Monday

DIVORCE #3: MY HUSBAND CAN'T COMMUNICATE

WHY PEOPLE DIVORCE #3: "MY HUSBAND CAN'T COMMUNICATE"

The second reason Michele Weiner-Davis gives for people divorcing is failure to communicate. But, as the author points out, although women frequently say, "My husband can’t communicate," it is often a case of husbands not communicating in ways their wives can relate to.

Michele cites findings from Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics. According to Tannen, communication is a vehicle for people to achieve either intimacy or independence. Intimacy is the process of bonding together; independence is a process of maintaining separateness.

Communicating for intimacy means to negotiate "complex networks of friendship, minimize differences, (and) try to reach consensus." Communicating for independence means "establishing status ... to tell others what to do." (Marriage Busters, p.47-48).

Would it surprise you that, according to Tannen, women tend to communicate for intimacy and men for independence? Can you see a potential for us to fail to communicate well? Our conversation, without our conscious awareness of it, is seeking to accomplish different ends. Women try to draw closer; men try to maintain boundaries, even distance. Is it any wonder why many wives think their husbands don’t communicate, and why husbands can’t figure out why they would think that?!

This doesn’t mean that husbands are not interested in intimacy, and I don’t mean just physical intimacy, but actual bonding of heart and soul. Husbands just have a different idea about how to achieve it. Where a wife wants to talk openly about thoughts and feelings, a husband is more inclined to do something together. "Men ... don’t use conversation as a way of getting close. Doing things together - participating in activities such as team sports - breeds connection for them." (P.48).

Marriage Counselor Willard Harley confirms this in his book, His Needs Her Needs. He has a hierarchy of needs for husbands and wives for the marriage to stay close and vibrant. Need number two for the wife to fulfill for her husband is recreational companionship. "Men place surprising importance on having their wives as recreational companions. The TV stereotypes paint the opposite picture, showing husbands out with the boys on fishing trips saying, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ My counseling files say it can get a lot better. In fact, among the five basic male needs, spending recreational time with his wife is second only to sex for the typical husband." (His Needs, Her Needs, p.77). If a husband invites his wife to a ball game, a day hike or even a deer hunt, that is his way of saying, "I love you and want to be close to you." It may not have quite the romantic appeal to many wives that a movie and dinner out does, but realizing the husband’s intent may help make the invitation a little more desirable (or at least bearable).

Another problem in communication for men and women is women want to feel understood; men want to fix things. (P.49). I remember years ago Cheryl relating details of a problem relationship to me. I listened and gave a prompt reply about how to handle that rude person. She ignored me and went on providing more details. I gave the same reply, but more emphatically. She ignored me again and went on talking some more. I remember thinking, "Have I not expressed myself clearly enough about how to handle this person?" whereupon I made sure to make myself clear the third time. I even asked, "Haven’t you heard me?" Cheryl then said, "I don’t need you to tell me how to handle this; I just need you to listen to me." My inclination to ‘fix’ the situation missed my wife’s desire that I understand and connect.

Finally, communication becomes problematic when it comes to discussing issues of conflict. It is the wife who generally wants to discuss problems and dissatisfaction within the marriage. When she brings it up, the husband is likely to avoid and withdraw from the conversation, leaving "most women feeling enraged and even more determined to get a reaction, which leads to more withdrawal, and so on." (P.51) Michele quotes a study that shows the masculine and feminine reactions to stress and conflict. Women can sustain greater levels of stress and conflict without losing control; men experience more pronounced physical excitement and agitation. If they don’t withdraw from the situation they can lose control. According to Michele, knowing a man’s inclination to experience a heightened physical response to verbal confrontation and conflict can help a wife in two ways. First, she might feel less feelings of rejection when her husband withdraws. Secondly, she "might act in ways less likely to escalate the dissension." (51)

There is much more to the discussion of communication in marriage, but this may be enough to reach some mutual understanding and appreciation and help facilitate more meaningful conversation. Meanwhile, some may be asking, "What is the husband’s response to the wife’s charge that he doesn’t communicate?" I’ll pick that question up next week!

Thank you for visiting Family Fountain and leaving your valuable comments.

Warren Baldwin

34 comments:

Kay said...

Never married, but sure have left a few behind on this one... ;)

Christina Davis said...

Great information Warren. After 17 years of marriage I can say that good communication is key to making it work. It took my husband and I years to understand each other's styles but the payoff was better communication and less fights.

Karin said...

I'm wondering if it is more of a temperament thing than a male/female thing. In marriage and other relationships, I've been the one guilty of trying to fix rather than to understand.Oh, I've learned over the years, but my first instinct is to try and fix because I have the answer - you know! Smile! Depending on what is being discussed, if I don't leave, I will lose control, break down and cry. Hubby has hobbies that don't lend themselves to do things together. Oh, I could have learned to play racquet ball, but that would be no fun - he would always win and I would always lose. It would not even be a challenging game for him, lol! When my husband withdraws into his own zone - I'm contently in mine and don't take it personally. Interesting post! Lots more thoughts - but I'll leave it at that!

Jessica said...

LOL! This is SO true, it was making me laugh. My hubby totally withdraws and starts cracking jokes when I try to talk about something serious. Heh.
And, he does want to do things with me. I'm thankful for that. :-)

Warren Baldwin said...

Kay - Better to find out before! Although, it will still likely be an issue afterwards as well.

Christina - Better communication helps in SO MANY ways. Many families learn it over time by trial and error. Thankful are those couples who do learn it.

Karin - I definitely think temperament has something to do with it. And generalizations about how men and women communicate, spend money, argue, approach problems, etc. are just that, generalizations. There is no fixed behavior pattern, so there is definitely crossover.

Jessica - Glad you got a chuckle! I've done the same thing as your husband at times - crack a joke to lesson the mood. Doesn't always work though! If he wants you to do things with him - go fishing, to a ballgame, etc., that is actually a great compliment.

wb

Terri Tiffany said...

Excellent information! I never thought about the part where a man gets more agitated easier--but mine does if I push too hard or go on and on. He also loves to do things together to get closer where I want to talk! Early on in our marriage, we had to get an egg timer and use it to help our communication. We had to listen quietly for the three minutes and not form our arguments and then restate what the other person said. Still have that timer!LOL

checkingthemail said...

Tannen's observation about women communicating for relationship and men communicating for position or power is illustrated in how when women shop it is in things like Tupperware parties but men prefer auctions.
We even see it when we get lost. The woman typically says, see that nice man at the filling station, we should ask him for help. "Together" we can fix this.... Meanwhile the man says (to himself), I am not going to demean myself by asking some stranger clearly with less prestige than I for directions and show how little I know. So he silently refuses.

Jason said...

Great stuff, Warren. I think my wife and I could have served as the case study to produce this material. I absolutely identify with the male communication style described, but had never though of it in these terms. Just this morning, in the few minutes since I've read this, I have noticed my own conversations doing this very thing. Thankfully, I'm married to a very patient lady who has learned how to coax me into the type of conversations she desires without making me feel like a neanderthal.

I hope this material shows up in our family retreat next summer in Colorado!

Warren Baldwin said...

Terri - Thanks for sharing your personal experience. It add.

Checkingthemail - Great illustrations of what this article is about! Thanks for adding. (Note: Checkinghemail is a counselor, and he has a good blog, too).

Jason - It can be. I have the dates written down at the office and I'm at home. What are they again? And thanks for sharing this story.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

His Needs, Her Needs is an excellent book in many ways. I think the author even makes a disclaimer at the beginning about trying to squash all men and women into sex-based categories. His description of the sex-based needs TENDS to be true, but there are lots of exceptions.

One which makes me a little skeptical is his placement of "physical attractiveness" only in the male column. I don't think this is true. Hard as it is for people to accept, we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves physically attractive to our partners. I see lots of marriages in which the light has clearly gone out of one partner's eyes because the other has neglected his appearance. It's one of the least-discussed subjects in public conversation about marriage, probably because it's so controversial and such a widespread private problem between spouses. Of course, there's more to a physical relationship than appearance, but there's no getting around the fact that most people are wired to respond to certain physical traits, and when their partners' appearance changes dramatically in ways that are not strictly age-related, it can really mess with the marital relationship.

Susan said...

Thanks Warren, this was great. After 32 years together, we still have a lot to learn!!

I'm thankful for a patient husband. Sounds like you were reading my mail in this post.

I appreciate your ministry so much.

We all have so much to gain if we take the time to truly listen. Many times it's not the words we need to hear but our hearts.

Blessings!

I'll be back for the next post with my ink pen and pad again~

christy rose said...

Communication is so key!! And, learning to recognize that none of us communicate in the same ways and that is ok, is vital for any relationship to survive, even friendships. Looking and listening to the message within the communication, in whatever way it is displayed, is truly attempting to grow together. Demanding the message be communicated in only the way you understand is detrimental. Love accepts and provides space for individuality and growth.

Great marriage discussion Warren.

septembermom said...

My number one discussion point with my husband is my desire for us to communicate more. I have a lot to say. He tends to shut down when I want to discuss something important. I have found that I look for new ways for us to communicate. Sometimes it's all about the right moment, when he is more open to a quick discussion. Anything too long and I know I'll lose him to the recliner :) Thanks for this post Warren!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Wow, this sure supports the men are from mars and women from venus mentality. So now I know why hubby picks on me to tag along. Good to know, and I can see it a whole other perspective now. Thanks, Warren!!!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Mind blowing, if you think about it. Men wanting to establish boundaries and women trying to draw close. When it's written like this, it's laughable, but inside a fight it can feel so strained.

Such insight and wisdom in this post. And the fix it vs. just wanting to feel understood...we've come up with a "sometimes" solution to that one. I'll ask (or Steve will ask) do you need my advice or do you just want me to listen? It helps every time.
Glad I stopped in for the read!
~ Wendy

Warren Baldwin said...

Rosslyn - Good point about Harley's book. I'll have to reread what he says about the physical attraction. I think you are right that we all should look attractive (dress, cleanliness, etc.) for our partners. But, the general feeling is, men tend to be more concerned with physical beauty in women than the other way around. I base some of that in conversations with couples but also from listening in on alot of mens' discussions.

Susan - Thank you for nice comments and the encouragement to keep learning. I do think that is what keeps marriage strong!

Thank you Christy Rose. It is eye-opening to learn that we don't all communicate the same way.

Thanks for the comments!

Warren Baldwin said...

Septembermom - From my study of Proverbs I have learned that wisdom is not only knowing WHAT to say, but knowing WHEN and HOW to say it. "A word aptly (or appropriately) spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Prov. 25:11. Good wisdom in your approach!

Eileen - Great insight. When your husband says, "Come along" to you, that is his way of trying to achieve the sense of intimacy you try for when you say, "Let's talk." He's wanting you to be his friend.

Wendy - I'm glad you stopped by, too (Did you read my invitation?). You and Steve are applying the wisdom of Prov. 25:11, too, that I mentioned to Septembermom. You are not only working on what to say, but the when and how as well. That is wisdom! And it takes that for marriage.

Good comments everyone, thanks!

Sonya Lee Thompson said...

So to paraphrase, women need to learn to just go and "hang out" with their man; while men need to learn to just listen to their wives more often.

I think this is important information.

Have you ever wondered why God made men and women so completely different? I guess we need to be like iron sharponing iron. :-)

Edie said...

I really appreciate your insight Warren. This is good information for singles to have as well. Honestly right now I would give a lot to have someone around who wants to "fix it". :)

I'm always commenting next to Cody's picture. He sure is a cute pup! Always makes me smile.

Edie said...

Oh wait! That's Cody, Wyoming! LOL! Is Seminole the pup's name? Well he or she is cute anyway!

Saleslady371 said...

God has a great sense of humor making men and women so different and watching us try to communicate together. Thanks for stopping by and visiting! You are a a blessing to anyone who wants to grow in Christ.

Anne Lang Bundy said...

I found an interesting quote:

"The male wants to be valued for what he pretends to be. The female wants to be overvalued for what she truly is." ~ Robert Brault

Sounds like another way of saying he wants respect for the way he wants his wife to see him, and she wants to be loved effusively.

Another interesting point. I happened to be looking at the passage from Ephesians 5:33 recently and discovered that the Greek word for "respect" (phobĂ©ō) means fear, in the same manner we're told to fear the Lord.

I'm not offering commentary at this point, just the observations.

Precious Gems said...

Great post. I have just written a blog you might find interesting. Take a peek!

Warren Baldwin said...

Sonya Lee - Good point. Someone on FB made the point that when she hangs out with her husband, he talks more!

Edie - I think you are right, these principles are good even when we are single. And the writing confuses me on other blogs, too - does it refer to the pic above or below? Seminole is the dog; my kids are overlooking Cody.

Saleslady - Yes, God does have a great sense of humor! The differences b/n the male and female can be so enraging or so connecting, depending upon how we work with them.

Anne - Good quote and commentary on Eph. 5.

Precious Gems - Thanks, I'll look.

The Things We Carried said...

"Would it surprise you that, according to Tannen, women tend to communicate for intimacy and men for independence?"

"Another problem in communication for men and women is women want to feel understood; men want to fix things."

Warren, one of my dearest friends is married to a pastor. Years of ministry = lots of work with couples!

We walk and chat 3 days a week. This post reminds me of what we talked about this very morning!

The words from your post above would surprise me, yet shouldn't! This is exactly what we women intutively know about our men... Yet the independence communication can feel like a rejection of true intimacy directed from the husband at the wife. The husband fixing the problem can feel like the husband is trying to fix the wife to her! This book soun ds like a must read for married couples.

Edie said...

Hi Warren - I just wanted to let you know that you got a mention on my blog today.

Warren Baldwin said...

Things We Carried - Good summary of this article! Yes, the independence thing is hurtful, and men don't even realize they are doing it! Then, when wives try even more to get through, husbands assert independence even more. This is what Emerson Eggerichs calls a the crazy cycle. I'll be mentioning that (and his book) next week.

Edie - Thanks, I'll be by.

wb

Pat said...

This is an excellent and helpful analysis of how husbands and wives communicate.

Sometimes I preface my sharing of a problem I have with someone with the words,"You don't have to solve this problem. I'm just venting."

Peter Stone said...

Great post, Warren. Especially related to women wanting to share, while men try to fix things. My wife will often talk at length about things, and I've had to catch myself wanting to skip to the conclusion so I can give advice to 'fix it' - advice that really was not needed in the first place.
A book that helped me a lot was "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman.

Warren Baldwin said...

Pat - This preface is a great idea! I'll be this has helped avoid a number of miscommunications. Thanks.

Peter - You just described me, my friend! Good book. I haven't used it much (I loaned it to a counselee and he never returned it!) but I've picked up these ideas from several other good books.

aims said...

Speaking from my own experience and from what I’ve seen in people I am close to who have been through divorce, I have to say a major reason for divorce is just plain selfishness in one or both parties involved. I know that sounds harsh, and I know that isn’t the fact in every case, but it plays a role in many cases I know of. We’re living in the days of “me, myself and I.” For example, “I’ve sacrificed for my family all these years, it’s time for ME to be happy!” Or “You can’t please everyone, so you have to please yourself, etc.” This reminds me how your post above this one comes into play, about habits. If you’ve been divorced once, it’s so easy to divorce again and again. Because we have taught ourselves how easy it is to just give up on marriage, maybe the next one will be better. I am in my second marriage and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to give in and call it quits again because it’s so stressful raising a disabled child together. We took so much of the stress out on each other until we had nothing left. It would be so easy to give up. But, what would be the outcome? I’m thankful every day that we [both] decided it’s best to work through our problems than to take the easy way out. Agape love was our fresh start, because we felt no other type of love, but it did grow into a more committed love for one another. Some days it’s still a struggle like most marriages. But now, we have come to the stage, we actually "want" to communicate, and you've listed some very good things here that I've never considered. THANKS! I'll remember this1

Warren Baldwin said...

Aims - Thank you for sharing the stress you and your husband have endured with raising a disabled child. I'm sure the rest of us can't know what it is like. The only insight might be having to endure an extended illness with a child (as Cheryl and I have), but eventually, that came to an end. But during it we had the lack of sleep, bone-weariness, worry, rushing to the hospital (so a disrupted schedule), discussions about the best thing to do - it takes a toll. It would take a tremendous amount of commitment and devotion to make that work under an extend period (years) of time. You and your husband have done that, and it sets a wonderful example for the rest of us. Thank you!! Our prayers for God's blessings upon your family.

WB

Halfsmart said...

I am newly married 1 year 9 months and my husband has just shut down on me where communication is concerned. This article helped alot in understanding how men deal with stress. I am very much the type that has to talk now. I just don't understand why it has to be so hard. if you claim to love and care why can't you open your month and say what is troubling you!!! He is now getting aggressive when I try to speak to him. I wish I could just run away

Author Amanda Beth said...

Great article, Warren! That part about your wife wanting you to listen sounds like a story I shared in my book. I feel the same way. My husband wants to fix everything. I usually want him just to listen. I'll have to talk about that for my next post.

I might share this below in a future post if that is okay?

"In fact, among the five basic male needs, spending recreational time with his wife is second only to sex for the typical husband." (His Needs, Her Needs, p.77). If a husband invites his wife to a ball game, a day hike or even a deer hunt, that is his way of saying, "I love you and want to be close to you." It may not have quite the romantic appeal to many wives that a movie and dinner out does, but realizing the husband’s intent may help make the invitation a little more desirable (or at least bearable).