10 Things I’ve Learned from Three Failed Marriages, Part 9: Communication 101


Number One Element

We all know what it means to communicate. Right? Or do we?

Judging by the large number of books that have been written on the subject, I’d venture to say that a great many of us don’t know as much about communication as we think we do. And judging by the vast number of divorces, my three included, a great many of us come up short in the communication department, wouldn’t you agree?

Yet, communication, in my view, is the most important element of a successful marriage, bar none! But it does take two.

Dr. John Gray set the world on fire with his seminal first book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” In it he explored the differences between the way men and women think and feel, and how this can lead to misunderstandings and even conflict as well as happiness and harmony.

Dr. Gray has since written many more books on various aspects of the subject as he continued to learn more about relationships. However, “Venus . . . Mars” is a good place to start to begin understanding why your spouse doesn’t think and feel the way you do.

Listening and Understanding

As you are undoubtedly aware, communication involves more than two people merely chatting with each other. This is especially important when the subject matter is deep and personal.

Because men and women think and feel differently, it is important that each truly understands one another when engaged in conversation. This is true, not only because men and women think and feel differently, but also because each husband and wife come from different backgrounds. Even if they were raised similarly, they’re still two different and unique individuals and have their own ways of looking at things.

In order to effectively communicate, the first thing you must learn to do is listen. Not just hear. But really listen. This means, among other things, that you can’t be thinking about what you’re going to say next while your wife is talking. And that can be extremely difficult to do if you’re not used to it.

This means you have to devote your entire attention to what your wife is saying/feeling, all the while trying to understand from her point of view. When she is talking, it’s not your point of you want to be concentrating on, but hers. This is because your point of view, during these times, will often/likely be set in the self-defense mode.

To do this successfully, you have to learn to put your ego out of the way. Our egos like to keep things as they are, no matter how self-destructive they might be. In truth, our egos are most often our own worst enemy.

Reflecting

One thing you can do to make sure you understand is to reflect back what your wife is saying. You might say something like, “Okay. Let me see if I’ve got this straight. Are you saying/feeling . . .?” Or, “I hear you saying . . . . Is this what you mean?”

Once it is established that you understand what she is saying/feeling, never launch into an opposing view, which is, again, your ego’s self-defensive/self-preservation mechanism in action. This will only make things worse.

Yet, you may legitimately have a differing point of view. What then? Unless you are extremely tactful, you might want to take a view similar to this: “Okay, honey, I think I understand. If you don’t mind, I’d like to think this over. I’ll get back to you on this.”

Then, actually think it over and do get back to her.

If you think you are right in a matter of disagreement, you will want to come up with a way to get your viewpoint across without sounding like you’re attacking her or “blowing her off.” Trust me, women can and do think this way, especially if they’re headstrong.

There are some women, like there are some men, who feel they have to be right all the time. For them, it is more a matter of control than anything. That’s a whole ‘nother issue and will not be dealt with here.

Don’t feel you have to be right every time. After all, she may actually be right. Of course, all discussions don’t revolve around right-wrong issues, but they happen often enough to know the right way to handle them.

Is mine the right way? Well, none of these ideas are really mine. They’re just borrowed from things I’ve read, things I’ve heard, from people far more intelligent in matters such as these than I am. But they sound reasonable, do they not? Try them and see for yourself . . . but with sincerity and honesty.

Some Background

Many in my generation grew up in an atmosphere of being “seen and not heard.” Perhaps this unpleasant way of living still carries on today; I don’t know.

But for me, communication was pretty much limited to, “Do as I say, not as I do,” or, “Just do it,” or “No sassing,” and so forth. While these words may not or may not have actually been spoken, the inference was always there.

In all my years at home, I don’t recall either of my parents ever carrying on a meaningful conversation with me. And if they ever talked to each other in a meaningful way, I was not privy to it.

Consequently, I never learned to converse in any meaningful way either. Frankly, I never really learned to carry on a conversation at all.

While some people of late have told me I’m a good conversationalist, it’s only because I’m a good listener. I still can’t carry on a conversation worth a hoot unless we’re talking about something I have a deep and abiding interest in.

Looking back, I have to wonder how I managed to stay on the phone for hours at a time during my dating years. However, one thing is certain: Whatever “skill set” I once possessed in this regard disappeared when a ring was placed on my finger. Because of this I have sympathy for my three exes.

By the way, I don’t recall any of those long conversations, nor who did most of the talking. However, I suspect the other party was the one who carried the day.

Back to the Present

Carrying on a conversation, even chit-chatting, is an essential part of a successful marriage. I emphasize this because it was an area I was and am still extremely weak in, so this is more a do as I say, not as I do scenario. But I think most people are fairly good at this.

But if chit-chatting is all you do, you will have no meaningful relationship with your wife that will bind you to her heart or she to yours. Chit-chat, while fun, is very surface-level conversation. And it really doesn’t quell the need for heart-to-heart communication.

A woman needs to feel appreciated, not only for what she does but for who she really is. I can imagine the above photograph resulting from a wife’s declaration, “We need to talk,” which basically means, “I need to talk and you need to listen and don’t interrupt.” That’s where the art of listening and understanding comes into play.

This sort of scenario is often the result of a marriage with little or no real communication on a heart-to-heart basis. Now, you don’t want to be serious all the time, but there are times when you need to be if you want to have a successful marriage. You might want to refer to this as “sharing time.”

By sharing time, I mean there are times when you just sit down, go for a walk, or whatever, and share your innermost thoughts, ideas, goals, dreams, reflections, memories, and so forth. However, it is well to remember that this is not a time for criticizing or analyzing each others’ statements. That will put a kibosh on the whole thing and will lead to hammering nails in your marriage coffin.

Sometimes when you wife is talking, your mind will drift off in other directions and it will soon become apparent to your wife that you are no longer listening. If not handled correctly, more nails.

In cases like this, which are really quite natural in any conversation, the best policy is the truth. “Honey, I’m sorry; something you said got me to thinking about . . .” Or, “Honey, I’m just having a hard time concentrating right now. Can we talk about this after . . .”?

Just don’t use this as an excuse not to talk about whatever’s on her mind, or . . . more nails.

Or, if you use this excuse too often, your wife will come to the probably accurate conclusion that you just don’t want to talk to her about what’s on her mind. The result? More nails.

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