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How to rediscover the Art of Conversation once your children have flown the nest

Article by Louise Howland

Portrait of happy mature couple


For many years, our circles of friends have been strangely immune from separation and divorce. Whilst the odd eyebrow may raise or an occasional minor irritation is expressed, we seemed firmly established in a group of loyal, strong marriages destined to last the distance. However, more recently we have noticed how changes in home life, particularly since retirement, may have added some unexpected strains.

Each year, for the last 30 years, dozens of my partner’s male friends have converged at our house for a big motor racing event. Despite the overall motor theme, discussions tend to wide- ranging, but this year the conversations were more eye-opening than normal. “I don’t think we will last the year” said one friend, who felt his wife was now bored of his sense of humour. “We hardly spend any time in the same room since we retired” said another, and, “she wants to see the Galapagos and I just want to spend more time at home in the shed”; another semi-groaned.

None of these friends had changed particularly, aside from retirement or pending retirement, but something had caused a disconnection, or perhaps rather than one big disconnection it was thousands of tiny ones. As Simone Signoret said, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”

Art of Couples’ Conversation

Writing, researching and developing the Art of Couples’ Conversation, a resource that provides couples with over 300 ways to connect and reconnect, has led me to believe that our relationships are nurtured and nourished largely through the conduit of communication. Not all communication is verbal of course, but balanced conversation helps us to share our thoughts, ideas and feelings and by failing to take the time to share in this way it can create an atmosphere where resentments and disengagement will be free to flourish.

So with all this time together since retirement, what can couples do to keep conversation alive? Here are my top 6 tips:

Tone of voice: Stop and think about how you talk to your partner. Most people realise that they actually use a much more pleasant tone of voice talking to friends or even to complete strangers.

Shared memories: You and your partner have probably been through some of your happiest and maybe even saddest times together, so positively reinforce your relationship by reminiscing over these to remember the experiences you have shared and why you got together in the first place.

Timing matters: Try practicing a little self-restraint. You may want to talk to your partner about something on your mind the moment they walk through the door, but to tackle issues in a positive way wait until the mood and setting is right for you to focus.

Be your true self: If you can’t share who you really are with your partner after all these years, who can you share it with? It may take courage but try opening up – being authentic and honest is much less tiring and removes everyday stresses.

Get into a good routine: The most common reason for couples stopping talking to each other is that they simply got into a routine. Try to put aside at least 10 minutes each day when there are no distractions, no technological invasions, just a space where you can just talk together about anything other than work, family, domestic issues or the state of your relationship – you might be surprised that you don’t already know everything about your partner.

Listen: Truly listen. Don’t butt in! (This can be surprisingly difficult). Don’t interrupt, don’t correct, don’t think about what you are going to say next or let you mind wander. as David Ausberger said, “being heard is so close to being loved…as to be indistinguishable”.

Even ten minutes a day of conversation led all of our research subjects to report a significant increase in the connection and satisfaction they felt with their partner. Personal conversation provides a sharing of information that makes us feel we know the other person. It allows us to enjoy what we have in common as well as relish our differences. And when someone takes the time to listen to us and share with us, we feel nurtured.

Louise Howland is the co-author of The Art of Conversation, an award-winning game that gets people talking. The Art of Couples Conversation and the six other titles in the range are available now from all good bookshops and online retailers like Amazon, priced £9.98.

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