How to Improve Your Marriage Communication WITHOUT Talking About the Relationship
In reading the book, "How to Improve Your marriage Without Talking About It," I've gained some important insight into how men and women fumble our communication with each other. Though the book specifically addresses marriage, I believe the principles could be applied to co-workers, children, friends and family.
- How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It - Oprah.com
How authors Patricia Love and Steven Stosny have found a new (quieter) way to communicate with your spouse.
Prompted by an article on MSN.com, I bought the book "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It," by Pat Love and Steve Stosny.
Here's the quote that got me: "The number one myth about relationships is that talking helps. The truth is, more often than not, it makes things worse," says Love.
So often in my marriage, I bring a relationship issue to the table, and when it's all said and done, both my husband and I feel worse. I enjoy learning about relationships, so I figured it would not hurt to read what the authors had to say.
The book came, and even though I blogged about my excitement, it sat for a long time. First of all, because I did not want to, once again, learn something new about relationships only to hear my husband refute it. Second of all, I did not want to read the book, because I did not have the energy to DO anything with the knowledge I would gain. I also did not want Chris to see me reading it and thus expect me to be a perfect wife. And third of all, I was mildly skeptical that the book was going to spend 213 pages and a few hours of my time to basically tell me to shut my trap and accept my husband as he is.
Wednesday night, after my son was asleep and my husband was at work, I drug the book out. Chris and I had experienced a communication break-down that morning, so I figured it was high-time I use the tools already at my disposal to at least try to improve my marriage.
The book is divided into two parts - why you need to improve your communication with the opposite gender and subsequently, how to improve your marriage without actually talking about it.
The book starts out like this:
"Let's begin by asking a question of our women readers. If you were to say to the man in your life, 'Honey, we need to talk about our relationship,' what do you think would happen?
"If he would answer this question with something like 'I thought you'd never ask!' or 'I've been dying to share my feelings about our life together, and I especially want to hear how you feel about us and what you want us,' then you do not need to read this book. We expect our men to get distracted, defensive, irritated, or fidgety, or shut down completely; and most men would feel like they were being punished for a crime they didn't commit. Undoubtedly, you've had the conversations we are talking about. She knows her lines, he knows his and it always ends up worse than it started."
Part One of this book was so amazingly accurate, insightful and encouraging, I read all 94 pages Wednesday night.
I am not interested in recounting all the scientific data the authors offered to prove their point, but their basic premise is that the problem with the sexes' communication "stems from a slight difference in the way sexes experience fear and shame (page 2)." Period. That's it. No joke. And as I continued reading the book, I actually came to believe that the core issues really are that simple.
The Woman's Perspective
Every reaction a woman has to every circumstance and/or situation she is faced with is based on her subconscious fear. (I might be exaggerating a little, but you get the idea.) From a very young age (babies), women are hypersensitive to fear - fear of abandonment, deprivation, rejection, discomfort, pain, etc. Supposedly, the biological reason behind this is because, back in the day, women had to be in constant contact with her children and the protectors in the group or else her and her children would be prey.
The book gives some great evidence and examples to prove this idea to be valid, and my life experience makes it applicable to me. I am uber-sensitive to closeness and distance in my relationships. The second something changes, I am instantly fearful, but when I feel close, I can relax. From page 41, "If a woman's natural fear of deprivation or isolation has been repeatedly stimulated throughout her life, she'll become anxious around any issue related to time investment, attention or contact. She can easily be seen as unreasonable or insatiable."
The problem? Men do not know what fear physically feels like. Research shows, according to the authors, that women (and even baby girls) are more fearful, afraid, frightened, anxious, worrisome and phobic than their male counterparts. Literally, females are not the protectors, men are, and therefore, men are not wired to be fearful, afraid, frightened, etc.
If your male partner cannot comprehend the feeling of your fear, it is nearly impossible for him to be truly empathetic to your plight. If he cannot understand it, he is probably not listening.
The insight to the female psyche this book provides describes me perfectly. Honestly, I am constantly afraid of being rejected, of being abandoned, of being physically harmed, of being deprived of basic needs like food. It is sad to say, but after reading this, I can see exactly how my fears have motivated my conversations in an attempt to reconnect with my husband and thus feel safe and comfortable, adored and connected.
The male side of this communication barrier is more difficult for me to understand (for obvious reasons) and so it is more difficult for me to recap. I want to try, though, because the flip side to my fears is important in bridging the gap in our communication. And from what I do understand, my husband is also pretty accurately described in this book.
The Man's Perspective
Every reaction a man has to every circumstance and/or situation he is faced with is based on his subconscious need to avoid shame, failure and feelings of incompetency. (Again, a mild exaggeration.) From a very young age, men are hypersensitive to abrupt stimulation, which leads to a propensity for hyper-arousal. Apparently, baby boys are five times more likely to be started by a lower stimulus (i.e. a stomach gurgle). This hyper-arousal instantly puts males in the fight or flight mode necessary when protecting and/or hunting. (Really?! Men are still cavemen?!!)
This sensitivity to hyper-arousal forces males from a very young age (babies, even) to instinctively guard against over-stimulation (because they are not always chasing down lions for lunch!). The book explains this by talking about the inability of baby boys to maintain eye contact. They can, but in order to avoid being overwhelmed, they choose to avoid focusing on your eyes for an extended period of time. If you look at his mouth, rather than deeply into his eyes, he will look into your eyes for longer periods of time. He wants the intimate interaction, but he cannot handle it. Often times, though, adults give up and change from an intimate interaction to an active one. This teaches the boys almost instantly that "if I like it too much, they will take it away if i do not do it right."
Remember in the beginning, I said that men will avoid shame and failure at all costs? Will that is where this fits in - if a boy learns that not doing it right will rob him of the opportunity to do it at all, he will stop trying to avoid shame AT ANY AND ALL COSTS.
Women, on the other hand, see all relationships (co-workers, friends, family, spouses) as an alliance. So, we tend to be humble. We cannot comprehend why a man refuses to ask for directions, because it is the choice to make for the betterment of the common good. It is not say men are entirely selfish - it is actually the opposite - men NEED to provide and protect. What women see as pride, men see as courage.
She Talks, He Hides
Page 2 has a great summation of the problem:
"The real reason women want to talk about her relationship (beneath frustration with the current situation), is a disconnection that makes her feel anxious, and on a deeper level, isolated and afraid. The real reason the man does NOT want to talk about the relationship is that her dissatisfaction with him makes him feel like a failure. He feels ashamed (subconsciously). His shame is too great to allow him to understand her fear and her fear keeps her from seeing his shame."
"Fear puts thoughts into your consciousness; shame keeps thoughts out of it."
--Pat Love and Steve Stosny in "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It
His impulse when he feels shame is to HIDE. He disguises his shame with annoyance, impatience or even anger. Each time men reject our attempts to connect, our fears blind us to reality and we try to talk more (ever chased your husband around the house to continue an argument?). This communication barrier creates a vicious cycle which typically ends with men feeling angry, women feeling isolated, and no one extending a hand to try to understand the other's perspective (needless to say, the actual circumstance that sparked the battle never gets dealt with.) Interestingly, when women feel connected they do not feel the need to talk about "issues."
Because we require emotional connection for comfort, we do not understand (and are sometimes offended) that men deal with stress in ways opposite to ours (i.e. sitting on the computer for hours without any interaction with his wife). For men, however, relationships are NOT a reliable source of comfort. "Going to his relationship for comfort is like seeking solace from the enemy. Talking about the relationship, which is guaranteed to remind him of his inadequacy, is the last method he would chose for comfort. (page 16)."
Similar to how Chris and I have a different definition of “cherish”, men and women have a different definition of "security."
Basically, home and marriage is a safe place to man to unwind after a rough day. A place for peace, quiet, and love, so that when the world attacks him again tomorrow, he is refreshed. They are perfectly content watching TV with their entire family in a different room - as long as the family is present, his relationship is his security.
Women, on the other hand, "want to feel secure enough to relax in their relationship." This security comes from interactions with their men.
"He thinks he is honoring the relationship because he can relax with her in the room, and she thinks he is failing the relationship because he is not interacting with her. (page 50)"
I think the book, "The Five Love Languages" can be helpful, too.
And there's more!
The book goes on to offer invaluable insight regarding many typical relationship dilemmas.
- logical vs. emotional thinking
- abusive relationships
- emotional attunement
- how our histories play a part in our relations and communication
- what he is really thinking
- what she is really feeling
- understanding man's needs for routine
"Fear and shame keep us from hearing each other. The prerequisite for listening is feeling safe. No one feels safe when we are threatened by fear or shame."
I do not think Part Two of the book "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It" is really going to tell me to NOT talk to my husband about any issues I may have. It might, but my guess is that the authors are going to explain how I can have better respect for our differences and approach my husband in a non-confrontational, non-threatening way so that both of us are compelled to listen.
- Part I: Improve Your Communication WITHOUT Talking
So often in my marriage, I bring a relationship issue to the table, and when it's all said and done, both my husband and I feel worse.
- Part II: Improve. Appreciate. Connect. Protect. Ideas for Better Communication
Start improving your marriage by focusing less on your partners mistakes and more on your responses to those mistakes.
- Part III: Effective Communication Requires Compassion
- Part IV: Binocular Vision
"The advanced relationship skill of binocular vision is the artful ability to see your partners perspective as well as your own. Separate but equal perspectives form a kind of duet like violin and cello playing harmony."