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.
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?
You want to be careful, though. Ignoring her advice, that maybe some guidance on making this marriage thing a little more enjoyable, could come to bite you in the butt. Here’s a curious phenomena: If she quits complaining, this isn’t necessarily a good sign. Sure, it’s nice she’s not complaining any more, but it very well may be she’s not just learned to go with the flow. She might have decided, instead, since you ignore any of her ideas, why say anything? You’d better be worried if that’s the case, because the research on this is suggesting once she does that, she starts harboring resentments and starts withdrawing from you emotionally and other ways and pretty soon, she’s as good as dead inside about you and divorce starts to look better than being with you. And then she threatens to file or actually files and you start to get it that maybe she wasn’t just blowing smoke and you are all repentant now and wanting to change and, sadly, you might even be telling the truth, and you are willing to go to therapy and even make the appointment, but we spend the sessions figuring out how not to kill each other in the divorce process, because she’s not changing her mind. To her, divorce is just calling a spade a spade and you are left wondering what happened. Or some other Romeo agreed with her that you were a jerk and you know where that goes.
It’s a pretty sad deal and we’d do our best to try to convey to her it’d be worth giving you a go, but chances are, if she’s decided she’s died inside, we just might end up being the undertaker. Look, we disagree with her she’s died inside. We’re optimists and believe people can change, her and you, otherwise we wouldn’t make very good therapists. Still, she may not be open to input that you are worth fighting for, even if you and I agree on that point.
Come see us BEFORE she puts her divorce lawyer on speed dial. In fact, way before: while both of you are still feeling there is something worth saving. We’re not afraid to give you a few pointers and help you heal from past hurts and learn new ways to approach things…ways that actually work, instead of getting everyone even madder.
It’s time to quit saying “we-don’t-need-anyone-else-looking-at-our-problems”. We don’t just sit around and look at your problems, anyway. We try to help the two of you respect each other enough to work together to solve your own problems. We make an assumption that neither or you are dumb! We try to work ourselves out of a job. We try to give each of you a voice so you can tap into your respective wisdom and insight. We also know what works and what doesn’t work and unlike most therapists coming out of grad school today, we aren’t afraid to share that information. A transmission guy should know how to fix transmissions. He does it all day. We should know how to help couples. This is what we do. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. And no, we aren’t going to take either of your sides and help you beat each other up. We’re more interested in seeing you thrive.
But the first step to thriving? Realizing you could use a little help. Humility would be a sign, maybe things could be different. And humility for a husband? It just might be the encouragement your wife needs.
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.
If you take the Biblical notion of “everyone will die for his own sins” down to everyday life, you’ll see you can’t live your life based upon everyone else’s reaction. You are responsible for everything you do irrespective of how others treat you.
Does this happen to you? You come home from work in a perfectly good mood and when you greet your wife she isn’t so nice to you and your feelings are hurt and you take it personally and aren’t so nice to her. Even though, two seconds ago, you were in a perfectly good mood, you let her reaction to you determine your reaction to her. And when you aren’t so nice to her, she does more of the same to you and you respond in kind and now the whole evening is shot.
Great. React. React. React. React.
Maybe she wasn’t in a bad mood. Maybe she was preoccupied with something else and you took her preoccupying demeanor to mean she’s indifferent to you. Here you are reading her mind when, hey, you aren’t God, so you can’t read her mind. But you impute ill will to her mood and assume her preoccupying mood means she’s indifferent to you. So here you are, all of a sudden, pouting or stomping around or acting all indifferent about her. Your spouse was preoccupied and you interpreted it as indifferent. You escalated preoccupation to being INTENTIONALLY indifferent and that caused your wife to pop out of her preoccupation to notice you are being rude and she assumes your rudeness is intentional and you are not simply in a bad mood from work (you were in a good mood just moments before) and if you are being rude on purpose to her then she needs to be rude to you ON PURPOSE and treat you in kind.
Now you REALLY have a reason to be in a bad mood. She really has treated you rudely, intentionally, and now your mood and demeanor accurately reflects her intentionally rude behavior and you are intentionally rude back, only more so, because
If Cain is revenged seven times, then Lamech is revenged seventy-seven times.*
This quote is from Cain’s descendant, the seventh from Adam. He’s the world’s first philosopher and basically his philosophy was he wasn’t going to take no crap and if you hurt him he was going to hurt you worse and feel totally justified in doing so. He actually applied his philosophy of life and killed a man for wounding him. He was the first Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. He could have had his own reality show.
I’m not sure what you’d call Lamech’s philosophy, but it is the most common philosophy known to man for these last few thousand years. It’s been pretty good at causing wars and bringing down kingdoms. It’s one that will destroy your marriage, without even trying.
That’s just it: without even trying.
If you don’t try, it’ll be easy to treat your spouse with contempt if she doesn’t treat you the way you think you deserve. You’ll scoff and huff and puff and, if she’s operating on the same principle, she’ll scoff and huff and puff, too.
There could be another way.
If your spouse appears indifferent to you, you could give her the benefit of the doubt and say to yourself, maybe she’s not really indifferent. Maybe she’s preoccupied. You could ask, “So, what’s up?” and she could say she’s sorry, she’s preoccupied about thus and so and didn’t even notice you there and you give each other a kiss and a hug and chat and talk and reconnect and the evening is fine and you don’t have any bodies in the ditch.
You could do that, but that would mean you were being nice even though you thought your spouse was being mean to you. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you don’t your marriage will self-destruct and pretty soon there won’t be anything left.
This is a little easier for Christians, though it’s not easy for anybody. Christians believe what Jesus said, to turn the other cheek and to forgive seventy times seven. Ha! Lamech said he’d be avenged seventy-seven times. He promised as a matter of principle to hurt others way more than they hurt him. You-don’t-mess-with-me. Jesus upped the ante in the total opposite direction and said to forgive way more than you are hurt. Did you catch that?
These are the two philosophies that have warred for your soul ever since you were born and they are fighting for your soul today. Lamech’s words ring loud in your ears: hurt back, hurt back and Jesus’ words whisper softly, forgive back, be nice back.
One very loud voice; one very soft voice, both vying for your very soul.
Don’t think this war isn’t affecting you. It’s pretty easy to fall into Lamech’s trap. Consider this pretty common scenario: He’s really beat from work. Really beat. He’s not faking it. He’s really beat. He comes home and his wife is really beat, too. She’s dead tired. The kids have run her ragged. She can’t wait till he comes home to relieve her of some of the burden. She looks forward to his coming home. He walks in the door and appears in a bad mood, not because of her, but because he’s really beat. Really beat. He’s not even in a bad mood. He’s just tired. He heads to the couch, barely saying a word and she feels neglected and makes a sarcastic comment about needing some help. He makes a sarcastic comment about needing a minute to pull himself together and she makes a sarcastic comment about how she could use a minute too and how come he gets a minute and she doesn’t and off they go down Lamech’s Lane, only the scenery isn’t very pretty.
You could see how this could deteriorate pretty rapidly. She says to herself, this is a bunch of crap, and quits picking up the house, since, she says, he never does and it’s not fair. He says to himself, the house is a disaster when I come home and she’s never in a good mood, I’ll just not come home or when I do I’ll avoid her altogether so as to not get the stare or the lecture or the sarcastic comments. And the more he doesn’t come home or the more he withdraws into the basement or the garage or the computer or whatever the more caustic she gets in her comments or the more she doesn’t say anything or the less she does in return for the less he does and pretty soon they quit laughing as a couple and hanging out with each other because there’s all this tension and they quit going to bed at the same time or even with each other because it’s just easier to fall asleep on the couch ‘cuz she doesn’t seem to want me anyway and pretty soon they are at opposite ends of the bed or in different beds altogether (If you are in different beds you are telling your spouse that you are indifferent and how do you escalate indifference? I can be more indifferent than you? What a contest that will be!). And then it won’t be long before sexuality is as rare as a Chicago Cubs playoff berth and then they won’t be able to be sexual because they aren’t close enough which is funny because they can’t be close if they aren’t sexual. Sexuality is one of God’s clever ideas to keep a husband and wife interested in each other (that would be like, you know, the opposite of indifference?). It also helps them overcome Lamech’s temptation, but if they’re not going to be sexual either, frickin’ this and frickin’ that, and pretty soon they’ll be married in name only or maybe not at all.
But nobody learned anything and later they remarry somebody else who operates under Lamech’s mentoring eye and they do the same thing, only, if you haven’t noticed, people in second marriages REALLY REALLY REALLY AIN’T GONNA TAKE NO CRAP and they have way less tolerance for inequities and jump to conclusions even quicker because they’ve already been hurt before and they don’t want to be hurt again. And around and around we go.
A better approach would be take Jesus’ cue and if your spouse isn’t nice to you, be nice anyway, remembering that it’s your job to be a good husband or a good wife, it’s not your job to make sure your spouse is a good spouse to you. Irregardless of how your spouse treats you, you are going to be a good spouse. This is easier if you serve a higher Master and you know you are responsible for your own actions, good or ill, that you answer to someone other than your spouse. You know…like on Judgment Day?
Really? If I did that wouldn’t I be setting up myself to be abused? Won’t he just take advantage of me then? Really? I don’t think so. If your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back and your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back and your spouse is mean to you and you are nice back, pretty soon your spouse is going to get the idea he is being mean and you are being nice and that that isn’t really fair for him to be mean when you are nice, so pretty soon he’s going to be nice back.
But maybe not. Nevertheless, doing good is it’s own reward. You are going to die for your own sins, right (Oh, I don’t believe all that religious crap. Too bad. I bet there will be a lot of surprised looks on Judgment Day! You were wrong? Damn. No pun intended.)? You’re not going to let anyone, let alone your husband or wife, convince you to do the wrong thing, right? Doing the right thing, even in the face of odds, is the right thing to do. You’re only going to be nice to your spouse when your spouse is nice to you? Then your marriage will self-destruct. Someone has to pick up the ball and rise above and be nice anyway.
And since you are the one reading this, that would be you.