OK, this is an addition that I’ve been meaning to post since I wrote the last post – overview of marriage. And it is specifically about communication. That is, many Christian and non faith-based books and resources on relationships emphasise the importance of communication within marriage. Something that occurred to me very strongly was that communication is not just one thing. Perhaps one reason why marital communication is tricky is because there are so many different things to communicate about, and they might all need their own different kinds of communication. Key areas of difficulty include: money, sex, children, inlaws, money…money…money!
Apparently money issues are the number one cause of marital friction and breakdown in the modern Western world, coming above infidelity. Apparently too money issues cause just as much friction within marriages of rich or affluent couples as within other marriages. This was the case a few years ago, and I guess the recession cannot have helped matters much. I’m thinking that money touches our lives day in, day out, so over time differences in viewpoints have the ability to get emphasised “day in day out” until they become a very sore point within the marriage, and then a very small trigger could make the whole thing explode. And of course it is not just a matter of “differences in viewpoints”, but the actual, practical consequences of people’s actions resulting in insufficient money to pay the bills, or whatever, that has the potential to generate big arguments or festering ill-will.
Going back to communication, it is a difficult thing to negotiate. Talking honestly with your spouse requires vulnerability and patience and care, and knowledge both of yourself and of your spouse. You also have to be careful to not trip over one another’s ego and insecurities. And then of course, different subject areas might be delicate in different ways. It requires so much trust and willingness to sort matters through from both sides. Surely, you’d hope that if you were married to someone then you would be able to trust them with all that you are. And yet, I’m sure we all know that this is not always true. One of the most consistent challenges of marriage is negotiating the balance between what things should be, and then the cold reality of what they actually are. Something that I know would really frustrate me would be if I thought something was really important, and my husband could not care less about it. I’d want him to take it seriously because it was so important to me…
SO if you are in a marriage or relationship, and you are struggling with communication issues, perhaps it would be worthwhile to think through particular areas that you are struggling to communicate in, and think of things that could help you to communicate better in each area. In the previous post, I referred to the fact that I usually find it easier to express myself in writing. Perhaps one of you is a writer and the other is a talker – so one of you could be leaving voice mails, and the other could be leaving notes… It is about what works for you as a couple.
ALSO, something else that I was thinking about after writing the previous post is something that I hope could help to clarify it. I did touch on this in “The Overview” , but it afterwards impressed upon my mind so strongly that I really wanted to draw it out in detail. That is, that when faced with a “failing” marriage, it can probably be so easy for the whole thing to quickly resemble one big messy gloop of frustration, resentment, bitterness….and money troubles. I imagine that it must be so easy for difficulties and arguments in one area to spread to other areas until the whole thing just feels like one big mess. You don’t know where to start. You just feel fed up. Every aspect of your marriage appears broken. You see no positive attributes in your spouse – all you can see are the towering negatives. There is no romance, no communication, no intimacy; just simmering anger, or empty politeness, and you are ready to apply for a divorce, or just waste away, holding on for holding on’s sake…..This is also a very ripe situation for you to notice an attractive person seemingly blessed with all the positive characteristics lacked by your spouse, and you might be tempted to think to yourself: “Well, this marriage is clearly dead, after all….”
So whenever people advise in books on marriage “Submit!” or “Be Nice!”, to me it always sounds so inadequate. Admittedly, with a book, the writer is never going to be able to offer advice that is precisely tailored to your particular situation.
And yet, I think “Hold on!” If you were to think of your marriage in terms of the “body parts” analogy, then perhaps, much to your surprise, it may become clear that all is not quite as bad as it seems. Perhaps you might be able to identify one particular part of your marriage that is the root cause of all the frustration that has spread to other areas. Perhaps, if you were really honest with yourself, you might even be able to track just how the resentment and bitterness grew from this one part to infect the rest of your marriage until the whole thing started to resemble a lost cause. This could have happened over a number of years. Perhaps, you were initially frustrated because you felt he was not listening to your lifelong dreams. This then made you extra sensitive to his bad habits of messiness which you complained about incessantly. Issues have now escalated into every other part of your marriage until you are now barely talking. If you were to isolate and somehow cut out this one initial issue, then could the other aspects of your marriage possibly have a chance? If you are already married, then it is worth a shot to find out, isn’t it? For me, I think it would make sense to identify and isolate the aspect of the marriage that is responsible for the difficulty, so that I could make sure it did not spread into other areas, or if it has already spread, to build other areas back up until they are as strong as can be, so that the marriage as a whole is still functional, even if there is one part that requires a lot of work.
If this is you, and you have identified the area of your marriage or your connection which is causing the issue, and you are willing to work at it, then I think a big priority is to get your spouse “back on board”. That is, if a state of coldness has existed between the two of you for a while, then he/she may just not care about rescuing the marriage; they might have given up; they might be indifferent to your efforts. So your task is to do whatever it takes to win them back to take an interest in your marriage, until they too are at a point where they are ready to work out the issues to get your marriage back to a point of health.
So knowing your spouse, what would it take to win them back, to get them reinterested in “the two of us”? I think you have to give your spouse what they want, lavish them with care and love and attention. (Perhaps this is what the books have been saying all along; perhaps I’ve just never “got it” because I’m not married!) If you have barely said a kind word to your wife in years, and then you were to suddenly start wooing her with flowers and heartfelt messages and tender poems (ooh, I wish I had a husband!) then I think she would notice. At first she might refuse to be moved, but let’s remember that she did marry you in the first place, so at least at some point she looked with optimism and joy upon the thought of a lifetime with you. I think that many people would be very happy to discover that there could still be so much joy and laughter that could come out of this marriage that they had all but given up on. So persevere, give it time, let her remember the reasons why she fell in love with you in the first place. Now this in itself does not actually resolve the problematic issues, it is just about getting your spouse to a point where they too feel interested in doing whatever it takes to save the marriage.
It works the same way if you are the wife trying to win back your husband. Most books I have read seem to suggest that wives in this position should do all that they can do to look as attractive as they can for their spouse – in fact, more than attractive – sexxee! I can imagine that this would involve a little vulnerability, if you started putting yourself on show for someone who is acting coldly towards you. However, once again I’m sure that he would notice, or at least he would surely notice that you are trying to attract his attention. And then, once again, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get him to a point of being interested in the marriage, remind him why he found you the most fascinating woman on earth…
OK, let me admit at this point that this post might seem full of generalisations, as it assumes that wives are only interested in flowers, poems etc and husbands’ heads are always turned by…something else. However these are guidelines, you have to work with your knowledge of what your spouse is like and what will move them or catch their interest. And then I would say isolate the problem to its specific area, and strengthen your strengths. If your problem is, money, for instance, then you might work on your cosmic connection and everything else, so that even while you are working out your money issues, your joint perspective on the marriage can change from “This whole thing is rubbish” to “We have our issues – who doesn’t?! – But we’re working on them!”
Ephesians 4v29 (NIV):
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Photo of Euro bills by Marta on Pixabay