I know it’s said that it’s supposed to be so nice that you can sit with another person in silence. I think that’s an excuse to cover up the fact that you, and the other person, are just more interested, or maybe accustomed, to listening to your own thoughts swirl around in your head.
I hear women complain that there’s no intimacy in their long term marriages, that they don’t feel connected to their partners. Well unless you’re both adept at ESP, is it any wonder?
So I am challenging you to transfer the conversation outside your head and start talking to the other person in the room. I know you’re not solving the world’s problems in your brain and that when you pay attention to what you actually think about you’re going to find that you are in fact very good at small talk. You may feel kind of silly saying out loud what’s really on your mind. Do it anyway. Conversation is a thread and you have to start somewhere. I guarantee it will be less lonely than the awkward silence that suffocates the room right now.
Just break your trance and start with the words, “I was thinking”. Did you know that a conversation doesn’t have to revolve around a problem? You can just say I was thinking about the call I have tomorrow or I was thinking about what to make for dinner or I was thinking about how much I’m looking forward to sleeping in this Saturday. Yes a lot of it is the mundane.
But then again, some of it isn’t. And that’s the sticky stuff that’s ruining your relationship.
You know your partner knows when you’re angry, right? You do not hide it. Your pretending or refusing to acknowledge that something isn’t bothering you doesn’t work. Your body stiffens, your face tenses and the poor bastard doesn’t know what to do. You prattle about in your head all pissed off and finally come to a conclusion or solution only based on your singular point of view never giving the other guy the chance to share his perspective. You don’t give him the opportunity to see where you’re coming from and you unilaterally decide to just shove the feelings deep down and move on. Sounds fun. How’s that working for you?
And how about the times that your partner is not the source of your ire but that you’re angry or frustrated at someone or something else? If you were that good at solving your own issues would you be this pissed off all the time? How about letting the other person in the room in? You will not believe the sense of relief you will feel by just saying out loud what it is that is bothering you. It’s as if you can hear the air rush out of the overfilled balloon that is your negative thoughts.
If you are hitting me right now with a chorus of “he won’t care” or “he won’t understand”, please stop. It is possible for you to share thoughts without making the other person feel like you are looking to them to solve the problems. This is simply an exercise in sharing. I think a lot of times, we unload problems in a way that sound like we are transferring the responsibility to the other person to solve them. It’s probably because it’s our nature as women to want to fix what ails the aggrieved at any cost. Men are actually really good at just hearing the problem and I think we feel frustrated because they don’t jump to solve our issue. Don’t mistake that as not caring. Weirdly, it’s just really good listening. We just aren’t very good at giving them a little credit if they don’t respond the way we would.
This goes for your kids too. Up until this point, the way you relate to your children has been pretty one-way. You’ve been teaching and prodding and planning and catering to their every whim. You’ve given them a strong foundation to launch from but as they get older and more independent, it’s not unusual to feel shut out.
You want to know the secret to keeping them tethered? Opening up to share the thoughts in your head. Allow them to be part of your life that is separate from them. Tell them what’s going on at work or things you’re planning or thinking about. Tell them about a book you read or an article that you learned something from. When you share details about yourself, as a human, you’ll be shocked at how much more they’re willing to share with you. I’m not suggesting that they are ever going to tell you everything you want to know but let’s face it, at this point, I think we’re all willing to take what we can get.
If there isn’t something specific on your mind, how about inquiring about the thoughts of the other human in the room. It’s imperative to the health of your relationship to not only be interesting, but interested.
One of the nicest things about being in a long-term relationship is the level of comfort that you achieve. But also, comfort makes you lazy and potentially leads you to a place of boredom and discontent. You have to be the one to shake it up. And I’m not going to sugar coat this; you gotta put work into the conversational aspect of your relationship. I think this becomes infinitely more important as the number of people living full time in your houses dwindles.
You can’t just ask, “how was your day dear” and think that’s going to cut it. You have to probe for information and be listening and following up. Did Your partner share something they were working on? Was there a deadline? Is today that day? Ask about it.
And about that being interesting part. If you’re bored in Midlife, you’re probably boring too. Ouch, sorry.
I know you’ve been busy. I know you’ve done an amazing job caring for others. But you are like those eggs that people blow all the guts out of before they paint them. You are a just a fragile shell. It’s time to become a woman of substance again. There is a big bold amazing world out there that you are absolutely welcome to partake in. Having hobbies, learning new things, educating yourself on issues important to you, changing careers, starting a career, are all ways to improve your repertoire of things to talk about.
When I was young, I remember hearing about someone my grandmother knew that left her family and a bunch of kids to join the carmelite order of nuns. These nuns take a vow of silence. I was young and I remember thinking how sad that she wouldn’t be able to talk to her children. That story really stuck with me and sometime over the last decade I thought about her and honestly, my thoughts were oh, now I get it. But we do that a lot in our Midlife, don’t we? Threaten to run away. And some of us do, trashing our marriages and our families to go seek some elusive peace and quiet. And many of the rest of us retreat into a personal silence. You may have not physically run away from your partner or children, but you may have retreated into a state of relative silence that makes them feel like they are out in the cold.
My message today is the voice in your head is not the answer. She talks to much. She gives you very questionable advice. She’s totally monopolizing your time and keeping you from experiencing the perspective and interest of other people. She’s a little toxic.
It’s time to get out of your head. Is it any wonder that you feel lonely even if you’re not alone? Start talking to the other person in the room. It will take practice and you’ll have to remind yourself often until you build the new normal. What I know you will find is improved connections, more thoughtful relationships and assuredly an improvement in your mood.
On the subject of chatting, I’m always happy to hear from you. Feel free to let me know how it’s going either by email or in the private facebook group Muddling Through The Midlife.