Most of us have heard stories of people who lived a meager existence, barely putting food on the table, only to find out after their death that they had a Picasso in the basement worth millions of dollars. They had a treasure within their grasp, but they did not know what they had. “Uh, what a shame! They could have lived so differently, enjoyed life so much more,” we say in disbelief.
Working with married couples, I often have the same response when I see the ineffective strategies couples use for dealing with normal struggles. Oh, they can live so differently if they can understand what they have!
Let’s take a look together at one of those normal struggles. One of the most common is “we don’t communicate.” However, communication experts tell us that we cannot not communicate. Even in silence there is a message. If that is true, then why do so many couples complain that they don’t communicate?
Let me make two suggestions. Men, say more. Women, believe better. (You may be the exception to the rule, so forgive me for drawing this down gender-specific lines.)
Men, say more. If you are like me you probably wonder why talking about everything matters so much to your wife, sometimes taking multiple passes over the same ground. I can’t explain why it matters, but I can assure you that it does. So I suggest that we say more! If it is true that we cannot not communicate, what am saying with my silence? It might be interpreted as, “You’re not worth my time,” “I don’t really care what you think,” or “Go away, you’re bothering me.” Have you ever had your wife accuse you of saying something negative, but you know with utmost certainty that you never said it? Oh, you must mean you never said it verbally. Guys, if we let silence speak for us it will often say harmful things we do not intend — and we can become accountable for things we have never even thought.
Women, believe better. When confronted, women often interpret men’s silence in a negative way, “He thinks I’m stupid.” When pressed whether these are his words or not, a typical response is “No, but I know what he’s thinking.” May I suggest the remote possibility that No! You don’t know what he is thinking? Could it be that “He thinks I’m stupid” is more about your fear than about his conviction? In fact, if he has said little or nothing, you have the freedom to believe whatever you want about the silence, so why not choose to believe something good!? “He is clearly dazzled by my brilliance” or “He is deeply pondering my last point” are options as well! If you believed one of these, wouldn’t your belief motivate you to respond better to the silence?
In her book The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis says “the problem with predicting dire outcomes in the future is that, whether we know it or not, we begin acting in certain ways that broadcast our expectations to our partners, and these subtle signals often bring about the very results we fear.” (P.111) Weiner-Davis suggests that we “act as if” we expected a positive result, which actually helps influence a better outcome.
We tend to see what we expect to see, and further, we actually help to promote it. I believe that the marriage of your dreams is a treasure within your grasp. We will enjoy life so much more if we realize what we have! Men, say more! Women, believe better!
It’s a more/better solution for your next communication gap!
Copyright © 2005 by Chuck Fallon, Used with Permission
Chuck Fallon is President of Positive Solutions for Marriage and Director of Bear Valley Counseling Center in Lakewood, Colorado where he is a marriage counselor. Chuck speaks on marriage topics, offering skill based teaching laced with humor and insight, encouraging couples to build the marriage of their dreams.