A Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller pictures a couple in bed. The wife has put down the book she's been reading and said something to her husband. Here's what he heard: "Time for the annual review of how you make my life a living nightmare."
All she actually said, though, is, "Sweetie, let's talk about us."
Why do some spouses—especially some husbands—seem to view communication as a form of torture?
Betsy is wondering about that. She's hurt that her husband, Carl, seems to have lost interest in her. She interprets his lack of communication as evidence that he doesn't love her. This puts her in a panic; she becomes needy and controlling, trying to force Carl to "talk about the problem." This creates more pressure for Carl, who retreats further.
Carl is overwhelmed by Betsy's need for conversation. It feels like a void that could never be filled. This is decreasing his desire to be intimate with her; he's finding excuses to avoid even spending time together. He'd rather hang out with friends who are less demanding.
When the person you married seems to change into someone else—as Betsy thinks Carl has—it's normal to feel disappointed and even hurt. She knows that part of this change is to be expected after settling into the day-to-day of married life, but she longs for that other guy—the before marriage one who couldn't seem to stop talking nor get enough of her. She was so excited back then, and believed it would go on forever. Now she feels duped.
Maybe you do, too. Maybe you fear your uncommunicative spouse isn't interested in you, isn't excited about you, or doesn't love you anymore. You might doubt that you married the right person—or feel inadequate, insecure, and desperate for attention.
When that happened to Betsy, she changed, too. Now Carl finds himself wondering what happened to the self-assured, strong woman he first fell in love with. He misses her.
Carl doesn't realize it, but Betsy has always had an unusual need for attention and communication. That's because she had a very stoic father whom she was never able to please. It's good to examine whether your need to talk is reasonable or the result of a troubled upbringing.
Most couples need help to discuss their needs in a productive way. Having different attitudes toward talking doesn't mean there is something wrong with either spouse, that anyone was deceived, or that the marriage is hopeless.
Relating to each other is not a technique we're born with. It's like a muscle that needs to be developed over time—and massaged when it hurts.
If you have a spouse who doesn't want to talk as much as you do, the following suggestions may help:
One of the hardest things for couples to learn is to lay down their lives for each other (see John 15:13) in the mundane world of daily living (see Romans 12:1). Learning to understand the needs of a spouse who talks less or more than you do requires sacrifice. It means not demanding your rights, and loving another as you love yourself. But these are things we can do because God promises to help us by His Holy Spirit if we ask.
It's easy to get discouraged when all you hear from your spouse is silence. It may seem that things are hopeless, but you can gain new perspective through prayer, reading the Bible, or seeking counsel from a pastor or therapist.
If you're feeling nagged to talk, you're probably feeling overwhelmed, too.
Avoidance may seem like the only solution for relief. This relief is only temporary, though, because it leaves your spouse without resolution—and often determined to try harder.
You may begin to feel like a trapped victim, at the mercy of your spouse's "need to talk." Worse yet, you may anticipate another session of having your shortcomings pointed out.
Avoidance doesn't work. But here are some suggestions if you're feeling cornered by a spouse who always seems to be asking, "Can we talk?"
These are all good things to do, but it's also important for you to ask for the peace and quiet you may need. Otherwise, you'll probably feel like a helpless victim of your mate's demands.
One way to do this is to set a specific time to talk. This should thrill your spouse, since it represents a commitment to communicate. The limits need to be spelled out, though, in order to avoid false expectations. Your spouse may be thinking of a marathon conversation, while you may dread anything longer than a TV sitcom.
Try 20 or 30 minutes to start. That's probably the most you'd want for a serious discussion. Pray at the beginning and the end if you like. Get a kitchen timer and stick to the limit. Promise not to run, but allow for a time-out if things get too intense.
What should you do during that time? Here are some ideas:
Many couples don't take enough time to talk, bond, and firmly connect with each other during the early days of their marriage. If you're a newlywed, you can apply the 24-5 Principle by doing the following:
You can expect some resistance from family members and friends on this decision. But ask them to pray for your marriage throughout this first year together.
What if you're asked by your church to take on a major task during that time? One counselor advises his clients to say something like, "Thank you for thinking of us. We're so pleased with the church and so encouraged by all of you. But we've been strongly advised by our counselor to invest in each other this first year of our marriage—to really bond and connect with each other and limit our activities. We promised him we'd do that. But please ask us again in a year or so, okay? We really want to be involved."
What if you're past the one-year mark? You can apply the 24-5 Principle at any time in your marriage. Here are five steps to doing just that:
Taking time to talk is part of that. Choose wisely how you spend those minutes, hours, and days—especially in your early years together.
Many couples enter into marriage with false or unrealistic expectations. Some believe that marriage will solve their problems. Some do not understand that strong and growing marriages are a result of hard work. Thank you to all of the supporters who make the work of Focus on the Family possible.
Let's face it: Some topics are trickier than others. Even in the happiest marriages, issues like in-laws, finances, and sex can quickly shake things up.
When tough topics come up, couples can find lots of places to veer into the ditch. Many mistakes come from inexperience as husbands and wives bounce from one conflict to the next, experimenting with various solutions.
When it comes to talking about sensitive topics, some pitfalls are dug way before marriage. If you didn't get the right skills in your family of origin, it's hard to manage conflict with a spouse. The twin ditches of (1) avoiding conflict at any cost and (2) escalating into chaos are often more familiar than the path itself.
Even engaged couples need to begin communicating and making decisions as if it will affect the rest of their marriage—because that's exactly what will happen. One couple encountered this challenge while preparing to choose a china pattern. The bride's mother assumed she'd go with her daughter to make the selection; the fiancé recognized this as his privilege and responsibility. Fortunately, communicating these expectations early on opened the door to greater harmony in the future.
In addition to the old habits you bring into a marriage, new challenges can quickly crop up. Even the idyllic honeymoon phase can raise a number of touchy topics. A major purchase or holiday tradition can seem bigger than your relationship if you aren't prepared.
How can you prepare yourself to talk about those sticky subjects? Here are three suggestions.
Talking about sensitive issues isn't easy, but it can make your marriage the vehicle that drives both of you closer to God. And two people with the same destination can't help but move closer to each other, too.
Perhaps you are having trouble getting conversations started with your spouse. Maybe you're avoiding certain topics. Maybe you or your spouse isn't much of a talker. Maybe you just don't know how to begin.
Fortunately, acknowledging that can be an excellent way to start a conversation. Be honest and state your lack of confidence. Stating your concerns and fears can open the conversational door.
If this is a problem area for you and your spouse, consider the following steps to beginning a conversation.
If all of this seems overwhelming, don't be discouraged. Just start and be patient and persistent; pick one or two ideas and begin!
Unspoken communication—a raised eyebrow, a folding of the arms across the chest, a hand on the shoulder, an e-mail—can be at least as powerful as words. It can help build your marriage—or chip away at it.
Communicating without talking can be tricky. You may not always realize what you're "saying." And your silent messages may contradict your spoken ones, confusing your spouse.
It's no wonder some wives begin to ask early in their marriages, "Why does my husband say one thing and act totally different?" Some husbands, on the other hand, ask, "If she's really attracted to me as she used to be, why does she act like a cold potato every time I approach her?"
The unspoken can be very difficult to interpret properly. Nevertheless, nonverbal communication has its positive side. To help you and your mate make the most of those silent messages, here are some principles to remember:
Any of us who are task-oriented, type A, obsessive-compulsive males especially must learn to slow down and let people into our lives. It may be popular in our hectic paced culture to be a fast-tracker with a full day timer, but we will impact people spiritually and permanently only by careful, deliberate, one-on-one contact. In this age of telecommunications and voice messaging, there is still no substitute for quiet, prolonged exposure of one soul to another. With all the marvels of the Internet and a reach-out-and-touch-someone technology, husband and wife are more in need of quiet and prolonged communication than ever before. The more busy and crazy our lives become, the more communication protects the marriage.
When I [Hans] talk to other men about this common ailment of obsessive behavior, they all seem to have the same problem-that is, their wives don't feel like they take enough time to listen.
Well . . . I [Donna] am going to share a news flash with all you men out there who care to listen up. Women don't want to hear your advice! They don't want solutions to their crises. They just want an arm around their shoulders and a soft-spoken, "I understand" (if you do!) or I hear you, and I care about how you're, feeling" (if you don't!).
Women want to:
In 1 Peter 3, Peter spoke of the responsibilities of husbands and wives. So many times the subject of submission is the focus of teaching from this passage. As I (Donna) studied this passage for teaching last year, I was amazed to learn new meaning in these verses. Verse 7 reads, Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. The words normally translated "weaker vessel" or "weaker partner" can also be translated literally, "feminine one." Our uniqueness as women is clear in this passage. Peter knew that, and he wrote clearly that God commands husbands to:
If husbands fail to do those things, Peter said that their prayers would be hindered. That's powerful! If husbands will truly love their wives in this way, we believe their marriages and home life will be revolutionized. Men, if you're reading this, at the top of your list of responsibilities must be "Find her frequency.”
I [Donna] see in myself, and other women I have known, a common trait of "responder." Here is what I am saying: I respond to Hans. When he is on target with God's commands set forth in Scripture (I Peter 3 and Eph.- 5) and is seeking to daily care about me in my world as a woman and wife, I will respond — that is, I will naturally be more what he needs and wants me to be as a companion, friend, and lover. It is true! Here is how he tunes into my frequency (and I'm telling you, I respond when he's tuned in these ways). By his:
supporting me (backing me up in my authority with the kids; appreciating the pressures I face in my own job).
respecting what I do (1) in the home, by joining in the care of the food, clothes, kids, cars, and so on — even the smallest gesture can make a world of difference; and (2) in my work, by recognizing that it has as much value to me as his does to him.
giving me warm affection — physical touch, occasional cards, flowers, and so on . . . even when sex isn't going to happen.
sharing home responsibilities — taking the initiative to share in everything related to the daily life of a household.
listening to me — asking questions and digging deeper to find out where I am.
sharing with me — allowing me to be close to him by his communication of his world to me.
If men would tune in to these things, I truly believe, they would be shocked at the changes in their wives! Their wives will respond to them in ways they would never have anticipated or even hoped for. Men, do you really want your wife to be there for you in your greatest needs, including sexual intimacy? Then I challenge you to tune in to hers! Try out this list on a consistent basis. Your wife will be a happier woman. She will be less crabby and irritable (I'm not going to guarantee "never"); and you will hear less complaining from her about her work. Although the weight of her responsibilities may not lessen on a regular basis by the changes you make, she will better be able to cope with and even enjoy her varying roles.