just seen that he needed this and done it, but I hadn’t, because I’m up to my ears in peoples’ needs.) and that he didn’t have any expectation that I do this. But, he knows that if he asks me for something, if I can, I will. If I can’t, I won’t. This little change made a huge effect on our week! Looking back I wish I would have just said “hey, do you want me to have a snack ready for you?” and opened that door of communication. Alternately, I’m really glad this was of his own accord, asserting a need he had, and asking for help. That’s so healthy!
- Make a point of asking them about their day, in detail. This one is huge for me. It’s like my kid’s. Noele will go through two hours of classes and if I just say “so, how were your classes!?” I can want to hear it all, but she only answers the immediate question, so I get about 15 seconds of review from 120 minutes away. The same is true for Charlie and I. If he says “how was your day?” I’m likely to respond with the generalities. But if he asks me “How did you feel during that playdate with so-and-so?” or “did you get time to write about that thing we talked about yesterday?” or “I know we left that conversation unfinished last night when Ever came into bed, are you doing alright?” He asks me questions that show he knows me, thinks about me, and wants to know me more. I work to ask him the same, not just “how was work?” but about specific meetings, jobs, tasks, and things that I know are on his mind. This is one of those ones that grows the more you do it, the more you understand each other, the more there is to ask and know. It’s a snowball effect, and the end game is a far deeper empathy and love for your partner as you gain a bigger understanding of their heart and a better picture of their life through their eyes.
- Know not only their love language, but your own. Ask for that love. I read and loved The Love Language Book about ten years ago and it was so important. But, then I read it again to figure out not just how to love Charlie, but how to ask for love. The gist is that your spouse might have Physical Touch as their love language and be hugging you, offering to rub your back, hold your hand in the store, and you may just think “UGH, get off of me. Just please do the dishes, and play with the kids, mow the lawn, and take something off my plate!” but they feel like they’re giving you so much love. But if you’re love language is Acts of Service (all those things I just listed!) you won’t feel love from all their touch. It can be so hard! Charlie and I have very different love languages, and it means that you have to choose to give love in a way that might not be wholly natural to you. For example, one of my love languages is acts of service. I feel so, so, so loved when I come out from putting the girls to bed and the kitchen is clean. Like, SO loved. Consequently, Charlie does just that; Every Single Night. The other day we were cleaning up and then I went to read for awhile and when I came back he had rearranged the office… REARRANGING IS MY HEART SONG… I nearly cried! It meant a cleaner space, and he did it on his own! I couldn’t have felt more loved. Knowing my love language, and being able to really recognize the ways Charlie is loving me through it, make me appreciate him even more. I followed my own advice, above, and told him what that love language was and asked for him to help me out. It works! And now it’s become easier and easier and to show each other love in the ways we really need.
- Hear Them. This goes along with all the rest, asking all these questions, showing love how they need, but the piece that is often missing is hearing them, compassionately. If you listen slowly, empathetically, and with unabashed care, you’ll hear more of them and not just your frustration. Try to hear subtext. Frustration is often underwritten with fear, or sadness, or worry. Try to hear that, and ask boldly about it. If your partner is angry at work, try to hear what the fear might be and ask them about it. The more you have out in the open about those big and small worries and feelings, the more they can diffuse or be helped. Be a safe space.
- This one is really important. And one that can be really hard. But possibly the most important. Call out unhealthy behavior. This can mean gas lighting, manipulation, violent communication, ect. All of those sound like really big words, and when they’re chronic, they are. But all of us fail in these ways from time to time, but it’s paramount to not let this style of communication and treatment become normal in relationship. You, and your partner, are worth compassion, non-violent communication, and empathy.
Employing all of these is a lifetime work. We’re constantly checking in with one another to make sure that heart and needs are being met. I can say, with total assurance, the more we do these things, the easier and brighter our love becomes.
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