Communication Tips for the Long-Married

Communicate!  That’s what they tell you when you get married.  They also tell you to never go to bed mad.  I’d call the latter piece of advice pathetic.  Over the years, if my husband and I hadn’t gone to bed mad now and then, we would have been miserably sleep-deprived.  Who needs that?  You can always wake up and start fighting again in the morning, when the day is fresh and you’ve got more energy.

But — communication.  It took me a couple of decades to figure out sulking isn’t an especially good mode of communication.  It’s like holding your breath.  What happens if no one notices?  You can spend hours holding your breath or sticking out your lower lip, and it’s extremely demoralizing when no one cares.  You end up without enough oxygen and your lower lip gets distended in a very unattractive way.  Forget it, I finally told myself, when I regained consciousness.  Subtlety is just lost on some people, no matter how hard you  try.

The years pass, though, and communications between two people become more challenging.   Take, for example, these scenarios:

1) “You want to go outside?” you ask your significant other (SO).

“No, I don’t want to go for a ride,” he says.

“I said outside, not a ride,” you say.



“Stop screaming at me!”

Well!  As you can see from that little example, you have difficulties communicating in your (let’s be generous here) middle years you never envisioned when you were in your twenties and used to joke, “What’s wrong with you?  Are you deaf?” every time someone didn’t catch what you said.

But the point is, you are still communicating with your SO, however badly.  At least you don’t have those long, tortured silences people who are bored with each other do.  No!  You are engaged!  You are talking!  You are talking very loudly!  This is good.

2) Similarly, you will come to notice that it’s not sufficient to announce something only one time, even if it’s at the top of your lungs.  You will find yourself imparting the same damned information about, say, your hairdresser’s nasty divorce and custody suit at least three to five times before your male SO recalls the seamy details of this vital info.

“I already told you that twice,” you say.

“You did not.”

“Yes, I did.  You just don’t listen.”

“What’s wrong with the kitchen?”

But, anyway, let’s not quibble.  Even when you’re getting, shall we say, no younger, you can still have fascinating conversations with the person you married oh-so-many years ago.  In fact, you find you never run out of things to say.  Between the miscommunication and the constant repetition, that old spark, that edgy chemistry of days gone by, is still present and combustible.

Communicate!  Often!  Loudly!

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

10 comments… add one
  • Ha! The hearing thing is cropping up here. I’m trying to get my DH to answer in clear ways by asking questions in a specific way, but it’s not working. Instead of answering, for example, yes or no, steak or spaghetti. All I hear is murfling bableop ttmpe. I can hear him. I just can’t understand what he’s saying. The same is true in reverse.

    We have many conversations that end up with one of us asking, “What?” to something that sounded like, “There’s a hippo riding our mailbox to the circus.”

    And, before I go, I’ll share one question that has served me well over the years …. “Is there anything else you’d like to be bossy about?”

  • Hee hee…great post.  My Dad pretends he can’t hear, so he doesn’t have to talk.  I try that trick sometimes, but he has mastered it.

  • Craig Link

    If only communication was measured in decibels.
    I might still have a SO instead of this blind deaf dog.
    We communicate well.

  • Hi Ruth,
    I gave you my website to my new job.  Jewels by Park Lane.  They have some great deals so if you go on it, be sure to look at the bonus offer. 
    I have solved the problem of not having to repeat everything by never staying married to anyone that long.  And now there is no one to yell at!

  • There may be a How To book here, Ruth! This was hilarious. More so because it is true…

  • This made me laugh – I love it!  And so, so true.  🙂

    – The Serial Pouter

  • You mean it’s not just me? I met audiologist  on an airplane once, who told me that the tone of my voice is the exact tone most men lose first when their hearing starts to go. The story of my life–men don’t hear me. My kids don’t either; I blame iPod hearing loss. I’m not sure why the dog doesn’t listen, but my cat is above that kind of thing.

  • Cindy A Link

    We often find ourselves speculating about the hippo riding our mailbox to the circus.  My father who is 80 can only hear high-pitched screeching, which is not my style. I never talk to him on the phone unless it is absolutely unavoidable. A few months ago, it was unavoidable, but it was obvious from his responses that he could hear every single word I said, which was a wonderful surprise. So I said, “Dad, I can’t believe you can hear me!” And he said, “What?! Fried chicken?!”

  • Winston Link


    Subtlety is just lost on some people, no matter how hard you try.

    That’s a Phrase-of-the-Day, and a keeper!



    I met audiologist  on an airplane once, who told me that the tone of my voice is the exact tone most men lose first when their hearing starts to go.

    Shhhh!  Now men will never listen to their wives, with the excuse, “It’s genetic— a male thing, you wouldn’t understand.”


    My elderly mother was seated on the sofa, hand on abdomen, peacefully enjoying a private barrage of burping.  My brother, who was visiting from Atlanta, passed through the room and remarked, “I think you need Riopan.”  (antacid)
    My frail mother rose to her feet, fists clenched, fuming, “How dare you!  I do NOT need dry pants!!!”

    So little hearing; so much humor.
    P. S. My Spellcheck just flagged Riopan. It’s suggested alternative— propane!

  • I’m just happy you are still married and talking. I sat next to a man at a seder the other night who split up after 33 years of marriage. He was almost going to eat by himself. He said he and his wife (they have three kids) could not weather the transition from child rearing together to having no kids at home. He NEVER thought he’d get divorced. I felt sad for him. I say keep fighting!

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