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Learning a New language After Saying I Do

Communicating With Your Spouse

My husband and I don't speak the same language. At least we didn't when we got married. We communicated well enough through the courtship and honeymoon stages but that was because our words floated out to each other on a euphoric cloud of love. It was a hybrid tongue that lost its effectiveness about the time our first born child was born.

Jimmy speaks a language of facts and worst case scenarios. He is a problem solver and the thrill of attacking a challenge and coming up with a solution is what gets him out of bed every morning.

I am an optimist. A cheerful person by nature, I don't like to hear bad news. Through my husband's eyes, I appear to be a Pollyanna who avoids reality whenever I can.

My job is to lift him up. His job is to keep me grounded. You can see that we are well suited for each other. Conceptually, I am the ying to his yang but in reality, there have also been countless times over the past three decades when we just don't understand each other. In other words, we don't naturally speak the same language.

In this I don't think we are unique. Opposites attract and there are probably more couples that match our profile than otherwise. So what do you do when communication is difficult? You learn a new language. If you are paying very close attention, you can learn the vocabulary of your spouse. Case in point: Every Saturday morning, Jimmy gets up and washes clothes, cuts the grass and vacuums the cars. Then he collapses on the couch in front of whatever sporting event is currently being broadcast. By that time, it's noon so I call from the kitchen: "Would you like a sandwich?"

I know he would. He is thinking about a ham and cheese on wheat, slathered with mustard and mayonnaise, pepper sprinkled generously on the mayo. But what he says is: "I'll get something in a minute."

For years, I took him at his word. Inevitably, he would saunter into the kitchen five minutes later where I was just pouring Asian dressing over the top of my grilled chicken salad. He would then start assembling the above mentioned sandwich. One day in a moment of clarity, I realized what was going on. He wanted me to make him a sandwich but didn't want to ask me to make his sandwich. For whatever reason, asking for a midday meal was not permitted. It was okay for the wife to cook 7 nights a week but lunch was not allowed. Maybe his mom didn't make sandwiches for his dad. Who knows?

Anyway, once I broke the code, the rest was easy. I asked him if he wanted a sandwich, he said he'd get it, I made it and he ate it. Easy breezy. We bring a lot of strange stuff to our relationships. That "family of origin" baggage is usually packed to overflowing with neurosis and idiosyncrasy. Hey, we're all crazy and finding our way on the marriage path means knowing what to respond to and what to ignore. In fact, learning when to ignore is one of the most important parts of the marriage language. We say lots of things to each other for which the healthy response is silence. My sister said she actually puts her hand over her mouth sometimes, when she feels a negative response forming on her lips.

I'm still learning but I've come a long way in breaking down the "Jimmy Code". I know that when he walks into the kitchen and starts unloading the dishwasher, he would really appreciate it if I would stand by the cabinet and let him hand me the glasses. A small thing, sure but it makes him feel supported. About me, he has learned that, most of the time, I would rather watch a sappy chick flick with his arm around me on the couch than spend the evening in a fancy restaurant. He has learned that holding my hand while walking along makes me feel loved and appreciated. For a man who doesn't need any displays of affection, it probably seems like a little thing, negligible even, but to me it's huge.

I guess it boils down to caring enough to pay attention and then learning as much about your spouse as you possibly can. It's hard enough to get along when you speak the same language, but stumbling along in a foreign tongue can really take a couple down. So be willing to familiarize yourself with his vocabulary. It will speak volumes about the way you love him. Everyone knows love is the same in any language.

By Donia Caspersen Crouch 


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