Part Five On Communication: Solve Your Problems and Improve the Relationship Or?

Part Five On Communication: Solve Your Problems and Improve the Relationship Or?

For Part One in the series click here.  For Part Two click here.  For Part Three click here.  For Part Four click here.

A quota from your spouse is a coma.

Dave Ramsey, Radio Financial Adviser

In the last four blogs we’ve been looking at communication in marriage and how cows and flies don’t chat or joke or fraternize, but humans do and we do it just fine.We just might not communicate what we intend.So it’s good to check in.Flies and cows don’t problem solve either or collaborate or ponder pros or cons or think things through.We have the capacity for these things and marriage is a great place to develop these skills. Or not.

Sometimes I hate to report on research on marriage and divorce because I fear that someone might take the research and use it as an excuse to dump their spouse.(“See.We don’t have a chance”).I’m hoping instead, the reader will be chastened a bit and realize that if such and such is a problem, we’d better work on it.I’d much rather do marital therapy than divorce therapy.Please come see me BEFORE it’s too late.Please.If your spouse says we need therapy, then come see us.If you wait to all of a sudden be teachable until after you get papers from the sheriff or your spouse has moved out or in with someone else, your odds go down.Don’t play Russian roulette with your marriage.People REALLY do get divorced after all.  If your spouse says you two have a problem, then believe him or her that the two of you have a problem.   Swallow a little pride.  Marital bliss isn’t built on stubbornness.

So…if this issue that I am going to discuss today is an issue for you: Give us a call!Today.Let’s work on this.Pronto.Besides.It would be really boring to be married and not have this figured out!

Take a look at my son, Marty’s cartoon.*  He’s raised a very critical issue that all couples have to deal with: How do we solve our problems together?

In studies of people AFTER they divorced a very common characteristics is that they report that in their previous marriage they were not, as a couple, able to work through problems without fighting. So they either did fight about it, or they didn’t talk about things that NEEDED to be talked about and then the relationship would get worse.

Here’s the math:

Solve your problems = your relationship will improve over time

Don’t solve your problems = your relationship will get worse over time

Here’s a qualifier: EVERY RELATIONSHIP HAS CERTAIN THINGS THAT WILL NOT IMPROVE. We have to make peace with those. There are NO perfect people out there for spousal material, so we’ll always have some issues staring us in the face. But we can at least make the best of a bad situation or try to make a bad situation better or to work together to reduce the negativity of the bad situation. We want to rise to the occasion. Let’s prove to each other that we can learn and grow and improve with what ever comes our way, good or ill. As we solve our problems we will learn to trust each other and believe in each other more and more over time.

Here’s an assumption I make in therapy: That you married your equal. Your spouse isn’t dumb and neither are you. If your spouse were dumb, as soon as you met him, you’d have thought, eeeuuw. And that would have been the end of that. If your spouse was way way smarter than you, as soon as you met him you’d have felt inferior and thought, I wouldn’t be good enough for him, and have crossed him off your list. No one wants to feel inferior to her spouse.

Here’s an exception: I attended a workshop recently and the presenter told us that recent research is finding that alcoholics literally have brain damage and that this is why you can’t reason with an alcoholic: They seem so self-absorbed. The presenter didn’t tell us what happens to alcoholic brains when they don’t have any more alcohol, but the assumption I came away thinking was that he was saying the brain was still damaged. I at least know that if you drink yourself to death your brain will really be damaged and you won’t be your spouse’s equal if you are dead.

Here’s another exception: And I certainly know that you can marry someone and they have completely lied about who they are and they aren’t who they say they are and it’s a complete disaster from the get go. I have no way of knowing who these people are, but I would guess this isn’t a common experience for most.

Here’s another exception: There’s a story in the Bible of a gal who was very wise who was married to a guy who was very foolish and the foolish person ended up dying of his foolishness and the wise woman was rewarded. There you go. Did they marry as equals? I don’t know. The story doesn’t say. It’s a lesson for us today.

Here’s my conclusion on exceptions: I’m guessing that, all things being equal, we marry our equal and then after marriage, if we seek different moral paths, we can become unequal. That’ll lead to marital problems, no doubt. For example, you marry your sweetheart that you met at the bar and you both partied hearty and had a ball and then one gets a good job or pregnant and grows up and quits or drastically cuts her drinking and her husband has a delayed reaction and doesn’t grow up and parties until he is brain damaged! What fun that would be, unless he finally gets it and becomes a bona fide partner instead of a party animal.Otherwise he and flies and cows will have a lot in common, including eating from the gutter.

Or one person lives a life of immorality (serial affairs or  extended exposure to pornography) or selfishness (regular pot smoking or excessive video gaming [yes! I put excessive video gaming in the same category as pot smoking! Selfishness is no respecter of persons.]) and one doesn’t. Over time, these two spouses are going to be in different universes.

Here’s the deal: But for the rest of you, which, I assume, as a marital therapist dude, is most of you, you are married to your equal and that you are not dumb and neither is your spouse and if you disagree on something, other than a blatant moral issue (like criminal behavior or domestic violence or perversion), that there is a good reason why you disagree and you’d be smart to humble yourself a tad to see the wisdom in what your spouse is saying, because the whole advantage of marriage is that two heads are better than one and we’d better compare notes and that you have something to say and so does your spouse, but if both of you are too proud to listen….

Here’s what happens if you don’t: If you don’t listen to your spouse or he or she doesn’t listen to you, then you can’t pool your wisdom and you will flounder and get discouraged and if it goes long enough, finally, one of you will say this is a bunch of crap and call your lawyer or you’ll be so discouraged you won’t be able to get off the couch at all and your life and family and household will disintegrate around you and your spouse will be the one talking to lawyers.

Here’s some encouragement: So it would behoove you to take your spouse’s point of view into consideration. There is probably a very good reason why he or she thinks thus and so. It’d be good to figure that out. You’d be amazed how many issues there are where both of you are right! You both have slivers of the truth and you put all of your slivers together to make boards that both of you can use to build a ship that will sail. That is the root word of board after all is bord, from the Old English word for a ship’s side, and we need two sides for this ship to make port.

Here’s an example: One of you thinks you are broke and the other thinks you need a new car. You fight about this. Wait a minute. You are broke! You do need a different car! YOU ARE BOTH RIGHT!! How are we going to figure this out? You need to work on our budget together and decrease your spending and increase your income and start saving for the next car. You can’t cut your spending unless you work on it together. You can’t increase your income without working as a team for the benefit of the whole family. You can’t save unless you are heeding each other’s concerns. As you solve this difficulty and work together on the common good you’ll grow closer together, you’ll have more money and drive a paid for car! Woohoo! We can do this! We work together!

This is when marriage is fun and the most rewarding:When we rise to the occasion.When our problems don’t get us down, but get our brains are activated to work together to solve our problems for the common good.HELLO!!This is why married people do better than single people!We’ve got someone to talk this over with, to compare notes.

Here’s a NOTE to single people: If you are single you know that it is difficult sometimes to make appropriate financial and moral choices or even career choices when living alone. You don’t have the closeness of a married partner with which to talk things through. The power of a secret is a secret and if you don’t have someone to tell your secrets to, the secrets can be overwhelming and make self-control difficult. Wise singles know this and over time will develop a relationship with their brother or sister or parents or a wise person from work or church or their networking group that they can sit down with over coffee or over the phone to discuss important decisions. It is critical to wise choices to have someone with which look at pros and cons. “Through many counselors comes wisdom” it says in Proverbs, “but a foolish person ignores advice.”

If you are married and have not figured out this very critical and important advantage of being married you are missing out on one of life’s finer blessings.

*Thanks to Marty Wall for the use of his cartoon in today’s blog.  To see other examples of his cartoons see his website

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

It’s better left for emergencies.  For the first in the series click here, the second click here and the third, click here.  For the entire series click here.

Be angry and sin not.

Ephesians 4:26

Anger’s gotten a bad rap.It’s destroyed so many families and individuals and marriages and careers that it’s easy to think we oughta just chuck the whole thing.But be careful.Anger is a great motivator.

On an international level it’s why Hitler’s cronies aren’t running the world right now and on national level it’s why we don’t have slavery in slave states anymore. We still have slavery. It’s just not legal. Sex slave traffic is a worldwide problem. If we ever got rid of that, it would be because enough people got mad about sex being used outside of marriage as an object for one’s personal desire. The porn industry is running billions and billions of dollars in profit with no end in sight, so it’s going to take more than a few bloggers, ministers and counselor types to squash all that. We’d pretty much all have to get mad enough to say freedom does not mean license to do whatever. Unfortunately, we’ll probably self-destruct before anything is done about that.

On a personal level anger can motivate you to study for a test instead of flunk, stop drinking, lose weigh or get out of debt.

It’s also very handy if your child is in danger and you yell to get his attention so that he doesn’t hurt or kill himself. Very handy.

So, hey, anger’s not all bad. But use it wisely. If you yell at your kids everyday, they will learn to tune you out and when a dangerous event is about to occur and you yell to warn your child, he may very well ignore you and plunder on and get himself killed. Wouldn’t that be ironic that your lack of self-control on anger caused your child’s death? Don’t worry, anger lies and will tell you your kid just never listened to you. You probably will never figure out that your misplaced anger taught your child to ignore you.

Anger as an everyday, normal, communication tool is a complete waste of time and just sucks whatever love you have left out of your marriage and fills your soul and your brain with a slurry of resentment and hurt and confusion and self-righteousness and a bunch of words on the other side of slang to boot.Pretty soon you are spouting threats of divorce and leaving or cheating or looming over her all threatening and imposing like.It ain’t no marriage enhancer.

And when you use anger as a tool to defend yourself from your spouse’s suggestions or to attack your spouse for not heeding your suggestions, anger changes the subject to whatever it is that the two of you were talking about to you causing your spouse think to herself that “I’m married to an ass.” If you had a sane point you were trying to convey, it got totally lost in the meanness and hurtfulness and despicableness of all the cruel things you said and the threatening and imposinglike nonverbal cues you were sending with your puffed up chest and your curled up lip and throwing your hands in the air in superiority and smashing your fist against whatever is handy and hopefully what you are smashing is not your spouse or your kids, but you better watch out, because anger will tell you to cross boundaries and once boundaries are crossed it’s hard to differentiate between smashing a teacup and smashing a loved one’s face. But anger is also very subtle and you hear about people who only smash their loved ones’ faces once because it leaves marks that the public can see, so then after that mistake they only smash their loved ones in places that are covered by clothes so that no one else will know. This is the kind of self-control that will land your loved ones in the psych ward at the hospital or worse. You communicated all right. Anger did help you communicate. The message that you communicated is that you are mean, and hurtful and despicable and your loved ones are thinking you are an ass.

And then, later, of course, you are sorry you said and did all those things and you didn’t mean them and you were just so angry and you were pushing my buttons.When anger gets this insane it is really good at passing the buck and making your own stupidity and selfishness and cruelty someone else’s fault.Your spouse is going to have a hard time believing you didn’t mean those things, because she just heard everything you said and you sounded pretty believable and sincere to her.Your face was red while you said it, for heaven’s sake.That’s pretty passionate.And how is she supposed to believe you now when you take it all back?And now you are crying on bended knee that you didn’t mean those things.Is she just supposed to have a switch that goes on when you say you are telling the truth and turn off when you start saying (yelling!) those things?How is she supposed to sort that all out?The good and the bad came out of the same mouth.Are you purposely trying to make her crazy?It’s a good plan.I’m sure our mental hospitals are full of people who were on the receiving end of misplaced anger.Then when you divorce her after she’s a ward of the state rocking back and forth saying to herself “he didn’t mean it, he didn’t mean it” and “it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault” you can tell everyone you divorced your first wife because she was crazy!What a plan!

So whose life are you going to destroy next?Here’s one way to do it:Divorce your spouse because you are just so mad at her making you so mad.No one else makes you mad like her and you don’t like yourself when you are mad.If you divorce her, you think, you won’t be mad any more!Another great plan!Right.

Do you know what happens to you when you divorce somebody because you are trying to escape resentment or anger or an inability to forgive or a cold heart because you’ve shut your spouse out of your heart and refuse to reach out and love your current spouse anymore and you say to yourself you love him, you just aren’t in love with him?Do you know?Do you know?

You’d think you’d have figured this out by now:Whatever negative spirit you have when you willingly dump your spouse, that negative spirit gets set in cement in your heart.You will carry that into all your future relationships.You’ll turn into Jesse James and leave a wake of Sandra Bullocks wherever you go.

Keep in mind I’m referring to the dump-er not the dump-ee.If your spouse dumps you, in my view, you have a much better chance of overcoming negative hurt in your previous marriage than if you are the one that casts your spouse to the curb and cinches up his pants and says, “I’ve done nothing wrong.”A lot better.

Marriage, by the way, is a great place to learn self-control, but if you didn’t learn self-control on anger or choosing to love and giving and forgiving and sacrificing and bucking up and going the second mile in your first marriage, you won’t have a clue where to start in your second marriage and marriage will not survive unless you learn to develop these things. When you divorce you shut off your ability to learn these things in the crucible of marriage, short of some miracle. Now I believe in miracles, but I also don’t believe in borrowing trouble. Divorce borrows trouble. It tests God to see just how big of a jerk you can make yourself before He intervenes. I suggest you don’t test God to see how far He will go before He steps in and saves you from your insanity.

Anger is fine if it tells you you need some help and you can’t figure this out and we seem to be doing the same things over and over again and it just doesn’t seem to get anywhere or it tells you maybe you should get a book about this or bone up on that or maybe read your Bible for a change and seek the Lord and grow spiritually and become a bit more patient or the two of you sit down and brainstorm solutions and come up with some pretty creative things to try to solve whatever and over time you figure things out. Anger is really good about motivating people to change. It’s really good for that.

But if you don’t listen to the constructive side of anger, pretty soon the destructive side of anger will rear its ugly head and it’ll tell you to get even, to hurt back. That’s when you shut down anger. Enough already. Ain’t goin’ there. No way. When anger tells you to hurt your loved ones that’s a boldfaced lie and it’s time to say no, to stop it already. Don’t use anger as a communication tool unless your plan is to leave a trail of tears wherever you go.

Just stop it.

For a humorous look at this check out the link my son Brandon sent me with a comment that my education was all in vain. I just needed Bob Newhart’s therapy technique. The clip is six minutes long. Hang in there. The punch line doesn’t come until the end:

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

Part Three On Communication: Forcing The Conversation Doesn’t Work

The direct approach usually escalates things.  For Part One in the series click here.  For Part Two click here.  For the entire series click here.

Johnny Carson used to say (he was quoting The Preacher in Ecclesiastes) that timing is everything.He was referring to the timing of his jokes, but the principle is broader than late night television.When it comes to communication between a husband and wife, timing is everything.

There are good times to talk about things and there are bad times.If you force a conversation with your spouse when the timing is bad, you are begging for trouble.If this happens too often and you end up with crazy, mean things being said by both parties, this just gets both of you rattled and will cause one or both of you to doubt the integrity of the marriage:There must be something the matter with us.

And then you will be tempted to think that the two of you aren’t good for each other, which will open you up to the possibility of divorce or the reality of divorce or the actuality of a divorce and thoughts like that will lead to the eventuality of divorce on the one hand or the potentiality of an affair on the other (I’m planning on getting a divorce anyway!) and then you’ll divorce your current spouse and get married to some other person to whom you can really communicate. Whew! Good for you (you think) and then the same patterns emerge, because you really didn’t learn anything about communicating in your first marriage and now you are making the same mistakes all over again.


Let’s get this right the first time.

In my last blog I chided the withdrawer and wrote that shutting down wasn’t bad in and of itself, unless the shutting down went on for too long.Let’s keep the shutting down and the calming down and the regrouping to about a half an hour tops.And don’t just shut down.Tell your spouse you need a little time to put yourself back together.If you go longer than that you are begging your spouse to loose trust in you as a viable partner.Shutting down for a day or more on a regular basis is a down and dirty and quick way to destroy your marriage (and if you do it do your kids, too, they will all grow up to be crazy, literally, and they will need lots of therapy or lithium or both or they will sit in an institution somewhere for the rest of their lives, rocking back and forth and saying to themselves, “it’s all my fault,” “it’s all my fault.”).

Better yet, know yourself well enough that you don’t have to shut down at all and find a way to signal to your spouse that you are headed down that path and the both of you work together as a team to keep anyone from having to go so far that the withdrawer gets lost in a vortex of adrenaline and rapid heart rates and faster breathing and before you know it one of you explodes into a god-forbidding rage and the police are called to protect your family from you because your job is to protect your family and if you don’t the police will come to make sure that you do or they will protect your family from you! This is not the option of choice.

We have these two parties: The pursuer and the withdrawer in most marriages, and if they are not careful, they unwittingly egg each other on.The pursuer wants to talk about things, get them aired, get them discussed and worked on so the relationship can improve and God bless them for that.And the withdrawer wants things to be safe and doesn’t want to fight or say mean things or get rattled or rattle the other and God bless them for that.

But if we get these two going we’re entering a danger zone. The more the pursuer pushes for a topic to be untangled, the more the withdrawer feels attacked. The withdrawer starts to get upset and not talk and look away. This gets the pursuer more frustrated, feeling her spouse is poopooing her, ignoring her, scoffing her. She’ll get more animated to let her husband know how important this is to her and the more the pursuer pursues, the more the withdrawer withdraws and the more the withdrawer withdraws the more upset and determined and focused the pursuer gets until one or the other, loses it.

This is where we get the lion’s share of domestic violence. It’s usually the withdrawer that uncorks into no-man’s land, but the pursuer can say some pretty mean things on the way to that territory. If the pursuer can’t get the withdrawer to say something by the pursuer being nice, then the pursuer tries being sarcastic or mean or downright nasty and then if the withdrawer is just sitting there or looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor or out the window, or leaves the room altogether, the pursuer feels totally neglected and slighted and ignored and abandoned and the pursuer will open the floodgates of insults to get the withdrawer into the program.

This, of course, is not the road to happiness for pursuers or withdrawers or for the kids of these people.If they do this too often, one or both will start to entertain the notion that they aren’t good for each other and divorce becomes the treatment of choice.Then it is curious that quite often in their next relationship the pursuer becomes a withdrawer or the withdrawer becomes a pursuer, because both of them saw that their respective withdrawing or pursuing didn’t work in their first marriage, so they very well might try the opposite in their second.

Or the pursuer pursues even more in the second because she thinks she didn’t pursue enough in the first.Or the withdrawer ain’t gonna take no crap either and withdraws at the drop of a hat in the second.

People in second marriages have less resistance to these patterns and they have antennas out looking for inequities because they’ve have their fill of hurt already in their first marriages and are hypersensitive to it in their second, third, etc. So if they had difficulty in these areas in their first marriage, it’s likely to be an even worse pattern in subsequent marriages.

But neither withdrawing nor pursuing work in first or second or third or whatever marriages.So in therapy we look at not getting each other worked up so much and if one or the other is getting hot that they need to calm it down ASAP before it reaches the boiling point, so the two of them can actually work things through.

Since my last blog zeroed in on the withdrawer (extreme versions of) I thought that in this blog I’d focus on the pursuer. Withdrawers as a whole (most of them are husbands, but wives can do it, too) don’t want to be attacked and put on the spot. The direct approach just gets them upset. So, if you are the pursuer, the one who brings up issues to discuss and think things through, you are going to have to be a little more subtler than that. Here’s a hint from the Bible:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Deuteronomy 6: 6-7

Now your spouse isn’t your child, but the principle is the same, that the best time to talk about important things is when you are casually doing other things. Francis Schaeffer, the well-known Christian apologist of the 1960’s and 1970’s, actually used this as a teaching technique. He’d take the young college intellectuals that visited him at his chalet (called L’Abri) in Switzerland on walks in the beautiful Swiss alps and as they went on walks in the midst of all the overwhelming beauty, he would ask them questions about the meaning of life or they would ask him questions about the absurdity of it all and they would talk about God and philosophy and theology and the monolithic (He used the word monolithic a lot in his writing.) culture of the day. When people are on walks and looking at beautiful nature and NOT looking each other in the eye, it’s a lot easier to talk about difficult subjects. This not only works with your children (as in the verses quoted above), and with budding intellectuals, but with your spouse. Timing is everything.

So suggest you take a walk or go for a drive and keep the radio off and look at the scenery or the crops or the deer or the changing colors of the leaves and the blooming flowers or the scurrying squirrels and talk about this or that along the way, not looking directly in his eye or chat while you are working on a project together like cleaning the garage. Or have some pillow talk while you cuddle at night before you go to sleep and the lights and TV are off and just chat about your day and keep it calm and keep it simple and see if, dang, he doesn’t open up after all.

Remember when you were a kid and you and a buddy were in sleeping bags in the backyard and this one night you didn’t have a tent and you just laid there looking at the stars and the two of you talked into the wee hours of the night about the scary things and you talked about your problems for the first time and you felt heard, like someone actually understood you? Or you and a couple of friends sat by a campfire after everyone else went to sleep and you expressed thoughts you’d never thought before, all while you all are just fiddling with the fire and are mesmerized by the marvel of the mysterious dancing flames, never once hardly even looking at each other? Ah, now you are getting it.

The key ingredients here are informality, nonchalance and chatting. And timing.

Don’t stand there glaring at him with your hands on your hips and your chin butted out and your eyelids all ferruled and lips pursed.And keep the sarcastic comments out of the conversation altogether.Just chat.The research on this is clear:Withdrawers WILL talk if they feel it is safe.Start attacking and accusing and evaluating and dissecting his personhood and his motives, start reading his mind and telling him what he thinks and feels, being sure to put a negative spin on it and then absolutely not being open to his point of view when he tries to say he doesn’t feel or think or even ponder that way at all and you can expect your withdrawer to shut down like lockdown after courtyard time at the federal prison.

And then that will really get you going and you’ll be off to the races again, but no one will ever win.

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

Part Two On Communication: We Have Trouble Communicating. NO, You Don’t!

Communication is occurring in spades, but it might not be the message you intend to send.  For the first blog on communication click here.  For the entire series click here.

My husband won’t communicate with me. He just sits there and won’t talk.

A Common Comment From Wives

I don’t want to fight.

A Common Comment From Husbands

I get a kick out of these people who say they don’t communicate when they are communicating fine.Everything you do communicates.Like we said in our last blog, cows and flies don’t communicate, but people do.All the time.Even when you aren’t saying anything you are communicating.

Let’s say you and your spouse had an argument (which is communicating that you are both stubborn and you both want your own way and I’m smarter than you and you are stupid) and then you got mad enough to quit talking.You are still communicating.You’re just not using words.What is your silence communicating?

It depends how long it goes.

If you won’t talk for a half an hour or so and this is a recurring pattern, your partner might cut you some slack and say to herself that you just needed to calm down. And after the half hour if you say something to open the lines of verbal communication then you may be able to clear the air. As long as we have a good habit of reconnecting verbally and KINDLY we’ll probably be fine. Going forward, though, it’d be much better if you said you needed some time to pull yourself together than to just shut down. The total shut down is pretty rude, but if you are able to re-engage soon enough, the two of you will be Okay.

But if, after a half hour of silence, the two of you get into a verbal sparing match again, that wouldn’t be good, especially if this is the recurring pattern of choice. Then the half hour is going to be interpreted as the lull before the storm and your spouse will be working up her defenses and you will be working up yours and then BOOM! We’ve got another battle on your hands.

But what if you don’t talk for the rest of the day and you go to bed without a kiss goodnight or cuddling or pillow-talk or love-yous or chatting about your day or chatting about tomorrow or chatting it up about your kids or the news or the sports or the phone call you got from your mom or the car that needs repaired or the bill that needs to be paid tomorrow or which one of us is going to stay home to meet the stupid cable guy (again!) tomorrow? Nothing. All of a sudden you just disappear and your wife looks around and you are gone. And she goes to the bedroom and you are rolled over on your side looking away from her and she quietly slips into bed and tries to snuggle against you and you pull away, making it clear that you do NOT want her touching you.

And lets say you do this withdrawal thing for a day or so.What are you communicating now?You think you are NOT communicating just because you aren’t saying anything?You are NOT a cow.If you are a cow and not saying anything the other cow isn’t going to get ticked or be hurt or anything because cows don’t have feelings to get hurt.A cow will go months without talking and won’t have any hurt feelings at all.But your spouse?

And, if you are so cruel as to avoid your spouse for a day, like I just described, what will be going on in your heart, if you are so stubborn and self-absorbed as to not talk to your spouse for 24 hours?How mean do you have to be to do this?What kind of bad habits are you learning?And what are you teaching your spouse?And what are you teaching your kids if you treat them the same way or if you won’t talk to mommy, but you’ll be all grins with the kids?

You don’t need a degree in family dynamics to know that if you talk to your kids or not and you don’t talk to your wife, your kids are going to be messed up. And so is your wife. And so are you.

So don’t tell me you aren’t communicating. Lots of messages are being shared here. It might not be the message that you are intending to send. You are probably just trying to convey that you have hurt feelings or you don’t want to fight or you’d like someone else to apologize for a change and that you are NOT going to be the one who apologizes first. You’ll just wait it out. You’ll test her. That’ll get your point across.

Well, like I said in my last blog, we can be really off base when it comes to reading minds and only God can do that and if you want your spouse to read your mind you better tell her what is on your mind, so she can read the words you say and see if the words you say match your mood, and over time, if the words you say match the mood you convey, she might have a clue as to your desire for her to apologize, for example, (‘cuz you’ve said it before), but if you’ve never told her that, there’s no way she’ll know that and you know what she’s going to think, while you are sitting or laying there totally ignoring her existence? You know what you are communicating?

Put yourself in her shoes. Have you ever had someone purposely and willingly NOT talk you for hours and hours, even though you were in the same room and you loved that person and like this person was your spouse, the person you said you were going to be faithful to till death us do part through sickness and health and all that? Ever had that done to you? What did you go through? What did you feel?

So don’t tell me you don’t communicate.

You communicate fine.

When we teach communication skills in marital therapy, what we are teaching is how to convey what you intend to convey. How to convey what you intend to convey so your spouse really does know what you are trying to say and what you are thinking because if you don’t say what you are thinking or you tell her what you are thinking and your spouse doesn’t believe you and fills in the blanks herself, we’ll have a bunch of negative messages in there if we’re not careful and over time that can wear people out.

And then you’ll divorce each other and marry someone else and you’ll do fine communicating with that spouse, too, only you still won’t be conveying what you intend to convey and your next wife will also fill in the blanks, and if you are not getting along particularly well she will fill in the blanks with negativity and pretty soon you’ll be looking at divorce number two or even divorce number three, or you’ll just throw out marriage altogether, thinking marriage is the problem, but marriage is what gives us dependability and protection and safety and reliability and if you just cohabit your intended messages will be even more skewed toward hurt, because your cohabitee will think why would he just live with me for nothing and what’s in it for him and intended messages won’t be believed, much.Cohabiting couples have a terrible time with intended messages because without the marriage vow to seal the deal everybody’s intentions are suspect: You say one thing (“I love you”) and do another (“marriage is just a piece of paper”) and these cross messages play with people’s brains.It’s communication loud and clear.

And if you decide to really get your point across and not talk to your spouse for a month or more and not say a word and not even acknowledge your spouse’s presence, like she doesn’t exist, if you do that ‘cuz you are testing her or trying to convey that you are hurt or that you don’t want to fight or it takes you that long to get your courage up to even talk to her or to say something teasing or funny to break the ice and you don’t have the courage to do that, then you will be communicating very well, thank you very much, that she is a complete waste of your time and you do NOT need her and you may as well fall off the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned and you don’t mean anything to me as well and maybe I’m getting my needs met elsewhere, and you can’t influence me in any positive OR negative way, and you may as well cease to exist. Well, if you do that to her and you are communicating very well, loud and clear, these messages of continual disdain, well then, you shouldn’t be surprised, that if you do this to her a couple of times, that she communicates to you with the sheriff serving you some papers that convey to you in no uncertain terms how the communication that you were giving her without words was being interpreted and you can spend the rest of your days telling everyone what a complete crazy person your X wife was. Just make sure you leave out the part that you don’t have the fortitude to resist the temptation to not talk for a month or more. It takes are real moron to be able to do that. If you could package that little trick we wouldn’t have to worry about over populating the earth because mankind or humankind, or whatever is politically correct, would cease to exist, as we know it.

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

Part One On Communication: Careful! You May NOT Be Able to Read My Mind After All!

He probably lets his mind wander just a tad too much.

He thinks that I think that he’s a ______(fill in the blank, such as failure) and I don’t think that.

A frequent comment in marital therapy

Woe to me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain. I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.*

Jeremiah 45:3

A recent article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times (March 31, 2010) explained the current brain research that is looking at “mental states” and how we can predict, pretty accurately it seems, what someone else is thinking. Literature scholars are taking this one step further and asking how many layers of complexity we can comprehend using brain scans of people reading various literature passages. A common example from our popular culture was given to illustrate the point:

To illustrate what a growing number of literary scholars consider the most exciting area of new research, Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky, refers to an episode from the TV series “Friends.”

(Follow closely now; this is about the science of English.) Phoebe and Rachel plot to play a joke on Monica and Chandler after they learn the two are secretly dating. The couple discover the prank and try to turn the tables, but Phoebe realizes this turnabout and once again tries to outwit them.

As Phoebe tells Rachel, “They don’t know that we know they know we know.”

This layered process of figuring out what someone else is thinking — of mind reading — is both a common literary device and an essential survival skill. Why human beings are equipped with this capacity and what particular brain functions enable them to do it are questions that have occupied primarily cognitive psychologists.

Now English professors and graduate students are asking them too. They say they’re convinced science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature’s very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?

The article goes on to say that modern literature authors frequently use narrative technique to bring the reader into the minds of the various characters, and that most of us can follow these “mental states” for three levels before getting confused.

Jane Austen’s novels are frequently constructed around mistaken interpretations. In “Emma” the eponymous heroine assumes Mr. Elton’s attentions signal a romantic interest in her friend Harriet, though he is actually intent on marrying Emma. She similarly misinterprets the behavior of Frank Churchill and Mr. Knightly, and misses the true objects of their affections.

Humans can comfortably keep track of three different mental states at a time, Ms. Zunshine said. For example, the proposition “Peter said that Paul believed that Mary liked chocolate” is not too hard to follow. Add a fourth level, though, and it’s suddenly more difficult. And experiments have shown that at the fifth level understanding drops off by 60 percent, Ms. Zunshine said. Modernist authors like Virginia Woolf are especially challenging because she asks readers to keep up with six different mental states, or what the scholars call levels of intentionality.

You might be able to guess that all of this would interest a marital therapist like myself. It’s not uncommon for a wife to tell me what her mother-in-law was thinking and what her mother-in-law’s motives were and now the wife in my office is explaining to me her hurt and the husband then says that he knows his mother better than his wife and that his mother’s motives weren’t negative at all and that his wife shouldn’t feel hurt and then both of them look to me to be the arbiter of what someone else was thinking when I’ve never even met that other person and now they want my opinion on the motives of the mother-in-law! Whoa!  Slow down.

About the time I read this NYT article I came across the passage in Jeremiah quoted above that predates Virginia Woolf by 2500 years and the NYT article by 2600 years.

I dare you to look this passage up (here or it’s included at the end of this blog today) and try to figure out who is saying what to whom. It’s a bit confusing. I’ve lost track of how many layers of complexity there are. The passage is in the book of Jeremiah, which was written by the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah, who dictated it to his assistant, Baruch. The verse above at the beginning of this blog is a direct quote from God, who tells Jeremiah what Baruch is saying. So Baruch is writing words that Jeremiah told him God said that Baruch is saying. And now you are reading these words that I said God said to Jeremiah what Baruch said and then Baruch wrote them all down so you and I could benefit from the worries of Baruch, reported third or forth or fifth hand.

Then, as if this isn’t confusing enough, God goes on to tell Jeremiah to give a message from God to Baruch of what God is thinking about what Baruch is saying and thinking. God tells Jeremiah what that message is. Presumably, Jeremiah obeys God and tells Baruch that message. What we don’t know is if Jeremiah told Baruch that message so that Baruch could write it down and then he told Baruch that message or if he told Baruch that message and then Baruch wrote it down later. Regardless of the order, Baruch wrote down what Jeremiah told him God said that Baruch said and then God gave his opinion of what Baruch said to Jeremiah who was to tell Baruch God’s message of what God said about what Baruch said.

I’m making this more confusing than it is for a reason, so hang in here with me. I believe that the Bible is true and that God really did read Baruch’s mind accurately, whether Baruch said these words to himself, out loud to his wife or directly to Jeremiah or in a prayer to God. We really don’t know to whom Baruch said these words. Baruch wrote them in Hebrew around 600 BC and they were written down by scribes over the years, time and time again and then around 1973 some English scholars translated these ancient Masoretic Hebrew texts into English from some modern day copies of the ancient (around 1000 years old by this time) scrolls. And some printer prints it and a machine puts it all together and it’s boxed and shipped and unloaded and put on a shelf in a retail store by a number of different people and I buy the Bible 24 years ago this month and it’s sitting here by my side on my chair and hassock and I type it into Microsoft Word in my Apple MacBook and soon I’ll use my Apple Time Machine wireless router that will send the message to Mediacom’s RCA modem which, through an intricate cable network will send the message to WordPress’ computer servers in the San Francisco Bay area where it’ll be downloaded to my blog and then from there it will travel through the internet all over the world, but, specifically today and right now, you will look at it on your computer after it’s gone in reverse through the same process. And, I assume, that in the translation and the myriad changes that have gone on to the message, that you will be able to cogently understand the message of what God was saying to Jeremiah of what God said Baruch said and Jeremiah told this message to Baruch of what God said Baruch said and then Baruch wrote it down so that millennia latter you could read it and comprehend it.

And I even skipped many layers of human interaction and involvement and dependency in what it took to get all of these different layers together. It’s not a measly 6 layers. It’s thousands upon thousands: Just to get this bible by my lap we have the lumber man who cut down the tree from which the paper was made and the hundreds of inventions that were needed to put a chainsaw together, let alone a semi truck or a printing machine or the ink that was invented and manufactured and shipped or the box it was all stored in or the graphic artist that put the final flourishes on the cover of the bible or the typesetter that laid out the text or the lady that served the truck driver coffee in Nebraska as he drove across the country and the farmer that harvested the coffee beans in South America. And this is not even mentioning all the people involved across the world that were involved in the invention, production, transportation and sales of the chair and hassock I’m sitting on as I write this on a computer that took hundreds of inventions with collaboration and networking and tears and countless people from unnamed countries to develop and perfect or to credit the scientists that invented the medicine that I take every day that if I didn’t take I’d be dead by now and wouldn’t have these thoughts that I am actually conveying so that you can somehow, miraculously, comprehend and read my mind which you are reading today, but I wrote it the day before and thought about it for a long while before that.

Now one of the major points of the NYT’s article above is that our ability as humans to understand different layers of complexity in human communication is an evolutionary process, which I find a complete package of crazy nonsense.If you think about it, communication between people is a pretty amazing thing.How could we have evolved from a natural system with only one degree of communication (like from one fly to another) to this elaborate system of interlocking and interplaying mechanisms so we could comprehend the thoughts and feelings of a scared scribe 2600 years ago?Take any other animal you want.For example a cow is just a cow.It has no feelings to convey.There is only one degree of separation in communication between one cow and another cow at best and probably no degrees of separation from a cow to us.There is no memory and certainly no history.Cows don’t collaborate or read each other’s minds or contemplate each other’s mental states.They don’t invent anything or have libraries.The cow doesn’t covey anything to us, nor we to the cow, nor to each other, but with us and between us we have myriads and myriads of connections over great distances and different systems and companies and entities and over unimaginable epochs and even then the communication can be sent, understood and comprehended.How this “evolved” and is all just chance and has absolutely no meaning at all and then you even have the gall to ask me to believe it (!) is a complete collection of fantastical mythology.

All this to make this little point: While God might know what Baruch said and thought and felt, and was able to convey that to us through Baruch’s message from Jeremiah, you don’t know what your spouse thinks and feels unless you ask or he tells you. You will really get into a mess if you tell your spouse what she thinks and she tells you she doesn’t think that and then you say that she indeed did think that. Now God knows what Baruch said and thought and felt, but you are NOT God and you DO NOT know what your spouse thinks and feels. You have a hunch. You can test your hunch by asking your spouse if that is what he meant. That would be fine. But if you ask, you need to be prepared to believe it. What a complete waste of time for your spouse to tell you what he is thinking or feeling and then you tell him he’s not thinking and feeling that and then he says yes he is and then you argue about what you said he said and he argues that that is not what he meant and you say yes you did.

Folks, we’ve only got 2 degrees here.We should be able to get this.We’re not separated by centuries and cultures and languages and races and geography and technology and mediums.She’s standing right there.She just told you what she said and felt.STOP.LISTEN.SLOW DOWN.You should be able to get this.

I thought you meant this.

No, I meant that. I could see how you could think I thought this, but, no, I meant that.

Oh. Okay. Man, that freaked me out, because I thought you thought this. What a relief.

Yeah, sorry. No, I meant that. It would really be creepy if I meant this.

Yeah, no kidding.I’m glad you meant that.


Clearing the air.

Checking in.

Let’s leave the mind reading to God.

*The full passage from Jeremiah 45 is as follows (from the NIV and the website: ): This is what Jeremiah the prophet told Baruch son of Neriah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, after Baruch had written on a scroll the words Jeremiah was then dictating: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You said, ‘Woe to me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ “

The LORD said, “Say this to him: ‘This is what the LORD says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the LORD, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ “