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Why Marital Communication Stinks

It seems that poor communication is the number one problem in most marriages.  Especially if you ask women.  Why is it that something we all do everyday, becomes such an issue within our most intimate relationships?  What would great communication look like?  Can it truly be defined, or is is just something you know when you experience it?

Three challenges regarding communication within marriage:

  1. Men & Women Communicate Very Differently – Surprise!  Well, probably not.  Brain science has shown that men and women are wired very differently.   In Bill and Pam Farrel’s book “Men are Like Waffles – Women are Like Spaghetti”, they provide the excellent illustration that men reside in a given box (like seen in a waffle), and move from box to box as situations change.  While in a box, they deal only with the items contained there.  When they’re in a tv watching box, that’s pretty much their total focus.  When they get hungry, they move to an eating box, etc.  Women on the other hand are like spaghetti on a plate.  Just as every noodle touches every other noodle…  that’s how their thoughts work.  At any given time, they connect the topic they are discussing with every other topic in their mind.  Without a basic understanding of these differences, a communication train wreck is inevitable.  Men will struggle to keep up with women as they seemingly jump from topic to topic.  Women feel less than satisfied with the 3-5 word response to their question “How was your day?”
  2. Underlying Messages – It’s hard enough to have an effective conversation with our partner, but that’s just the beginning.  Early in our marriage, Tara used to tell me to stop “yelling” at her.  This always caught me off guard because the decibel level of my voice never changed.  But to her, my tone and my chosen words constituted yelling.  Conversely, there would be given evenings where an hour before bed, she would start to tell me how tired she was, or that she was suddenly not feeling well.  What I heard was “I’m not in the mood for sex, so don’t even think about asking”.  Just as with the yelling scenario, if I were to challenge her on this the response would always be “I never said that”.
  3. Non-Verbal Communication – Experts claim that somewhere between 70-90% of all communication is non-verbal.  The longer we live with someone, the more we come to know what’s going on with nothing spoken outright.  Entire arguments can take place without words being exchanged.  Feelings can be hurt, anger can be raised simply by the way we walk through a room.

Is it any wonder that communication is such a high level of concern within marriage?  There’s no easy solution to this.  But acknowledgement goes a long way toward understanding.  If you and your spouse are aligned in your goals (e.g. you strive to have a great marriage), then you can recognize and call out unhealthy behaviors early on.  Men can learn to listen and to share more than what might be natural.  Women can learn to identify situations when they’ll probably not be heard.  We can all learn to say what is on our mind instead of stomping around a room, or pouting when we’re feeling hurt.  Raising these issues when they are present may be momentarily uncomfortable, but it’s a much healthier approach than expecting your partner to intuit what is going on.

What are your thoughts?  Are there tips/techniques you’ve used to improve communication within your marriage?

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