I’ve been married twice and divorced twice. The dissolution of my first marriage was especially tragic because, although we both loved each other dearly (though I unfortunately rarely told my wife), we were not able to get back together despite that, and our marital breakup almost destroyed me (and I’m sure was very hurtful to my wife). My brain tumor was mostly responsible for my first divorce, but poor communications played a large role in both of my divorces. It’s so very painful for both parties to go through divorce to the extent that I believe that its possibility today in the U.S. (50%) is a legitimate reason why some may not want to ever marry.
But marriage is important, especially if you want to have children; therefore, you want to minimize the chances of getting divorced. What do you do to accomplish this? What I did after my divorces was to research and study marriage and divorce to learn why people divorce, in an effort to avoid repeating the mistakes I made that led to my divorces.
From numerous experts, but especially from the premier researcher on marriage, John Gottman, PhD, the most important skill to keeping a relationship or marriage healthy is for both partners to amicably resolve differences…in other words, negotiate or fight without metaphorically killing each other. An easy-to-do measure from Dr. Gottman to help you determine if your marital/relationship communications are doing well is to frequently check to see if you’re having at least 5 positive interactions with your spouse/significant other for every negative one. My first marriage tragically ended because my wife and I did not resolve our differences amicably. Let’s look at what some of the other experts have to say….
In their book, The Intimate Enemy: How to Fight Fair in Love and Marriage, by George Bach and Peter Wyden, the authors ask if anyone ever heard from a significant other, “you never talk to me, ” or “you never listen to me!”
Because I’ve made so many painful mistakes in my first marriage which resulted in it lasting only ten months, I became highly-motivated to not repeat the same mistakes. Therefore my second wife and I learned to communicate with each other and became intimate friends and lovers by attending 5 pre-marital and 30 post-marital counseling sessions with 5 other married couples. Achieving game-free spontaneity and the consequent well-being that resulted was well worth the effort. The caring needed in a successful relationship is defined by Masters and Johnson in their book, “The Pleasure Bond“, as “paying attention, being concerned, solicitous and protective.” Fortunately, I learned how to express my caring with my second wife and my second marriage therefore lasted 25 years.
An important concept in men-women communications comes from John Gray, PhD in his book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Dr. Gray states that communication styles between the sexes are so different, that to truly understand each other, it’s very helpful to think of each sex as coming from different planets…and a recognition of those differences goes a long way in improving relations…basically because people don’t judge and treat each other with the caution and respect they otherwise would unless they thought the other was an alien.
The differences between the genders that make communications difficult are enumerated in Deborah Tannen’s book, You just Don’t Understand. Dr. Tannen refers to “Report-Talk” (men) and “Rapport-talk” (women). She states, “For most women, conversation is a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and is done by exhibiting knowledge and skill, and by holding center stage through verbal performance such as storytelling, joking or imparting information.
Psychologist and marriage counselor Barbara De Angelis continues this theme in a March-April 1992 “Special Report on Relationships” by stating that:
Women and men are from two different planets; we speak two different languages, it’s so essential to learn about their differences. I know that men are solution-oriented in their conversation, so if I’m complaining about my day, I will add, “I don’t really need a solution, honey, I just want you to hold me.” If I don’t, he may start giving me solutions, and I may get angry that he’s not being loving and attentive, and now we’re in a fight….” Maggie Scarf, author of “Intimate Partners,” adds in that same article, that “when a woman brings up a problem, she wants to talk it over, to learn what it means. A man hears a problem and wants to do something about it. To most women, this is outrageous. They feel that to do this (means) the discussion is over (and) is his way of saying, shut up.
The list of differences between men and women’s communication styles goes on and on. Many of them are based on the fact that men and women have different psychological needs. If each gender only understood those needs, both would be much happier. From Diane Dunaway and John Kramer’s book, “Why Men don’t get Enough Sex and Women don’t get enough Love,” it states that these different needs can be summed up by saying that “men need to be needed and women need to be cherished.” In a 1985 article, columnist Ann Landers conducted a survey asking women if affection was more important than sex. Seventy-two percent of the 100,000 respondents said that they would be content to “just be held close and to forget about the sex act.” According to Dunaway and Kramer, “Men have sex in order to feel good, women have sex when they feel good.” Male-Female communications and love, sex, and intimacy are all intricately related; you can’t talk about one without addressing the others.
In Ellen Kriedman’s book, Light Her Fire, Ms. Kriedman states that “while dating, a man usually has no problem talking, because he has a goal in mind. He wants her to find him desirable , so he’s charming, witty, and pays a great deal of attention to what she’s saying. He wants to discover what her needs are so that he can fulfill them. As a result, he has a women who finds him irresistible. Once this happens, and she’s his forever, he stops talking. In his mind, there’s less need to talk and listen to her than there was in the beginning.”
The Hite Report on Male Sexuality by Shere Hite states that “most men said that, even with women friends or their wives and lovers, they feel some difficulty in talking deeply about their personal feelings — once again reflecting their early male training not to be too emotional.”
Further complicating communication between the sexes is the natural attraction that over 95% of the population has for the opposite sex. Bernstein and Fast’s book, Sexual Chemistry, cites the nonverbal cues that men and women emit toward each other that demonstrate the sexual chemistry between them. The book, More than Friends, Less than Lovers, argues that men and women can establish very gratifying relationships by becoming “intimate” without engaging in sexual relations. This intimacy is a natural occurrence because today men and women work closely together. But the guilt from illicit sex really messes up what otherwise could be a very good relationship. In addition, 30 sexually-transmitted diseases make promiscuity a form of Russian Roulette. Desmond Morris, in his book, “Intimate Behavior,” gives a good explanation of the need for social intimacy. Another book, Intimacy, discusses the need for intimacy.
Finally, while not explicitly contained in any books that I’ve read, but something that I found to be the most important factor in a successful relationship or marriage, is openness, honesty and forthrightness in dealing with each other. I believe that one should not even tell white lies to a significant other when discussing important issues! One can be diplomatic, subtle, and kind and not lie, while politely and respectfully giving your opinion. You can’t work out your issues or problems together if you’re not truthful with each other about those issues and problems. Many people use the excuse that they are simply being sensitive by telling a white lie, when in fact they may lack the courage to confront their significant other with what’s really bothering them. I consider this to be a relationship/marriage-killer, no matter how noble the reasons for the deception.
There is an abundance of needless pain, suffering, frustration, and anxiety in relationships and marriages due to poor communications. Marriage counselors can be very helpful but really good ones are rare and can be expensive. Family and friends can be supportive but usually inadvertently give harmful advice because they can’t be objective and therefore make matters worse. You can make your relationship/marriage better if you are motivated to do so and are willing to do your homework (read) on how to improve your communications and marriage; and then follow this up by setting some time aside every day to calmly talk through your marital issues/problems with your loved one. I’ve just given you a taste of what’s out there by citing a number of books and authors. Good luck in your search for a better relationship and/or marriage!