Communicating With Your Spouse: The Secret Decoder Ring


Communication is important. It may be most important between couples, as it can be the deciding factor in the longevity of a relationship.

Over the 20+ years I’ve been with my husband (only 6 of them married) we have developed a clarity of communication that allows us to know exactly what the other one is saying. Sometimes.

It hasn’t been easy, the two personalities involved here come with a fair number of tics and quirks. But since we’ve honed our communication skills, I thought I’d share our faults, and our avenues around them.

This first issue is that I am a mumbler.

I quite literally walk around talking to myself all day.

Where did I put the…how come…call your brother, dumbass…shit, bank!

Probably at least half of what comes out of my mouth is only for me. Or that damn gremlin that keeps taking the screwdriver. And the car keys. And the left socks.

Then there is the fact that my husband seems to believe that his voice projects from the back of his head. I’ll ask a question, and he’ll begin the answer facing me, but wander off, still talking, to do something, so our conversations go something like this:

Me: What did the dentist say?

Him: Well, he has six marks that are precursors to cavities amb ife Acting well mblf to be well mmmm bop exit here.

Me: WHAT???

10 Minutes later he’ll wander back in.

Me: Um, what was that about Hansen and acting well at the dentist?

Him: What?

Me: Just tell me what the dentist said.

Him: He has a few marks that are precursors to cavities, we need to buy him Act rinse because we have a well. He needs fluoride. It may stop the cavities and he’ll check on them next year. What about Hanson?

Me: Nevermind

“What,” might the most oft word used in our household.

So in the course of the day, how are we to know what is worth letting go and what is worth following up on?

Enter: That tree is far away.

A number of years ago ( a lot of years ago) Hubby and I were watching the comedy stylings of Mitch Hedberg. If you’ve never seen him, he’s worth a look-see.  But in one of his bits he talks about being a mumbler

Download: rfxkdbxpkq-that-tree-is-far-away

For those of you not inclined to click the audio link, here’s the quote:

“I mumble a lot off-stage, I’m a mumbler. If I’m walking with a friend and I say something, he won’t hear me, he’ll say ‘What?’. So I’ll say it again, but once again he doesn’t hear me, so he says ‘What?’. But really it’s just some insignificant sh*t that I’m saying, but now I’m yelling, ‘That tree is far away.’”

We have stolen the last line – whenever what we’d originally said was not worthy of repeating, rather that yelling, “The cat looks fuzzy today!” or, “I have lint on my shirt!” we simply say, “That tree is far away.”

Done. Moving on.

The second communication tool that we have also came from a comedian. In this case, I don’t know which one (Hubs thinks Jon Stewart), but the bit goes along the lines of this:

You have a bad day at work, but you can’t yell at your boss, so you stuff the anger down. You get home and the kids ruined your papers, but you can’t take a swipe at the kids, so you stuff the anger down.

There are a few more things that you can’t vent your anger about, until dinner time rolls around and someone knocks over the gravy boat. A minor thing to clean up at best, but it’s your breaking point, so you lose your marbles and begin screaming at the gravy boat like a demented lunatic and it becomes the focal point for all of your anger.

So we have a gravy boat warning system, like a communications lighthouse.

When one of us is having one of those days, we try not to lose our marbles and vent until after the kiddo goes to bed. We are so successful in stuffing the anger down while we’re playing with him, that we sometimes miss the signs of the bad day in each other.

A few pokes that are normally laughed at, or a random complaint about something could turn disastrous – this is when we bring in the gravy boat.

Chicken again? Seriously?

Yes. Chicken again. Do you have a problem with that, cause that’s going to be the gravy boat.

Chicken sounds great.

It’s an instant back down. Crisis averted.

Another problem we (meaning my husband) has, is the inability to see something unless it is front and center. This is a trait that is displayed most frequently in the fridge. I would like money for every time I’ve heard, “Do we have any. . .”

Yes. We do. It’s behind the milk.

It’s behind the milk is a communication tool that mine, alone.

It never fails, if we have milk in the fridge, it becomes the only thing he sees.

I used to get frustrated by this, leaving whatever I was doing to go look for whatever the item was. But I kept finding it behind the milk. So I began telling him it was there, before dropping what I was doing.

And it worked. Even if said item wasn’t behind the milk, by moving the milk, he was compelled to move other things too.

Now everything is behind the milk.

Where are the keys?

Behind the milk.

It is so much better than saying, “For the love of all that is holy, look around, you idiot. Can you frigging use your eyes and move some stuff if you can’t find what you’re looking for? I’m not the keeper of all things!”

It’s behind the milk is a kinder way of saying all that.

And lest you think I am just a bitch, my husband has one for personal use, too.

His comes from an episode of The Simpsons, after Marge accidentally slices off Homer’s thumb.

Marge: I’m sorry!

Homer: Sorry doesn’t put thumbs on the hand, Marge.

Physically, I am a walking disaster…I can injure myself reading a book and inadvertently take out anyone around me, merely by putting the groceries away. (What, you didn’t want to wear that can of tomato sauce as a hat?)

I admit there are days it must be trying to live with me. There was literally a day where I sacked my husband by picking up the broom in the horizontal position as he walked by. Later that same day, I tripped the four-year old by doing the exact same thing.

I always apologize. I never mean to injure. And rather than berating me for being the idiot that I can sometimes be, or whacking me upside the head (as I would be inclined to do) he merely grits his teeth and says it. Sorry doesn’t put thumbs on the hand, Marge.

And thus we avoid spousal violence and domestic abuse dispatches.

Everybody wins.

These four phrases have seen us through or around close to half of the arguments we’d otherwise get sucked into. This is especially helpful in public, or when we have company. It’s like secret code. We’ve learned to deflect and distract, rather than engage. And if an argument can be avoided by quoting a comedian, odds are pretty good that it wasn’t worth fighting about in the first place.

5 thoughts on “Communicating With Your Spouse: The Secret Decoder Ring

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