The iconic picture of Lucille Ball cowering in the foreground as she tries to keep her secret foible a secret, while Desi Arnaz stands in the background with his hands on his hips, calling out her name in muted anger and voice dripping with accusation, is deeply engrained in our modern culturally-derived consciousness.
“What we have here,” another voice intones from the movie Cool Hand Luke, repeated often elsewhere, “is a failure to communicate.”
There are times during marital spats when such a sentiment might echo between the ears. Communication in marriage can indeed be a problem. We find ourselves in places where expectations are unspoken or unrealistic, or when anger and alienation from each other are at a pique point. Many couples assume that lack of communication is always the main problem they face in their marriage.
Communication May Be the Solution
Usually, however, not being willing to communicate or a lack of communication is not the primary difficulty. People want to communicate. We want to be understood. We want to be truly known for who we are. We want to love and be loved in return. All of that requires communication. We all learned how to communicate as children, from our parents, siblings and our peers. We also learned how to solve problems and how to deal with being alone as well as with being intimate with others. This is where you are taught to be clear, to be honorable, loving, respectful, generous, kind and humble, right?
The problem is that unless we grew up as characters on ‘The Cosby Show’ or some other contemporary ideal fantasy heaven, many of us were not taught these character qualities. We tend to have many of the same troubles our parents had when we were young. The main problem isn’t a failure to communicate, per se, but a problem of the method or style of communication you employ.
Slamming a door, for instance, is not a failure to communicate. You may be angry, or hurt, or trying to make your partner feel guilty – whatever your intent is, you are communicating, but the method you are using needs finesse. A lot of it. There is an obvious gap between your intention, which may actually be genuine and legitimate, and its final expression. There are many more subtle ways that communication styles can obscure or defeat the content of the message we really want to get across, which can spiral whole relationships into an abyss of confusion, hurt and even bitterness – the kind that leads to divorce.
Moving into Healthy Styles of Communication
Marriage counseling can help by providing a neutral ground, a safe place where hurtful styles of communication that we picked up as children can be pointed out, recognized, addressed or even changed through some hard work, effort, and honest determination. Marriage counseling can not only help you to see where communication styles in a marriage inhibit the true flow of intimacy between husband and wife, but also begin to teach more assertive, respectful and hopeful ways to communicate. This will have a positive impact not only in the marriage relationship but on the whole family as well, including those traits that you pass down to your children.
Once you begin to unlearn poor styles and bad methods of communication and to relearn how to communicate well and effectively, you will find that a lack of communication is likely not at the root of all marital problems. Then you will be able to address the deeper problems together in a far more productive and less confusing manner.