So far this book has presented better techniques for speaking, listening, and handling conflicts. But you could follow all these suggestions and still not really know your mate. The truth is that most husbands and wives don’t know each other because many couples are very cautious about sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings with one another.
Studies show that communication peaks during the first year of marriage while a couple explore inner feelings and set goals for the future. But in a few years children enter the scene, and attention is diverted from husband and wife to home and children. Romance wears off, and the relationship takes on the appearance of a business partnership. Conversation centers on financial problems, the fight Tommy had at school, and Susie’s poor grades.
In the meantime husband and wife have been pursuing different interests. He has been expanding his business ventures and protecting the family’s future. Her life has centered around her home, the children, and her hobbies. Within a few years the children leave the nest, and the couple in their middle years find that they have no basis for communication in depth.
Too many couples are sharing and communicating, but only about things—their jobs, the car, the house, the kids, the church. Is this how you communicated when you were courting each other? I doubt it. All you wanted then was to be together and to converse with one another. It hardly mattered what you did together, only that you were together. As you talked you frequently used the words I, you, we, us. You were not so concerned with things as you were to discover each other.
During all stages of married life, couples need a method whereby they can get in touch and stay in touch with the other partner’s feelings. Perhaps you are aware that your communication has consisted mostly of exchanges of ideas, concepts, and hopes for the future, but you know little of how your mate feels inside.
“Talk back” is a plan whereby couples can regain the intimacy that was either lost or forgotten with the passing of time. This four-point program involves choosing a subject for discussion. A choice is endless, but some suggestions are: My greatest emotional need is…, You can best fill my need for love by…, How I feel about our finances…, what I’d like to do with my free time…, How I feel about disciplining the children…, The happiest moment of my life with you was when…, I like you because….
The subject is not as important as the sharing of feelings about it. After you have decided on a subject, reflect and write on it for just ten minutes. Writing is the key part but the most difficult task, yet it is essential if talk back is to work. Writing has several advantages over talking about feelings. It allows us to examine our thoughts and pay better attention to what we are saying. It also slows us down so that we can see our words and correct them if need be.
Style in not important. Don’t worry if your thoughts seem insignificant or disconnected. The important thing is to get your feelings down on paper. Describe them, looking for feelings you haven’t noticed before. Go deep inside yourself and describe what is there to the last detail. The aim is to aid your mate in experiencing how you feel, to help him see and understand as you see and understand, to help him become a part of you for a time.
At some specified time during the day when the two of you can be alone, share what you have written with your mate, each of you reading silently what the other has written. After the initial reading, which acquaints you with the facts, read it again for feelings. Absorb all the hidden emotions and meanings expressed. Wife, try to feel as he feels. Husband, see as she sees, understand as she understands.
Now take turns responding to what has been written. Ask your mate to tell you more about how he feels. Describe to him how you perceive what he feels, and feed him ways of further expressing himself. Be physically close enough to experience as much as possible about what the other is feeling. Be sensitive to facial expressions, tears, sweaty or cold hands, or goose bumps on the arms. It is one thing to see a tear fall from your mate’s eye and another to feel it fall. Communicate through the avenue of touch.
Practice talk-back daily for three months. As first this may sound like another job to be fitted into an already overcrowded schedule. But daily is the key word, for it isn’t the once-in-a-lifetime heroic act that counts as much as daily actions. The flawless rendition of a concert musician comes as a result of daily practice. The ice skater, the gymnast, or anyone who does a job well owes his success to practice. Similarly, the couple who practice talk-back regularly will reap the greatest rewards from their relationship.
Although this book has centered on communication between husband and wife, it would not be complete without mentioning communication with God. Husband, wife, and God form a holy triangle. If communication breaks down between husband and wife, it affects their relationship with God. If the circuits are jammed toward heaven, there will be a busy signal between the couple too. One author has said, “A person cannot be genuinely open to God and closed to his mate.” When the lines of communication are in working order, God can more easily fulfill His purpose for husband and wife.
No amount of expert communication will make a perfect marriage or create openness and respect where these qualities are not already present. But honest communication does relieve emotional tension, clarify thinking, and provide a release for daily pressures. It allows a couple to work toward common goals and paves the way toward a truly intimate relationship between husband and wife and God.