Most of the things we can do to have a long and happy marriage are really quite simple. But paying attention to the simple things we can do at the outset can often save more serious problems that can emerge if we neglect a few basic words and actions. One of the most important things we can do as a married couple is to listen to each other. Give each other a chance to say whatever is on his or her mind. Few things are more frustrating than the feeling that it doesn't do any good to say anything because the other person doesn't pay any attention to us or care what we are saying because he or she already has made up his or her mind and we are just whistling in the wind if we try to say something.
One of the most important things I have learned about marriage these past few years during Velna's serious illness was the importance of knowing whatever she wanted or needed to tell me. And I learned that spoken words are only one way we communicate. I learned to read my wife's facial expressions, her pain and worry lines, her smile and other facial expressions and body language. Often, I didn't need to ask her how she was. All I had to do was look at the stress lines in her face and her forehead. We can also communicate with written notes and cards. We can turn off our cell phones for awhile and actually sit and talk to each other. We can have a date night out or we can even have a special time together at home if illness or circumstances prevent us from leaving our home. We need to feel free to talk about our worries, our joys, our hopes and dreams, and whatever concerns are plaguing us at the moment.
Whatever the circumstances, each of us needs to feel that we can freely discuss whatever is on our minds without fear of criticism or retribution. When we bottle up our feelings because we are afraid that no one will listen to us, we are headed for bigger problems down the road. Two near-strangers newly living together can't expect to find 100 percent agreement on everything or even most things. But what we can and must do is listen to each other and respect our mutual right to speak our minds without criticism. I wish I could emulate my late wife's ability to communicate with few words and yet make her meaning clear through her unspoken actions. And often her best lessons came when she avoided saying anything, when she didn't succumb to the temptation to criticize, or to say things to hurt others' feelings, and then just continued on as if whatever problem seemed at first to be important just disappeared. One of her other great talents was just to let small grievances or differences evaporate and never bring them up again.
Some of us are natural listeners. Others monopolize conversations. If we haven't yet learned the knack of listening, we need to just be quiet after we have spoken our piece and give everyone else a chance to say something. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject of listening. I have benefited from long years of learning how best to communicate with my wife and children and family. And I know I still have lessons to learn, since the learning process lasts as long as we live. The important thing is to learn and make changes in the way we interact with others. And then our lives will be smoother and our marriages happier.