How Do You Communicate with Your Spouse?

They say Communication is at the heart of success or failure of a relationship. Let me confess and say that even though my wife and I have been married for 10 years, we still struggle sometimes to communicate effectively with each other based on different circumstances and how we are feeling emotionally.

I think this scenario sounds all too familiar. One partner keeps lecturing and persevering on his or her point, while the other one feels increasingly wary and disconnected. It is a toxic cycle that is seen in many couples . It is so common that it has been named by psychologists the “Woodpecker Syndrome.” One partner is just not willing to give up, continuing toxic conversations and repeating rash lectures.

It does not lead to any constructive dialogue, but a partner affected by the woodpecker syndrome perseveres, as if seeing some invisible “keep going” sign. One becomes a diligent and insensitive lecturer, making forceful monologues that drown in defensive silence. Nothing gets resolved; the relationship deteriorates further. Both partners get exhausted and wary.

A mixture of warped good intentions and self-righteousness, charged by anger and repetition, will never produce a healthy way to communicate. Woodpeckers are persistent, critical and insistent on their point of view. Woodpeckers are prone to blame, don’t listen, keenly repeat things, because someone’s reality dared to disagree with theirs. Their goal is not to communicate but to win at all costs, leading to compromised trust and loss of any hope of connecting and really hearing each other. All of us are guilty of being on this side of the fence at one point or the other and it takes a lot of selfless love and humility to get yourself communicating effectively.

I have found over the years, I started raising my voice at my wife when I felt I was not being heard or when I want to emphasize my point of view. I won’t even realize that my voice has been raised and I am shouting. Many people think that they can’t help but raise their voices. They think it is “normal” and is largely out of their control. But is it really? And why do people scream or yell in the first place? When someone yells at us we rarely listen to what they are saying. We are more likely to become defensive or stonewall them,”Or in some case, say “sure, no problem” and “terribly sorry”, which translated to “I have no idea what you said, I’m just nodding so I can get the hell out of this room.”

A major problem with such verbally aggressive responses is that they, in turn, tend to be met with similar defensive responses from the target, who may self-defensively perceive your response as being personally offensive.  You really have no right to talk to me like that!” This, in turn, can lead to further retaliation which can set off an escalating cycle of self-defensive responses. I have been there many times and am literally writing the book.

Often, because one usually does some serious thinking afterwards, the result is regret.  In the case of an ongoing relationship, unless there is some constructive change made, the same vicious cycle of self-protective responses is likely to be repeated again and again in the course of the relationship. The result is then further alienation and regret.

Most spouses when confronted with conflict, tend to go silent. I am guilty of this on many occasions. This is not always a good thing. Where silence can be highly destructive – both to the marital relationship and to the silent partner. Silence can mean so many things for example :

  • Passive aggression. Silence can sometimes be an act of quiet hostility, in that one spouse will act as though they’re cooperating, but silently will do everything they can to sabotage a situation. For example, one spouse may agree that it’s a good idea to visit the in-laws for the weekend, but then will sulk the entire time they’re visiting.
  • Safety. When any sort of abuse – verbal, social, emotional, physical, sexual or economical – is feared, silence can be used as a buffer for the victim. “Silence becomes safe,” psychologists say, “so the victim thinks they’d better keep quiet rather than say something that could incur wrath.”
  • Avoidance. This can be related to passive aggression, but without the feelings of hostility. It’s a way of saying you don’t want to talk about the issue because it’s uncomfortable and don’t want to hurt your spouse’s feelings, so you avoid the topic all together. “All couples do this dance, and older couples have learned what to say and what to avoid. It’s a way to minimize fights. While silent avoidance generally isn’t a healthy form of communication, it can sometimes be used to avoid fights over petty things which may not necessarily be worthy of a fight.
  • Peace at all costs. This can be a co-dependence stance, and it’s prevalent when one partner discovers the other spouse has a destructive habit but doesn’t know how to address the issue at hand. “The ‘innocent’ spouse is not confronting the issue, thereby enabling the at-fault spouse by not saying anything” .
  • Busyness. When you and your spouse busy yourselves with the noise of being hyper-connected – e.g., phones, computers and social media – you run the risk of being taken away from the present moment and confronting whatever issues are in front of you. “The Sabbath rest is meant to get us to stop and reflect on where we’re at in relationship God to ourselves, others and the world, This takes time and discipline but is very necessary.
  • Power. This is a form of emotional abuse, manipulating the victim into feeling as though they’ve done something wrong. For example, the silent spouse gives their partner the cold shoulder and waits until their partner comes to sweet-talk them out of their mood. “This is where silence gets cooperation”
  • Rumination. By dwelling on your unfortunate circumstances, your sole focus will be on what has gone wrong in your life. “When we ruminate, we are making the rest of the world revolve around us, and believe the world needs to do something to make us happy. Rather than seeing what positive options you can explore with your spouse, you’d rather ruminate in your own misery. That can lead to bitterness, which is cancer of the soul.”

Sometimes we want something so much, or feel something so intensely that we can get in the way of our own best interests. But no matter how strongly you want to communicate something, your partner will best hear and respond to you if you are simultaneously showing that you are still conscious of his or her needs. Think about what makes you impatient or insensitive with your partner, and consider if it might be something you secretly see in yourself. If so, be kinder to yourself and it’ll be easier to be kind to your loved ones.

Tact and respectful communication are a positive in every interaction. No matter whom you’re talking to, your mother-in-law, or your partner—people are always more responsive when you treat them with consideration. Think about how natural it felt to be kind to your partner when you first met. Have you slid into bad habits without even noticing? I know my wife and I got stuck in this trap for a while and we still working through this healthy communication. We can all hear the difference between saying “Could you please finish the dishes?” and “Couldn’t you at least do the dishes?” but we often give in to the impulse to be agitated in the moment. Just as skipping your workout one day makes it easier to give up on your exercise plan, casual rude comments can become “gateways” to larger ones. Treat respectful communication as a personal goal, and put in the effort to achieve it.

One benefit of choosing your words thoughtfully is that it will help you address any underlying problems more effectively. And when you focus on kindness, your partner is likely to do the same. You’ll end up being less stressed overall and feel even more at ease at home.

Proverbs 16:24 “Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Proverbs 18:4 “A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook.”

Wilbert Frank Chaniwa – Talking Marriage Today


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