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Conversing is Key to Quality ‘Couplehood’

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Husband and wife problems can occur in retirement. One woman wrote that she has become irritable, sleeps late, would rather read than watch TV with her husband, and feels unmotivated and exhausted.  She wanted to know how she and her husband could get back on track to quality “couplehood.”  I would like to discuss some tools to deal with the issue and address a possible cause for feeling down and out.    

Let’s begin with tools.  Perhaps the most fundamental one is communication. Here are just six aspects that might be helpful.

Conversation: In retirement, there are more opportunities to chat because more time is available to be together.  Note that conversation involves at least two people – one speaks and the other listens.  Then the roles are switched.  If one person consistently speaks and the other consistently listens that is a monologue, not a conversation.

A prerequisite is that one has something to say.  A suggestion:  Be informed and engaged, have a point of view and get ready to share a little more of your life.  And, of course, get ready to listen.  This applies to both partners.

Listening: To find a good listener is to find a jewel.  We often just wait patiently for someone to finish his or her thought so we can have our turn to speak.  Think about a person who really listens to you.  Notice what that person does to let you know you have been heard and understood.  Emulate those behaviors.  It is difficult to listen while reading the newspaper, watching a football game or checking e-mail.  And being in the same room helps.

Appreciation: In long-term marriages, appreciation can be taken for granted.  Both spouses may feel like the other “knows I appreciate (him or her).”  Yet, it is extremely important to show it.  A simple thank you for  emptying the trash, getting the car washed, making dinner or attending an event that is not a favorite can go a long way.  A short note, flowers, a small gift or celebration for no specific occasion sends an important message.

Flexibility: Flexibility means giving and taking; it means being adaptable.  In today’s changing and challenging environment, flexibility is a survival skill that is fundamental to meaningful and enduring relationships. It takes practice.

Being more curious than critical: It is easier to criticize than to take the time to ask questions and understand the issue.  Curious comments are more constructive than critical ones.  Consider asking “why” before forming an opinion.  You may find others will listen with greater attention.

Blame: Attributing blame typically is non-productive.  Try encouraging greater responsibility.  The person who is blamed has no way out of the conversation.  Consistent blame can lead to a life of guilt.

Now let’s address the problem of feeling exhausted and unmotivated.  The first step is to see your physician for a physical exam and a conversation. You might be depressed for situational reasons that you can modify or you may be suffering from clinical depression.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) lists a series of common signs of depression.  If these symptoms last for more than two weeks, the NIA recommends seeking professional help.

Here are some signs:

  • An empty feeling, ongoing sadness and anxiety.
  • Tiredness, lack of energy.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, including sex.
  • Sleep problems, including trouble getting to sleep, very early morning waking and sleeping too much.
  • Eating more or less than usual.
  • Crying too often or too much.
  • Aches and pains that don’t go away when treated.
  • A hard time focusing, remembering or making decisions.
  • Feeling guilty, helpless, worthless or hopeless.
  • Being irritable.
  • Thoughts of death, suicide or an attempted suicide.

By improving communication and visiting your doctor, you should be able to identify the nature of the problem and hopefully find some resolution.  Consider seeing a marriage and family therapist or possibly joining a support group.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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