The simplest, and often the most effective, way to do that is to hear each other’s stories.

We are the sum of our experiences. Learning takes place at the deepest levels when we experience something. We may experience it ourselves by what we do or witness personally, or we may experience it through the vividly imagined experience of someone else. For example, if one sits on a hot stove, he learns not to do that again. If he witnesses someone sitting on a hot stove, he learns never to do it. If someone who sat on a hot stove when he was not present vividly describes the experience to him, his vicarious witnessing of the event through mentally living it will be enough for him to know that he does not want to sit on a hot stove.

For one person’s experience to have impact on another, the one telling the story has tell it with enough description of both fact and feeling that the hearer may “live” the event without actually having lived the event. Saying, “I once sat on a hot stove. It was not pleasant,” does not nearly the power of describing the event vibrantly, including the physical, mental, and emotional aspects.

So what does this have to do with adding fifteen years to your marriage?

Fifteen Minutes

If a couple spends as little as fifteen minutes a day sharing their stories with each other, in a short period they each will begin to understand the other.

For example, one wife told her husband about how she never felt “good enough” to please her father. Over the course of a few weeks, she shared story after story of things she did, his reactions, how she felt at the time, and how it still affects her today. He listened. Sometimes he asked questions, but they were always for clarification. He did not tell her what she should have done, how she should or should not feel about those events, or how she should just get over them. He realized his role was to understand and to try to see things from her perspective. As he did so, he began to understand the way she thought about certain things, why she did certain behaviors, and how his actions sometimes triggered responses that in reality were not to him but to the pain she continued to feel about her father.

Stories could be about anything. A husband telling his wife the stories of his sexual abuse by a male teacher when he was young. A wife sharing her stories about her mother’s harshness. But they do not have to be just stories of pain or sadness. A man might tell stories of how his father spent so much time with him. A woman might share how she loved the trips to her grandmother’s.

When both facts and feelings are shared, life is shared. Deeper comprehension occurs. Bonding takes place. Communication begins to go deeper than words.

Couples who share their stories gradually move from childhood to adolescence to what happened at work today. They develop a habit of sharing their stories – and, therefore, their hearts – with each other.

Then, when there are difficulties (as there always are in life), their discussions can be based in mutual understanding and respect rather than hostility and pain. Life does not become perfect, but they face it together rather than separately.

Those fifteen minutes a day could add fifteen or more years to your marriage.

However, you have to make the time to do it, and then follow through.

Joe Beam founded LovePath International, an organization that provides marriage help to hurting couples. For more information on their workshop to rescue your marriage, click here. You may also follow Joe on Facebook and Twitter.