Do you remember the awesomeness of childhood that was the walkie talkie? Way before the invention and accessibility of cell phones, you and your best friend could chat at night from your bedrooms, talking about your plans of forts and digging for worms the next day. You tried to learn Morse code, just in case other neighborhood kiddies were listening, and you giggled when you held the button while your friend was talking so you only heard parts of what they said. For $5 at the pharmacy you could pick up a pair and guarantee at least a summer’s worth of fun. Another kicker? You could play ‘army’ or ‘war’ and be true to form, using walkie talkies in the trenches of your playground.
So, in your marriage, do you use your walkie talkies for fun or for war? You’re probably saying something like, “Um, Bethy, we don’t use those anymore. We’re not five.”
Ok, I’ll drop the walkie talkie references. However you communicate regularly with your spouse, be that email, text message, face to face or on your cellphone- that’s your grown up walkie talkie. My hope is that you utilize every tool you have to talk to your partner. Communication is one of the the cornerstones of a healthy marriage in the trifecta of trust, communication, and respect. You can’t build on either trust or respect without communication. When you stop talking to your spouse, the opportunity for omissions, resentment and secrets quickly arises. Sound crazy? Extreme?
Taking a step or two backwards- what is “communication” with your spouse? Is it merely words you say at one another? Of course not. Your body language, your tone, your mood, the content and context of what you say- that’s communication. When you were dating, you talked about everything, right? You didn’t just unload on your significant other at the end of your day, or ignore requests, or only talk about the stuff you saw while you were shopping (boring!). You talked about your passions, your dreams, your families, favorite movies- you name it, you covered it. Most of your sentences started with “we” instead of “I”. Maybe I’m assuming a lot here, but your spouse probably didn’t fall in love with you because you were selfish and egocentric. If you feel like the conversations you have now with your partner are one sided, they probably are. And, if they feel one sided to you, then your spouse may feel the same way. Eventually the walkie talkie style, the open communication you two had in the beginning turns into the “two cans and a string” style, and if you’re both holding the cans to your mouth, or not even holding the cans at all, you can’t truly listen. When we stop listening, they stop talking. And if there isn’t talking in the partnership, it will be sought outside of the marriage.
But talking to your spouse is hard, especially if you’ve fallen out of habit with it. Suggestions of writing love notes seems absurd when the bulk of your conversation is over a late dinner after a long day of work. You’re both tired.
Moment of confession: I am a bottler. I will harbor my feelings for days, sometimes weeks, before exploding on Captain Laser Pants. The signs of brooding, boiling frustration come to the surface a few days before, and CLP nervously will ask, “Is everything ok?” while I silently chop vegetables for dinner with a rage not unlike the Hulk. When I finally do come out and say what’s been bothering me, it’s usually an emotional mess. CLP is gracious and loving, but he usually points out that if I had just told him the issue when it first started bothering me, we could have avoided a days- long tense household and I would have felt resolution much sooner. To make it worse for myself, I hate crying in front of him, and I hate looking “weak” or vulnerable. If only I had communicated effectively with my husband! He is always so forgiving and understanding- where his patience comes from is a gift from God. It was unfair of me to judge his character and assume he would handle the situation poorly.
Some tactics I have learned in talking with my husband to make it easier for me to actually speak include sitting in the front of the car while he sits in the back, or vice versa and spooning in bed so he doesn’t see my face. I don’t really advise texting or emailing your feelings- tone is easily misinterpreted over the internet.
What if you’re (or your partner is) the opposite of me and you’re an exploder? Every confrontation ends up in a battle. The casualty in the fight is your marriage, and winning a fight never really feels like a victory. Explore the underlying issue that causes the explosion. Chances are, the battle is not related to the way the grocery bags are packed, but something much deeper and more serious. If it’s an issue playing on repeat, try marital counseling. There is no shame in having a referee present to assist in working out kinks in your relationship.
I heard a heartbreaking statistic over the weekend (I don’t know the accuracy of it): around 80% of current marriages will suffer from at least one partner straying. The mouthpiece of this statistic (a gorgeous, intelligent, successful and brilliantly funny woman) said, “Who am I to think that my marriage is so great that I’ll be in the twenty percent?” She really started the wheels in my head turning. Do that many people feel that marriage is so devalued that they give up on working on it, like a half finished project? I can’t imagine that healthy marriages fall into the eighty percent- I mean, the ones where the two spouses communicate effectively and daily, trust and respect are present, secrets don’t exist and intimacy (both emotional and physical) is valued.
Amazingly, I didn’t marry myself, so I asked my husband for his thoughts on this subject. Here’s how our conversation went (excuse the lack of punctuation, capitalization, and any other blatant errors):
Obviously, the man has some points. And there are about ten million points to be made on this topic. There is no way I could hope to cover them all. I do want to impart the importance of communication in marriage, though. Without it, everything else crumbles. Marriage is supposed to be your place of refuge from the world. It is meant to be where you can be at your most raw, most honest, and feel your safest. This will be a common theme throughout the rest of the series- marriage is meant to be your haven, not a battleground.
How do you talk to your spouse? How do you listen to your spouse? Please comment with your thoughts, opinions, what you’d like to see and what marriage is to you.