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PAPERWORK: For a happy relationship, learn the codes

The dog doesn’t bark.

He groans. Or moans.

When he wants something, he stares at us and grunts.

It is never clear exactly what he wants. His needs are limited, but he uses the same throaty rumble for all demands.

Being a highly skilled dog owner, I try to ignore him.

He’s been out. Has food and water. And I’m too busy to play.

Then, after he doesn’t stop, I cleverly whine, “What?”

He just stares at me.

Ahhh, communication.

It’s at the heart of any happy, loving and lasting relationship.

Especially for couples living together.

And like anyone who has been married as long as I have, I am qualified to give advice.

So let me declare this: A solid marriage (or relationship) is built on a concrete foundation of open and honest communication.

That’s the way it should be. Open and honest. Those are the rules.

But … over time the rules do bend a little.

I like to view that as a survival skill.

I have observed that communication evolves as partners become closer.

When two people merge into a relationship, they become a single unit over time … coordinated.

Like synchronized dance partners, you learn to read the signals.

That means communication tends to evolve — and often turns into codes.

For example, apparently I use the same technique as the dog.

My wife says something and I respond with a grunt.

“Was that you or the dog?” she asks. Frequently. I guess I do it a lot.

But there you have it. Code.

She understands I heard her and can interpret my response as she wishes. That’s a win-win.

Code often involves body language or something as simple as “the look.”

It’s all part of the customized messaging that develops.

I think we all share some of the same code.

I mean, men learn early about the basic code.

You know, like when a woman is obviously upset.

The man, because he values the benefits of female companionship, goes into Red Alert mode.

He then carefully says, “What’s wrong?”

She says, “Nothing.”

Now I know that “nothing” actually means “something” and that usually means me.

Even it’s not me directly, this is basic code. The message being walk away, run, get out of the room.

Codes are important. Learn them. Watch for them. No matter how long you’ve been together.

I recently discovered a code I didn’t know I had.

Over the weekend I was staring at the microwave buttons. I was changing the clock. (Spring forward.)

I followed digital instructions but then hit the wrong button — a.m. instead of p.m.

“OK,” I grumbled to myself, starting over. And over. And over.

After several attempts I kind of cried to the world, “What the hey!” Or something like that.

Immediately. I do mean immediately … the wife, from another room, shouts, “I’ll do it.”

And I immediately, and I do mean immediately, think, “Yeah. You do it.”

I realize I’ve heard those words before.

“I’ll do it.”

They tend to come right after a loud, verbal announcement of my frustrations and anger.

Now, I admit, masculine pride can intrude. But not this time.

No, instead, I realized I had a tool. A communication tactic I can use to avoid certain tasks.

But wait. Oooh my.

As I sit here, boasting, I realize there’s not many tasks left to avoid.

In fact, it’s possible that I’ve been decoded.

Or over-coded. (Is that a word?) By her sweet talk.

By that little pout with whimper. And those eyes.

She has her own code! And it works pretty much every time.

I do recall her saying more than once …

“You are so much better at making the bed.”

“I’m terrible at folding clothes.”

“I broke another glass trying to wash it. I don’t know what happened.”

Uhhhh … yes. These are encrypted comments I should have used. Long ago.

Now it’s too late. Check by the mate. I’ve been bested. Message received.

Ahhh, communication.

And all I can think of to do now … is grunt.

LONNY CAIN, of Ottawa, is the former managing editor of The Times, now retired. Please email thoughts, comments or ideas to or mail care of The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.

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