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Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series of 9 on the Myths of Marriage. They are drawn partially from the Eyres’ forthcoming book by the same name and are intended as a preview of the book for our readers. The Myths are eight erroneous beliefs that are discouraging and undermining marriages throughout the world and particularly within the Church. Today’s article is on the fifth myth. The three previous articles in this series can be read at these links: Intro, Myth 1, Myth 2. Myth 3. Myth 4.
MYTH: In marriage some things are better left unsaid; and it’s safest to float along and not make waves.
TRUTH: Unexpressed feelings never die; they are just buried and come forth later in uglier forms. Timing is important, but the best marriages communicate everything—even when it creates some turbulence.
- SUB-MYTH: Too much of the wrong kind of communication can ruin a relationship.
TRUTH: More often, it’s too little of the right kind of communication that puts marriages in peril.
- SUB-MYTH: Marriage kills excitement and romance; and relationships get stale and less passionate over time.
TRUTH: Communication can rise to new levels after the marriage commitment, and steadily improve over time— lifting passion, romance, magic, and excitement with it.
- SUB-MYTH: The hardest things to agree on are money, sex, goals, parenting methods, and religious beliefs.
TRUTH: These five most common causes of divorce can be flipped into the five key subjects of good marriage communication.
- SUB-MYTH: Marriage is serious business.
TRUTH: Part of it sure is, but there had better be another part, because, from our experience, a sense of humor ranks number one in what is looked for in a spouse.
We were lucky to have an incredible couple as our mentors for nearly fifty years. Stephen Covey and his wonderful wife, Sandra, were our teachers and later our neighbors. They were exactly fifteen years older than we were and had done so many of the same things we had—but fifteen years sooner. We would watch their marriage and family and project ourselves to that level in fifteen years.
One night over dinner, they dispensed with a myth and implanted a truth at the same time. Stephen posed a question to the two of us that was designed to make us think and to dis- suade us from having a “no waves” goal for our marriage. He said, “I’m going to give you a choice between two catchy say- ings about marriage, and you tell me which one you believe. You can only choose one, because they are mutually exclusive and you can’t believe them both.”
The first was: “Some things are better left unsaid.”
And the second was: “Unexpressed feelings never die, they just get buried and come forth later in uglier forms.”
Each of us were inclined to vote for both. Clearly you can’t say everything you feel or think at every moment without initiating or escalating arguments and disrupting the love between you, but you certainly don’t want to harbor things and not express feelings to the point that they begin to fester and gnaw at you.
But Covey insisted that we had to choose, because we couldn’t do both. It was a long discussion, but in the end we came to understand that he thought the first quote was only true or valid in marriage as a matter of timing. “Some things are better left unsaid” in a heated moment, but they need expression before they “get buried and come forth later in uglier forms.”
What he taught us that night was that a marriage is unlike any other relationship and has to be governed by different rules and principles than other, lesser relationships.
There are a lot of small bits of misplaced “marital wisdom” out there that didn’t quite make our list of eight myths, but that are equally untrue and undesirably deceptive—especially concerning communication:
“Agree to disagree.”
“There are enough tempests and storms in marriage, so don’t make waves.”
“Just get past the tensions—ignore them until they go away.”
Try to imagine a lake so calm and placid that there are never any wind or waves. It makes for a pretty unattractive and boring dream, and before long the lake starts to get stagnant and to smell. What if wind and waves are the real stuff of communication and lakes are cleaner and clearer after they are churned up a bit now and then by storms?
What if we should never worry about too much communication, only too little?
What if better communication, sharing, and unity result less from bottling things up and more from letting things out?
We actually think all of these are not what-ifs, but facts.
Now, of course, leaving nothing unsaid does not mean we should say everything we think, right at the moment we think it. If emotions are too high, call a time out, and each of you go for a walk or do something to re-set yourself, and then resume with a promise to listen better to what the other is saying.
LISTENING TO EACH OTHER
An underlying problem with most relationships is that one word we know so well but sometimes practice so little—listening!
Let us toss out ten listening ideas that we think have merit. Pick from the list the ones you feel you could improve on or that seem like they would work for you:
- Make eye contact. Let your spouse see that you are really paying attention.
- Ask the right kind of questions, which often use the words “how” and “feel.” (“How did that make you feel?”) Ask questions that make your spouse think and that can’t be answered with one word.
- Learn to use the word “really.” It can be said in dozens of different intonations and usually extends and deepens a conversation. It can imply surprise, praise, agreement, or empathy, and it just shows that you are listening and encourages the other to keep on talking.
- Even better than the word “really” is the technique of simply rephrasing what your spouse has just said. Don’t judge or solve or end anything, just repeat it back in your own words so that your spouse knows that you were listening
- Take advantage of the time you are in the car together. Turn the radio off and ask good questions. Your spouse can’t get up and walk away and neither can you.
Use “pillow time” as communication time—when you are relaxed and tired and both have your guard down.
- Praise and reward each other’s questions. Quick or dis- missive answers to a spouse’s questions are opportunities wasted. Start by saying, “Great question,” and then add something like, “What do you think the answer is?” Turn it into as long of a discussion as you have time for, and then suggest that you continue the talk later or perhaps do some research on it together.
- Use all of the same social media and communication devices. Also, have joint social media accounts when possible—pages that you share and that you both post on. Follow each other and follow the same others.
- Try to say “no” less. We have a good friend who offered to give his wife a dollar every time he said the word “no” just to get him out of the habit. It cost him a little money, but he soon got over it and found that there were other, nicer ways to reply in the negative when he had to. Too often we say “no” (or “no, no, n-n-n-no”) too quickly to express disagreement or disapproval—before we have taken the time to listen.
- Ask each other to tell you their “happy” for the day and their “sad” for the day—and tell them yours.
We all know listening is the key to better communication and hopefully these ideas, or others that they will bring to your mind, will help you to do just a little bit better.
TURNING THE FIVE MOST COMMON REASONS FOR DIVORCE INTO YOUR FIVE STRONGEST TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
Most of us have seen columns or articles on the five prime causes of divorce:
- Money concerns
- Sexual issues
- Parenting differences
- Career or goal disagreements
- Moral or religious conflicts
An interesting juxtaposition is to view those five prime causes of divorce as the five things couples should be most conscientious about in terms of open and total communication—adopt them as the very five things that have to be communicated about almost con- stantly in a strong marriage.
Think about that juxtaposition for a moment: The five things that are most commonly blamed for divorce are the very five things that have to be the topics of open, ongoing communication if a marriage is to be strong. Consistent, candid conversation about each is what will turn the topics into strengths and elements of unity instead of problems that can lead to separation or divorce.
Some will say, “Can’t we each have our own finances—why share everything?” Or, “Why do we have to talk about sex—can’t we just do it?” Or, “She’s strict with the kids and I’m not—we just agree to disagree.”
But most of us understand that these five things, if they go unre- solved and undiscussed, can bring down a marriage. Yet if they are openly, deliberately, and almost constantly talked about, they can bring the understanding and empathy— if not the agreement—that can keep a marriage strong.
So, when? How? Where do we talk consistently and continuously about these five things? A few ideas:
- Try to go to bed together at the same time to facilitate “pillow talk.”
- Go on a weekly date and continue your courtship as well as your communication about these five issues.
- Have a weekly Sunday Session, or meeting between just the two of you, once a week where you discuss the schedule and goals for the next week. Once a month, make your ses- sion more of a little get-away to plan the month, Then, take a short trip together once a year to set goals for the year ahead. Incorporate into all of these an ongoing conversa- tion about the five key discussion topics. Make the list of topics part of your agenda. (More on this later.)
- Pray together every night, or meditate if you don’t pray, and include the five topics.
- Remember the truth in this section and make it your motto: “Unexpressed feelings never die; they just get bur- ied and come forth later in uglier forms.” The fact that we know what the five most common reasons are for divorce does not mean that we should fear them, it means we should be warned by them and proactively make them the five things we work hardest to communicate about.
Just available on Amazon: The 8 Myths of Marriaging, CLICK HERE to get your copy.