Ensuring Healthy Communication In Marriage
Ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away won’t do a thing
How can we progress from being unable to communicate with our husbands to being fluent in a shared secret language?
This can only be achieved by listening to each other, talking openly, and trying to understand one another. When communication is broken, the chances of a happy marriage are lessened. Problem solving becomes almost impossible.
ELISHEVA ONCE CONSULTED with a wise woman because her marriage seemed to consist of nothing but an endless chain of arguments. She prepared a thick, black notebook filled with the many incidents testifying to her husband’s faults and particularly to his quick temper.
The wise woman smiled at her sadly and said: “You really did your homework, but that’s the wrong assignment you’ve got there. She then proceeded to discuss the matter with Elisheva, suggesting various methods and alternatives to avoid constant conflict with her husband.”Remember,” she suggested at the end of their discussion, a burning match will quickly burn out — but adding fuel will cause a fire.
There’s no point keeping a "broken telephone” in our homes. Ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away won’t do a thing. We may need to get help from a rabbi or an experienced Jewish marriage education counselor in order to fix the ”broken telephones” in our marriages, so that strong, healthy communication can be restored.
HADASSAH AND BENjAMIN were married for ten months. At first, they enjoyed a relationship of mutual affection. However, as the months passed by and they each got busy in their personal activities, they began to sense a growing estrangement. Both of them felt their marriage lacked tenderness and warmth, but they were apprehensive about discussing their feelings openly.
They eventually decided to seek the advice of a rabbi. After discussing various issues with the couple, the rabbi suddenly turned to Hadassah, surprising her with a blunt question: "Do you appreciate your husband?"
Hadassah stared at him, stupefied. “Of course I do!" she declared.
But Benjamin shook his head. "It’s just not the same anymore," he insisted.
Hadassah was stamped. ”But...but it goes without saying that I appreciate you!"
Benjamin answered, almost in a whisper, ”But I still need to hear you say so."
While being very involved in making a living, it is easy to forget about what we are living for. We lose sight of the goals we most value, the primacy of Torah and prayer in our lives, and we may also lose sight of the people who are truly dear to us. Most of us are not even aware that extra effort needs to be put into rising above that confusion, to keep putting our focus back on who and what means the most to us. Expressing appreciation is something we are bound to forget to do when we get too wrapped up in things of much lesser importance. We get distracted even from our own feelings. The ones with the highest priority we don’t take the time to express.
Although in Hadassah and Benjamin’s marriage, it was Benjamin who verbalized his need to hear an affirmation of sincere loyalty and devotion from Hadassah, it is usually women who more often express this need openly. Women generally talk about feelings more readily than men. We usually have a greater need to hear words of appreciation.
Women generally express their feelings in words and expect words in return. Men, on the other hand, generally express themselves more easily through actions. If we take into account these common differences in communication styles, it may help us view our husbands’ actions as a kind of language too.
Another difference between men and women that we learn in the Torah is that women, for the most part, have a more powerful ability to understand people than men have, since they were created with an extra dimension of understanding. This deeply insightful understanding is going to be the woman’s main strength in overcoming the communication barriers in her marriage, and in helping her work together with her husband to develop a shared language which will strengthen their marital bond.
Following are some of the important factors that enhance communication.
First and foremost, we must be interested in our husbands. This means greeting him with a lit—up face, paying real attention to what he says, concentrating on his wishes and needs, and honestly listening to him.
MIRI IS TALKING on the telephone, having a very interesting conversation with her friend Aliza. Her husband walks in. She hasn’t seen him all day, but she doesn’t even bother to raise her eyebrows in a sign of recognition. She just goes on talking as if nothing has happened. He puts his things down, takes of his hat and jacket, anal wanders around her aimlessly, still waiting for her hello, even if he isn’t aware that he’s wanting it.
Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. A half an hour goes by. She is still not off the telephone to greet him...
It would be wonderful if Miri could use the opportunity to show her husband how important he is to her. All it takes is saying to her friend, "Excuse me. My husband just came home. I’ll call you back.” She, her husband, and even her friend will gain from the experience.
If it’s an important long-distance caller, we could pause for just a few moments so that we could say something to our husbands like, "I’m really sorry. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” And then we should make every effort to curtail the phone conversation. We shouldn’t treat him indifferently, as if he were a piece of furniture. Surely if a neighbor or acquaintance walked in, we’d show her a lot more attention than that.
And once we’ve greeted him with a welcoming smile, hopefully we’ll remember that while everyone can talk, only true friends can really listen to one another. What a husband is seeking from his wife is recognition, understanding, and a compliment now and then. He’s not craving advice. He already has a mother. You’re his wife, and that’s very, very different.
But what can we do if we’re feeling angry at our husbands? There are two options which are certainly very well known to us: We can either explode at him, or keep the anger inside, becoming a silent martyr as the anger grows and entrenches itself within us. However, there is another option.
One must learn the art of “forgoing.” This is an important skill to have for all human relationships, but is especially vital in a marriage. It means forgoing one’s own opinions, letting go of irritation and anger, and realizing that G-d is ultimately in control and any suffering that a person endures ultimately comes from Him. And just as we forgive others, middah keneged middah, G-d forgives us. These ideas are not new, they are found throughout the Written and Oral Torah.
In a healthy marriage, there are no secrets and no deceits between husband and wife. To be open and truthful with our partner is a great joy — and relief. This doesn’t apply, though, in situations where the disclosures would be painful to somebody, like speaking badly about another person, or when our bluntness will cause our husbands sadness or anxiety.
MALKIE PRIDES HERSELF on being a very honest person. So, being open, she tells her husband, “You know, you really look terrible. It’s awful how fat you’re getting and it’s not healthy! "That might be true, but it's hurtful. She may think she’s getting the negative feelings off her mind, but really all she’s doing is adding them onto his.
Adapted from "Two Halves Of A Whole" by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org