I’ve been thinking a lot about “communication” in marriage. Various wise and knowledgeable people refer to it as the lifeblood in any relationship. And yet everyone acknowledges that communication in a relationship can be very difficult. Why might this be? In theory, opening your mouth and saying what you think, or what you feel, should not be so hard. Thinking about it, to me it is not necessarily the physical act of saying what you think, or how you feel that presents the difficulty. Rather, the difficulty might come in how it is perceived by the other party, or how you believe it will be perceived by the other party, or in making yourself vulnerable, that is, making yourself too bare. I believe that a lot of this will come down to how much trust exists between the two of you…and the level of trust will often come down to issues of character. Focusing on “communication” implies that the parties have excellent character, that all you have to do is find a way of connecting that is meaningful or relevant for both parties. SO I believe that instead of always encouraging couples to work on their “communication”, counsellors should also encourage people to work on their character.
It is like this. If you had a diary that you knew that absolutely no-one else in the world would ever see, would you not feel free to confide into it all your thoughts, fears, dreams, hopes, disappointments? Is this not why we feel free to think exactly what we like with our minds, because we know that no-one else will ever see into them? When we are dealing with our own minds there is no fear of being vulnerable as we know that our thoughts are safe, as long as we don’t express them to anyone else. So if you could trust your spouse, truly trust your spouse as much as you trust your own mind, would it not be easier to confide in your spouse, share those hopes and dreams, even disappointments?
These are some of the issues that might make you less inclined to share your thoughts with someone.
– If you know that your spouse is a lying cheating joker, so much so that you don’t trust them, are you really going to bare your heart to such a person? If you don’t trust them then you don’t trust them – even if you do happen to be married to them.
Perhaps you might feel reluctant to share your thoughts with your spouse because you are scared that they might instantly belittle you. “What, do you think that you are capable of achieving that goal?!” (As if anyone who ever achieved anything was not a human being like everyone else…) These days, I tend to keep my goals to myself because I know some people who seem to exist in my life solely to tell me that I am not capable of achieving the things I dream of achieving – and these are simple everyday things that people routinely do every day…
Dealing with this in friends etc is bad enough. I would feel so frustrated if I had to deal with this in a spouse.
Perhaps you think that your spouse might actually laugh outright at you. Few things communicate scorn to such an extent as this. So what, you are going to make yourself vulnerable to someone, so that they can habitually pour scorn on your head? Even if this person is your spouse, obviously you would not do that.
Or maybe you fear that they are going to turn your issues against you. If you express that you are scared of X, might this person deliberately use that knowledge to torment you?
Or perhaps your spouse is the kind of person that cultivates huge insecurities which they casually leave lying around so that you can trip right over them. For instance, for some people, if you should try to express any kind of disappointment in their behaviour – no matter how graciously you might phrase it, they instantly flare up or get violently angry at the suggestion that they might actually be less than perfect. You know that they are going to hold it against you forever AND that they will be desperately seeking for a way to pull you down as a way of retaliating. Is this kind of attitude designed to encourage communication? So naturally, you keep quiet for the sake of “keeping the peace”.
Similarly, if you reveal that you have made a mistake, and you know that your spouse will not try to get over it as quickly as possible, but will rather keep dancing on your head about it, will that not discourage you from owning up, making you to live in fear of their discovering your mistake?
These are some of the things that indicate that communication issues can often be issues of character more than anything else. I think that communication might “gradually break down” in a relationship for the following reason: when you first get married, and you are still in that wonderful glow of thinking that your spouse is amazing (otherwise you would not have married them, right?) – you think that they have got great character, and because of that reason, you trust them, you lay yourself bare with your hopes etc. However, as time goes on, and the scales are gradually yet forcibly pulled from your eyes, you get to realise that your spouse is not as excellent as you first thought…and true communication starts representing more vulnerability than you would feel comfortable with. Unfortunately a big risk with not communicating as issues happen is that they get bottled up and all spill out in huge, loud, violently angry confrontations – which I have been in myself a couple of times.
And yet, what a difference it would be to have a spouse you can trust enough to communicate with. When you know that someone is committed to loving you, despite your faults and failures, when you know that they will always be there for you, and that they will not go and share your secrets with their friends and laugh over said secrets with their friends; when they acknowledge that there are certain things that you struggle to express, and they are patient with you as you attempt to express them; when you know that they will listen carefully when you try to explain to them what they are not doing correctly AND they will not hate you for it – would you not feel confident and cheerful about sharing your heart with such a spouse?
So if you are married and struggling with communication issues – could any of these issues be responsible? Ask yourself whether you might be doing any of these things to your spouse. I sometimes laugh at people not for the sake of mocking them but because in my family we grew up teasing one another mercilessly. However I have discovered that many people have not grown up with the same experience and feel as if I actually am laughing at them. And then there have also been those times when I have actually laughed at people in a mean way. Sometimes we might not even appreciate what we are doing; we might not realise that our face automatically contorts itself sceptically whenever our spouse says something. It is something that I am going to check myself on regarding my interaction with people around me. I encourage you to do the same – if you want to improve your communication with anyone, then work on your character, make it easier for people to trust you and know that you’ve “got their back”. 😉
18th Dec 2012: The title of this post was amended from:
Communication Issues are Character Issues, Trust Issues TO
Communication Issues are often Character Issues, Trust Issues
But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
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