First off: this quote is a bit unfair. There are certainly men who simply aren’t chatty, no matter who they are talking to. And there are wives who are good at expressing their opinions in ways that are engaging and helpful and insightful and their husbands are totally fine. What this quote is talking about are those situations that get a little off kilter. One of the biggest complaints of wives I hear is their husband’s won’t talk to them. One of the biggest complaints of husbands is their wives are never happy. The more he feels she’s complaining, the more criticized he feels, the more criticized he feels, the more he quits talking, the more disconnected she feels and around and around they go. This is why marital counseling can help: with a third person there he or she can help you get outside yourselves and look down on this pattern. You can look at it objectively and instead of blaming each other you can start to figure things out. Or, you can divorce each other, marry somebody else, and do the same thing.
The average wife speaks two to ten times more words a day than her husband. Certainly, there are exceptions to this “average” where some guys are more talkative than their wives. But let’s look at the more common pattern:
When they are dating these two differences are appealing. He likes it that she gabs about these simple things and helps him see things he’s never seen. He thinks it’s cute. She likes how she feels secure in his strong demeanor, that there’s something about his quietness that feels reassuring, even safe. But human nature is such that every good personality trait has a bad, opposite personality trait to go along with it: He’s pleasantly shy, but he’s rude; she’s engaging, but she’s obnoxious. When you marry each other you have to take the good with the bad.
A lady once told me she was divorcing her husband because he wouldn’t talk to her. I knew her husband and pointed out to her that her husband was a pretty shy guy. She said, “I don’t care. I’ll find a guy who will talk to me.” I feel sorry for that guy, if she ever found him.
Whether we talk or don’t talk, a little mutual respect would be good. We could all probably use a little of that. It’s good men might not have to talk about everything, but work hard even when it’d be easy to give up. It’s good women like to explain what they are feeling and work out what’s rattling around in their heads. Some wisdom and solutions can float to the top. We can connect around silence or talking. We can disconnect around silence or talking. Neither is good or bad. The attitude you bring to the table, whether you are him or her, might be the more determining factor.
One of us is spontaneous and the other likes to plan. Those two just don’t get along. We’re just so different.” Well, hello! Yes, we are different. This would be a good thing! Nevertheless this idea that “We’re not compatible” is a sad statement, because people who think like this are missing out on one of life’s serendipitous joys: Spontaneous Vs Likes-to-Plan are not contradictory. They are complementary! Maybe you don’t know how to make that work for you as a couple, but figuring it out will bring a lot of sweet moments for the two of you. How? The planner plans the getaway, but you plan a spontaneous getaway.
In a nutshell here’s how to get these two complementary tendencies in harmony: The planner plans the trip while consulting with the spontaneous spouse, but doesn’t fill every minute. Then on the trip you plan to be spontaneous. We had to plan ahead to get the time off and set it aside and make reservations. What we do is scout out a couple of ideas in the area where we are going of things we can do and then we let the weather and our mood and energy level determine what we do each day. We might want to have a couple of ideas we can do on this or that day, but as a rule of thumb, it’s go-with-the-flow. Too many families get into trouble on their vacations when the schedule is packed too tight. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than the planner insisting we do what they want every minute and then pout or gets mad when others want to do something different. G0-with-the-flow is our vacation motto. You plan, but don’t over-plan.
We just had one of these planning/spontaneous trips recently that was delightful and I thought I’d share it with you to prime the pump of your creativity. Around January this last year I start planning our summer camping trips in order to get nice camping spots. In Iowa you can reserve camping sites 3 months in advance. In both Minnesota and Michigan you can reserve up to 6 month. In Iowa you can reserve a cabin at a state park a year in advance. Each state has their own rules. Then I mark the calendar day when I can start reserving. This is especially important for holiday weekends. For the camping season that’s: Memorial Weekend, Independence Day and Labor Day weekend. This year we wanted to camp in Northeast Iowa over Memorial Weekend. We were going to leave on the previous Wednesday (May 20th this year) and camp through that Monday. Ninety days prior to May 20, 2015, was February 20th and on my work calendar I made a note to myself to make reservations for the campground we wanted on February 20th. Since that was the first day we can make reservations we had the pick of what campsite we wanted. Previously we’d decided on Volga River Recreation Area. It was in the center of a lot of fun things to do, it had lots of open area, mountain biking trails, a lake and two rivers and two campgrounds with over 5000 acres to explore. It turned out wonderful. Our campground was brand new with new concrete roads and shower facilities and the area was beautiful.
We had to plan to make this happen, but we didn’t fill our schedule tight. Part of being on vacation is to go with the flow, to just chill. For five days all the plans we had were to
- Explore Decorah, Iowa which was near our campground and bring our bikes and hit the Trout Run Trail
- Try out my new Weber Smoky Mountain 14″ smoker with some baby back ribs
Not much of a full schedule for five days. Lots of spontaneous time. We ended up with some rain days so we had to be a bit creative to not go stir crazy. In a future blog I’ll tell you about that wonderful, spontaneous day…all because of rain on a camping day.
Careful. Divorce seems like the easy solution, but it creates a whole new set of problems on top of the ones we’ve got and no one’s learned anything. You say, to justify divorce, “I don’t want my kids thinking fighting like this is normal” and then you divorce and teach your kids there’s no way you can work things out and to run from your problems. Then you marry someone else and you still hadn’t learned to work through your problems and the communication issues start up again. Oh, and your new spouse can’t stand your kids. And you only see your kids half the time. And they don’t want to come home (What’s home? Your house or your X’s? Neither.). Great. Either way we’ve got a bunch of people losing.
Most of us didn’t grow up learning how to handle negative emotion. Either mom and dad fought all the time, or they never discussed anything of substance or one person dominated and the other shut down. Those are the three major patterns that don’t work and all of them lead to hurt in the home and often to eventual divorce. Maybe it’d be better to figure out the one way, the only way that really leads to marital contentment and that would be for both parties to be able to say what they need to say without animosity and where both parties feel like they are being heard.
‘Cuz here’s the deal: Neither of you are dumb! If one of you was dumb, you wouldn’t have gotten married. The whole advantage of marriage (well one of them at least) is two heads are better than one. We’ve got a built in checks and balance system here. You don’t know everything. Your spouse doesn’t know everything. So you compare notes. Then you make a decision based on your collective wisdom.
You say you can’t do that? That’s where we come in.
But hang on a second here: Sometimes it’s not just a question of technique or personality or style or gender difference. Sometimes there’s an elephant in the room. Sometimes there’s unresolved hurt or ongoing hurt lurking in the corner driving the anger. Sometimes there’s hurt from the past before the two of you got together that keeps rising to the surface. Sometimes the couple doesn’t spend any time together so when they do they have a chip on their shoulder because they are lonely and resentful they are on the back burner. Sometimes the couple isn’t connecting sexually and the indifference that creates is driving sour moods. Sometimes a person is too committed to work or their children or a hobby or another friend or the church or a cause or exercising or video games or that stupid phone or Facebook or ? leaves the other spouse feeling they are in last place and you know what? They’re sick of playing second fiddle. Sometimes both of them are just flat out selfish! Sometimes both of them think or one of them does, at least, that we can’t disagree and if we disagree we have to talk until we agree or we wear each other out, and then, of course, one of them will have to give up their position to make peace and then we have a loser and if one of us loses we both lose because we are in this together. Sometimes a really bad habit like porn or alcohol or drugs or gambling or ? is driving the anger. Sometimes fighting is just a stupid bad habit and neither of them know any better! Sometimes the issue we’re fighting about isn’t even the issue and there’s something else entirely going on! YIKES!
These are all things we can work on. You can’t fight in my office! The calmness and respect actually changes people! If we can be calm in Bing’s office, maybe we could do this at home?! This is what we do. Fighting isn’t the way to go. Divorce only adds to your problems and freezes any hope of rising above your problems and learning from your mistakes and becoming better people.
Finding a way to resolve your differences without bodies in the ditch would be a better route.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the second complaint is, “I can’t say anything to him without him taking it personal and getting mad or shutting down.” Both of these concerns can lead to relationship breakdown if we aren’t careful.
One of the great ironies in life is we are often at fault when we judge others (the exception to this is abuse: whatever the victim has done, abuse is always the perpetrator’s fault. Yeah, you shouldn’t have left your bicycle outside, but that didn’t give the thief a pass free card to steal it.). For example, the moment you say your father or mother-in-law judges you and is unforgiving, you are pointing the finger back at yourself for in saying it you are being judgmental and unforgiving of your in-laws! Saying to your husband “You taking everything I say as criticism” or “You won’t talk to me” are both criticism. There are two gut-level responses to criticism: shutting down and lashing out. Sometimes you’ll get both. In both cases we’ll have relationship breakdown. The husband thinks his wife is at fault. The wife thinks her husband is at fault.
He said/she said.
Welcome to the great mystery.
I hope you resist the temptation one client told me years ago. She told me her husband never talked to her. I said he was a pretty shy guy. And he was. In his case he wasn’t just not talking to her because he was feeling she was bracing for a fight (she was and was unaware of it). He wasn’t saying much because he was the not-saying-much kind of guy. He’d never said much to anyone. She said, “I don’t care. I’ll find a man who will.” With a spirit like that, you can bet he won’t talk to her very long!
Hey, look: the average woman speaks two to ten times more words than her husband a day. She’s articulate and can formulate thoughts and feelings in a flash, while he has no idea what to say, let alone how to say it. Meanwhile, the more he scrambles for words and doesn’t say anything, the more anxious she gets because she’s feeling a disconnect and the more anxious she gets, the more he worries about what he’s going to say so he doesn’t hurt her or set her off because the last thing he wants is a fight and he gets more self-conscious and less confident to say anything and his heart is racing and he shuts down and she tries to get him upset enough to say something, anything, just let me know you are alive and that you want to connect with me, and he’s at a loss for words, because not only does he feel boxed into a corner and judged and scorned and there’s something the matter with me because I can’t say anything, he fears most importantly, he doesn’t want to fight and he’s learned over the years that if he says anything, she’ll jump on that and ream it out from three directions and point out in ten different ways why his point of view has no merit or one or both will be sarcastic or roll their eyes and off we go to the races.
Sometimes it’s the other way around, where he’s more outgoing or more apt to bring up concerns and she’s the one to shut down. Sometimes both of them go at it and are pretty volatile and a fight is just beneath the surface. Sometimes neither of them are able to say what they need to say and nothing gets said and resentments build up like the wall of China and the two of them are roommates in the extreme.
In any case, when couples are in this quagmire it’s difficult to figure out what to do, both of them are too close, and often solutions tried end up backfiring and the couple can’t bring anything up without saying mean and hurtful things and some, out of frustration, don’t say anything at all. Then they start entertaining thoughts of divorce, and, sadly, many do, and eventually, marry someone else they think they can communicate (finally!) with and then when the newness wears off, they are right back with the same communication issues, only this time, maybe, they take on the reverse role because the pursuer or withdrawer role didn’t work before. Nobody’s learned anything and they may seek divorce again as a solution and we’ve destroyed another family in the process.
Hey, maybe you should figure this stuff out. That’s where we come in. We give you an objective, outsider’s point of view. We’ve seen these patterns, hundreds, thousands of times. We’ve helped out myriads of couples handle the communication issues wiser. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. We can point these things out without anyone getting upset. Light bulbs go on it people’s minds. They learn different ways to handle it and instead of fighting or shutting down they actually learn to tap into each others’ wisdom and talk about it without animosity.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Check out all of these materials (here) to get a better grasp of the Model.
The Development of the Model:
The Model arose after hearing from clients the stories of thousands of individuals and adults about their relationships. Most of these were married. Many were cohabiting or had cohabited before. Others were single or divorced, some several times. These people would tell me, often without prompting, the key elements that were missing in their marital or romantic relationships or the types of things they felt were important to making a marital relationship worthwhile. The six elements of the Model are the six things these people brought up in sessions, over and over again.
While some researchers might question the wisdom of creating a Model of Marriage from people who are hurting, I would counter, that people who are hurting know instinctively what is missing and can articulate very convincingly the things they need. A person in the desert knows he needs water to survive. A person who just finished a 32-ounce Coke may be upset because his iPhone doesn’t have reception. They both need water to survive, but the person in the desert is much more aware.
Priorities in the Model:
As you look at the graphic of the Model, note that it is built from the ground up. The item lower on the graphic trumps the items above it. This is a very helpful way to understand, as a couple and a therapist, what priorities are needed to improve the marriage.
For example, Commitment trumps Trust: it won’t matter if you are having an affair, if you are going to leave me. Trust trumps Communication: I won’t believe a word you are saying if I think you are lying to me! Communication trumps Sexuality: Why would I want to be sexual with you if you never talk to me, or all you do is criticize me?
The Elements of the Model:
The Model has six layers with two concepts in each layer. The two concepts at each layer are complementary to each other and necessary to the complete understanding of that area. For example, we can’t just communicate. We also need to be able to solve our problems. In addition, you’ll note that all of the concepts at each level are interactive and dependent on the teamwork of both spouses. You don’t communicate alone or you aren’t affectionate alone. This helps couples see the character of their Marriage depends upon both of them working for the common good of the family the two of them started.
Marriage and Commitment:
When I use the word Marriage I’m referring to a husband and wife who have made a public pledge to leave their father and mother and start a new family. In my view, Marriage is NOT about loving, romantic relationships. Defining marriage as simply a romantic relationship has reduced marriage to feelings, leading to our horrendous divorce and cohabiting rates and encouraging anyone to be “married.” This watered-down view has taken away from Marriage its intrinsic worth, and devalued it to the point where 50% of our married people throw theirs away. Marriage has historically meant the complementary of a man and a woman, who are one in their uniquely, sexually, monogamous relationship, who promise in a public way their mutual commitment to each other in their new family. Their family has the potential to be intergenerational, forming the safest and most tender place for the next generation to be raised. Anything less reduces marriage to a loaf of bread: buy a new one if you feel like it.
Commitment is the idea that the vows of Marriage are continually reinforced throughout their lives together, because they’ve formed a new family. Neither partner does or says things to call their Commitment or their new family into question.
Cohabitation does NOT offer the security of Married for Life and because the couple doesn’t know if either is in or out for sure, insecurity lurks beneath the scene. Married couples who threaten the Marriage by saying things like “I can’t take this any more” or “I deserve to be happy,” also create insecurity and if either party thinks the other might leave, they start protecting themselves from the other spouse. Either scenario (cohabitation or threats to leave) causes people to see their partner as their roommate instead of a husband or a wife, leading to marital problems and chaos and, for many, divorce or breaking up.
Trust and Accountability:
Trust is the idea that what spouses say matches what they do and they both keep appropriate boundaries with others. There is an invisible boundary around their marital relationship and neither does anything to call that into question. In Accountability both partners willingly tell each other what is going on because they each want the other in his or her life! They do this because they want to compare notes and pool their wisdom and look out for one another. They can’t protect each other, unless they both know where the other is.
Couples that don’t practice this end up keeping secrets from each other and not telling each other what they need to, which introduces insecurity into the relationship and makes one or the other feel controlled or totally unimportant. This also leads to couples living as roommates. Roommates DON’T tell each other what is going on! Married people do, or at least should!
Communication and Problem Solving:
Wise couples will BOTH Communicate their concerns with each other and they BOTH will work together to solve both their concerns. No relationship is perfect and will need to be tweaked now and then. The relationship will not improve, if one or the other or both cannot or will not share their concerns or every time differences are brought up, anger, fighting, or shutting down are a threat. Couples who are not able to resolve their differences or at least work them through to a satisfactory level will find their relationship deteriorating over time. Couples who can’t work through their differences become roommates and either fight or become indifferent. If the relationship can’t get better it will get worse. Over time this can lead to Trust and Commitment issues.
Fun and Friendship:
Couples that enjoy their marriages enjoy each other’s company and they enjoy each other’s company because they spend time alone together and have a relationship on their own accord, apart from their children and/or friend or other family members. This is difficult to do in modern society due to our busy lives, but Thriving Couples understand this and will make special efforts to spend time alone as a couple, enjoying each other’s company and developing their common interests throughout their lives together. Couples, who end up as roommates, develop their own individual private interests only and invest in their careers and children, putting each other on hold. Over time they will grow distant and, if they are not careful, will just pass each other in the hall. This lack of time and effort on both parties’ part will be interpreted as an affront or indifference by each other and will bleed into other areas of the marriage, creating other, more serious problems. For example, why be married to someone who won’t spend any time with me having fun?
Warmth and Affection:
Couples need Warmth and tenderness and one of the easiest ways to convey that is through Affection. By Affection I mean non-sexual, non-demand touching. There is a public and private aspect to this. The public aspect conveys to the children and society at large and to each other that the two of them are an item. The children see mom and dad holding hands on the couch and giving each other a hug and a meaningful kiss at the end of the day. Privately the couple is close in the privacy of their own bed. Their bedroom is a sanctuary with a lock on the door. The couple cuddles, again, without sexual overtones, on a regular basis, keeping the relationship Warm.
Couples, who end up as roommates, avoid Affection and use excuses to keep from doing it. If one is more affectionate, that spouse may give up pursing it because it doesn’t seem reciprocal. Or one may say, I’m just not the affectionate type, leading to neither touching each other, publically or privately. Affection that is one-sided feels forced and lacks Warmth for both. The couple may rarely touch each other in bed (or anywhere else!), have a child or dog in the bed between them in bed or not sleep in the same bed at all! Without Warmth and Affection the relationship grows cold and it is not long before they are both living as roommates and the couple is dealing with many other problems as well.
Intimacy and Sexuality:
There are four purposes for Sexuality: 1) to bring the next generation; 2) to ensure the spiritual connection between a husband and wife; 3) as a creative force in our lives to be a blessing to our families and the wider community (e.g. work, art, service, giving, volunteering); 4) as spiritual energy directed toward God in worship. In any other contexts sexuality becomes a force of chaos, abuse, perversion and death.
The wise couple understands this and makes sure that the Sexuality between them has Intimacy, by which I mean it is mutual and meaningful. Without these two elements Sexuality feels forced or inappropriate or hurtful or selfish. On the flip side couples that ignore sexuality end up losing their love for each other as the spiritual energy between them leaks away. Still other roommate scenarios include one or the other or both getting their sexual needs meant elsewhere or the introduction of other people (e.g. swinging) or things (e.g. pornography) into the sacred marriage bed that is just meant for the husband and the wife. These extremes (coercion, indifference or perversion) cause couples to become roommates, raise marital problems in other areas and may lead to divorce.
Importance of the Model:
All the elements of the Model are necessary for a Marriage to be strong. Weakness in one area can quickly trickle into other areas. Just like a house wouldn’t be much of a house if it is missing a roof or a furnace or a kitchen or windows, so, too, marriage without all the elements will suffer. The Model suggests starting with the most basic foundational area before working on the areas above it (looking at the graphic of the Model: work on Trust before Communication, etc.). Knowing what the weaknesses are helps couples set their own goals as they seek to improve their marriages and can give them tangible places to start going forward. Marital therapists can use the Model to assess the couple and create therapy goals.
Other Issues and the Model:
Money and Children:
Most other issues (e.g. money and children) can be subsumed under the Communication and Problem Solving section. Nevertheless, any issue can become a Marriage and Commitment issue, if the couple can’t work it through, one or the other makes threats to leave or, in frustration, either makes unilateral decisions. For example, quite often in cohabiting couples and step-family situations, money and children become Commitment issues! For example, in a step-family situation, if you don’t warm up to my birth-child, I’ll divorce you! YIKES! Unilateral decisions and threats to break up or divorce in these kinds of settings are common. The major concern here is “how” a couple handles their problems.
When I was first thinking through the Model I considered having protection as one of the major components: safety first, right? After some reflection, I decided that protection is one of the assumptions and purposes of the family and it is germane to each level of the Model. We could speak of protection at each level. Protection is one of the key reasons the family exists in the first place. Protection will be a theme at each level as I write about and develop the Model.
The Thriving Couples Model can help you as a couple determine areas that need work for you to make the most of your Marriage or your relationship. If you are a potential marital therapy client or marital therapist the Model will help you focus on priorities. The Thriving Couples Model provides a philosophy and a structure for improving your Marriage, when both parties realize you exist in the Marriage, not to make each other or yourselves happy, but to sacrifice for the benefit of your new family. Your family is bigger than either of you, is worth sacrificing for, and both of you are key players in making it all it can be.
This blog Copyright by Dr. Bing Wall, Heart to Heart Communication, LC, 2011
To listen to the one hour podcast explaining the Thriving Couples Model in more detail, click here.
To check out the Graphic of the Model, the Chart Contrasting Living as Roommates vs. Husbands and Wives or to download a PDF of this blog today click here.