Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

Let’s Just Talk About It

Words strung together become clichés for a reason; they’re repeated and digested and generalized as stones of truth. They hurt or caress when the intent for either is nonexistent. We’re all simply trying to communicate, to tell our own truth, but for good or bad there’s nothing more powerful than our words.

I just started reading, for the third or fourth time, Deborah Tannen’s book, That’s Not What I Meant. How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships. Communication fascinates me and the first time I read Tannen’s book it was assigned as part of a college sociology class. I remember feeling captivated, enlightened and nodding my head in affirmation through each passage and chapter.

Every time I’ve read the book I’ve taken away something different, something relevant to whatever is going on in my professional or personal life at the time. Monday I started reading it again for two reasons…I have a new client who’s conversational style is much different than my own and I want to build the relationship. Second, I find myself struggling with a new awareness in my marriage.

You already know there’s a significant age difference between my husband and I. Other people most likely have given our 27-year number gap more thought than I have over the 14+ years we’ve been together, but recently I’ve begun to contemplate, to become aware in ways I never anticipated. I want to talk about how I feel and what I think, after all…I’m a woman and therefore hard-wired to make sense of my world through conversation. It’s a difficult conversation to have with friends, with my husband, with myself.

I think most of us first become aware of people we love aging with our parents. We expect parents to go through certain life stages and different realities long before we do. We anticipate our parents will require different circumstances, care and understanding while we’re still young enough to provide certain comforts. We don’t learn in the natural course of events to anticipate those same changes in our spouse long before we’re experiencing them ourselves.

I remember when Kim and I first got together, he clearly explained numerous times that, “Tricia, one day I’ll be an old man and you’ll still be a fairly young woman. It’s not fair for me to ask that of you.” Of course I reassured him and said it was my choice to make, it was my future too and that I understood what I was signing up for. He believed me. I believed me. I was 23.

Given the opportunity again today, even with the growing awareness I have of how different our realities will eventually become, I’d make the decision all over again to stay with him. I don’t have any sense of regret or remorse, and I certainly have no intention or desire to bail so let’s put that on the table just in case you’re wondering where I’m headed with this conversation. What I do need is to find a new kind of peace with this growing sense of mortality and the small age-related changes I’m observing that with time will become more pronounced.

Finding that peace is where my struggle begins, and it’s where differences in conversational style become acute and cumbersome. Broaching the subject with my husband is delicate. Regardless of the words I use, he HEARS what he told me all those years ago… that one day he’d be aging while I was still young, and he feels guilty for having anticipated it, yet still moving forward with the relationship. That guilt creates a filter through which my words need grease and meaning becomes much more subjective than I intend. When he responds, I’m also filtering his words through that previous conversation and the guilt I have for even bringing this up since after all…we discussed this before we committed to each other. What right do I have to bring this up now. And I know he can’t help but wonder if I say it out loud, does that mean I’m going to abandon him simply because he’s experiencing things he has no control over…he’s progressing through life just as he should and what right do I have to acknowledge the observations? It makes everyone uncomfortable.

Yet here I am…a woman…hard wired to make sense of my world through conversation.

Perhaps the longer a couple is together the more filters we construct, the more webs of unintended consequences we create where every carelessly strung together sentence carries a whisper of some previous conversation, a  call-to-action in our brain to read between non-existent lines. As my husband and I figure out how to talk through a new awareness, I’m quite sure I have to think twice about how my words are delivered and how they’re heard. The phrases I choose and their delivery will hurt or caress when my intent is simply to communicate my truth.

What about you dear friends. Have you recently had a difficult conversation, broached a challenging topic and found you needed to think twice about how preconceptions or internal dialogue is interfering with how your words are heard?

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10 comments to Let’s Just Talk About It

  • Jan

    All the damn time.

    Beloved is a very in-your-face type of person (in case you hadn’t noticed LOL). He thrives on confrontation. Given the opportunity to discuss a subject, he’ll talk it to death. I, on the other hand, will often simply shut down when faced with confrontation; it’s an old defense mechanism that is dying a slow, painful death. Forced to talk, I’ll become terse and distant. It doesn’t make for the best of communications.

    Which is not to say that we aren’t muddling our way through our very different communications styles, because we are. Or we wouldn’t still be together after 11 years.
    Jan´s last blog ..Enchilada Casserole My ComLuv Profile

  • You are amazing my dear friend. Oh yes, I know these hard difficult conversations all too well. Thankfully I have a husband that hears and listens and does not judge. This post and all it’s honesty could not have come at a better time. Thank you Tricia. You have a wonderful husband. He knows he won the prize with finding you. You already know you found it with him. Things like this are not easy to talk about. Once again I must say that I love your honesty and realness. Tricia, I’m thankful for you tonight!
    Lori´s last blog ..A letter to my 13 year old self… My ComLuv Profile

  • It seems when I think I have figured out how to communicate something changes. Relationships are work and communication is tough but the rewards can be wonderful. After 26 years of friendship and 17 years of marriage Dan and I still are trying to figure out how to communicate. But let me tell you something funny … the other night I was getting Willy ready for bed and asked Dan to grab me a “fleece diaper” (we do not own any fleece diapers only hemp diapers) Dan brought me the right thing and I said, “thanks.” He pouted and I said “what?” He said “I brought the right thing even though you said the wrong thing, I knew what you were talking about and you did not even notice.” What is one to do!!!!
    Amy @ Six Flower Mom´s last blog ..A Cabin In The Woods My ComLuv Profile

  • Wonderful post Tricia. Made me really think.

    We have been going through some extremely tough times with our teen son. However, one good thing coming out of it is my husband and I have met on common ground to deal with the problem and we have gotten much closer.
    Pseudo´s last blog .. My ComLuv Profile

  • Joaquim Sanders

    To quote Charles Darwin:

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

    WE certainly have experienced lots of change in almost 15 years… I remember when we went to places and people would say: Your daughter… well, you were so young and I was younger!!!

    You have grown from a terrific young lady into a smart, articulate, educated and classy woman… it is hard for me sometimes to make the distinction because I love the two of you!

    Let’s face it… what 30 something woman fall for a guy with two grown up children, two almost teenagers, two ex-wives, and a much different culture? So, for selfish reasons I am glad you were only 23…

    Life has taken us on an incredible journey of love and adventure… I look forward to continue that journey with you and our little son regardless of the turns!

    Like someone I admired used to say: we only stumble when we move… and, thankfully, we are moving!!!

    Forever and always :)

  • wow wow wow, what your husband said was deep and beautiful and so right on.

    I’m married to an “older man” too and find that when we do start having communication problems, it’s usually more of a perception problem on one or other of our parts. Sometimes the problems come from expectations such as when one of us expects the other to act/do just as they did 12 years ago and if/when that person doesn’t live up to the expectation then we/I (A) Think it must be my fault (B) Get upset and want to blame someone because it’s not as it use to be.

    midlifeslices´s last blog ..Is This Week Over Yet?? My ComLuv Profile

  • I am a firm believer that we are responsible for speaking what we need to speak and not responsible for how the other reacts…my guy is not always terribly tactful and catches himself mid-sentence sometimes and falters saying, “I hope this doesn’t come across as BAD because it isn’t my intention” and then I usually cry because how he said it might hurt, but what he said was honest and I needed to hear it. In that regard, he leaves me to phone calls and conversations that require tact and sensitivity, not because he isn’t sensitive but more that he is insecure in being that way sometimes.
    this new place´s last blog ..A gift My ComLuv Profile

  • My own internal dialogue is the one I have to watch. I can easily interpret things negatively when brought up as a matter of fact and not criticism or complaint. I’m pretty good at communicating what I want to say just not at being on the receiving end… sometimes.
    Hilary´s last blog ..The Fire of Autumn My ComLuv Profile

  • “Perhaps the longer a couple is together the more filters we construct”…this is going to echo in my head. I’ve recently noticed that while I’m talking my husband strains my words as if he’s throwing away the content he thinks doesn’t matter. it’s so frustrating! he swears he’s THE great communicator. I know we both need to work on our listening skills. It’s so refreshing to read someone who likes to do the hard work of marriage.

    p.s. came by from Six Flower Mom
    Teresha@ Marlie and Me´s last blog ..Many T.H.A.N.K.S. My ComLuv Profile

  • I’m here by way of Six Flower Mom.

    By the very nature of the fact I’m a woman and my husband is a man, everything we say is not received in the way it was intended. Somehow with the difference in genders, the transfer goes wonky. It’s an ongoing struggle trying to understand each other’s ways of thinking.
    blueviolet´s last blog ..Dream On My ComLuv Profile

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