My Grandad, Walter, was a man of few words.
I can only ever remember him saying three things.
A traditional man, working class to the core, he’d sit in his armchair smoking whilst my Gran would whizz around him tending to his every need.
It was a relationship that seemed to work. This was the 1970’s and to my young eyes, both of them seemed to know their roles and carry them out with diligence.
Words Of Wisdom You May Choose To Ignore
The council house they lived in was small and well run and looking back on it now I do not understand how they fit their five kids into it.
In fact, I’m surprised they only had five children, as the first thing I remember my grandad saying was;
“having sex with a condom on is like going paddling in your wellies.”
Now as far as I can remember, he said this totally out of the blue.
I was shocked when I heard it. We did not talk about sex in our family and although my Dad laughed, I could feel the discomfort oozing out of my Mum sat beside me.
Toughen Up Kid
The second thing I remember Walter saying was;
“Central heating makes you soft.”
He said this in response to my protestations on the temperature of the house one early morning in winter.
My sister and I had stayed overnight, sharing the spare bedroom and a single bed piled high with blankets.
I remember it being arctic cold. I got very little sleep, though I’m not sure whether this was because of the freezing temperatures or the anxiety I felt at being separated from my mum.
I have strong memories of the water in the toilet freezing over. Not an issue for Walt, but inconprehensible for “soft”, seven year old me.
My Grandad was sat at the kitchen table when he made this decree, waiting for my grandmother to finish cooking his porridge.
It was more spoken into the plume of smoke that surrounded him from his first cigarette of the day than aimed in my direction.
He delivered it in a dead pan, factual way. I can’t imagine that I knew what to say in response, but no response was required as he wasn’t entering into a conversation.
Marriage Guidance From Walter – This One Is Important
The final thing I remember him saying, and the lesson I think Walt could teach us all, was;
“Hear all, see all, say nowt.”
As you can probably tell, this common Yorkshire saying was a motto he lived by, though my family are born and bred Yellowbellies from Lincolnshire for more generations than I can track, and I have the webbed feet to prove it (good for skipping over the fens …).
I often think of this quote when I’m working with couples in my therapy centre in Cheadle.
To Be Honest …
Fast forward forty years and there seems to be a belief in our time that if you have a thought you should say it out loud.
You might premise it by “I’m not being funny but” or round it off with “I’m only being honest”.
If you hear either of those aggregations in a sentence, you know that there will be a sting in it somewhere.
It’s as if, once we have done the hard work to establish a relationship and its bedded down a bit, we grant ourselves permission to say anything we like to our partner whenever we feel like it, even if it’s hurtful to them.
We don’t do this when we are at work.
We don’t do it with our friends.
We only do it with the one person we feel closest to in the world.
Isn’t this the wrong way around?
The Power Of Shutting Up
The first step I often suggest to the couples that come for marriage counselling with me is to learn to shut up.
You don’t have to comment on everything your partner does. They don’t need a running commentary on each time they mildly annoy you throughout the day.
Constant negative comments, no matter how innocuous they seem, erode the relationship like a slow drip, drip, drip of water onto stone.
Ultimately, I’m talking about intentionality here.
Long term, what do you want from your relationship?
My guess is that you want a close, loving connection, a deep feeling of being safe and secure and understood.
If you want to create this vision, then it requires you to behave in a safe and loving way towards your partner.
What Would This Look Like?
Celebrating your partners triumphs, listening to them and validating their point of view and letting things go when the small things irk you.
First Seek To Understand, Then To Be Understood
I not suggesting that you give up your right to express what’s going on for you in your relationship. It’s how you do it that matters.
When you have frustrations that are worth talking about, using safe ways of talking can really help.
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt designed the Imago Dialogue process to create safety. It allows you to listen you each other fully, without defensiveness.
It gives you a way of understanding each other on a much deeper level and opens up the possibility of intimacy like no other way I know of talking.
Use Imago Dialogue when you want to talk about something important in your relationship and I promise you, your relationship will feel closer and more connected than it’s ever felt before.
And if it’s just something you are creating a story in your own head about, say nowt.
I’m a big fan of condoms. They save you from unpleasant infections and help manage population growth. Central heating is wonderful too, no ice on my toilet I’m relieved to say.
My Grandad did model solidity and reliabiltiy to me. He was a man of very few words but stories I’ve heard about him since describe a man who stuck up for what was right and looked after those who were close to him.
Though Walter was a very long way from being a marriage counsellor, “hear all, see all, say nowt” is bloody good advice if you want to stay married to the same person, like he did, for your entire life.
Want to improve your relationship quickly without going to therapy? Come on our internationally delivered course “Getting The Love You Want” Couples weekend workshop, and change the way you relate to your partner in a weekend.