Husbands and Wives—Conquer Conflict With Communication
THE FAMILY—Haven of Peace?
The weapons are words aimed with chilling precision to pierce weak spots in one another’s emotional armor. Even ranting, screaming, hitting, and throwing things are the daily fare of families that have declared open warfare. Other families, though, have ceased battling openly and have withdrawn behind barriers of silence and tearful frustration. Yet for the most part these are family members who care about their relationships with one another. What prevents them from getting the warmth they desperately want from their homelife? How can conditions be improved? The following articles provide some realistic answers.
JOAN and Paul had what many felt was a “perfect marriage.” Paul, however, became emotionally involved with his work. ‘When I came home, all I wanted to talk about were the exciting challenges on my job. Though I would give Joan a perfunctory kiss and hug, my mind was on something else,’ confessed Paul. Joan did not share this enthusiasm for his work. Struggling as a young mother, she felt neglected and left out. This bred resentment, since Paul was insensitive to her emotions.
After a while Joan no longer cared. When Paul poured out his problems, she responded with callous indifference. She had ‘walked out’ emotionally. Despite his being an able provider and she a capable mother, they had deprived each other of a basic need and a most significant gift—intimacy of heart. They became strangers emotionally, and this lack of personal communication was slowly destroying their marriage.
A Need of the Heart
A “fundamental function of marriage,” according to counselors Marcia Lasswell and Norman Lobsenz, may be “getting and giving . . . [emotional] support to each other.” Because of the assaults from the world around us, such support from those we love is vital. Lack of it deeply hurts, and “because of the pain of the heart there is a stricken spirit.” (Proverbs 15:13) One’s self-confidence and spirit can be shattered.
When the heart is pained because of the insensitivity of one’s spouse, anger often flares. “When he just sits there telling me I’m too emotional, I get so mad,” stated one wife. “I wind up crying and feeling terrible.” Or as Paul felt: ‘I noticed that when we were alone together, Joan showed little enthusiasm, but as soon as someone called or visited, she was so excited with them, ignoring me completely. I was crushed and at the same time angry because I felt as if I was being used. I provided for her, and yet she acted as if she preferred the company of others.’
Some couples choose to suffer in silence, becoming, in effect, “great pretenders,” as if all is well in their marriage. But the body feels what the brain chooses to ignore. Chronic pain, headaches, a knotted stomach, depression, frigidity, and impotence are reported to doctors by people with unresolved marital conflicts. Often, the increasing hostility culminates in a split. Researchers estimate that one half of first marriages now taking place in the United States will end in divorce.
But what can be done to conquer conflict and develop intimacy? The secret: Apply Bible principles. God, who made the heart and the mind, knows our emotional needs. Therefore, the Bible, which contains his counsel, provides the finest guidance. A couple must not only know but sincerely try to apply this inspired advice. If applied, the Bible can help a couple to meet each other’s emotional needs adequately.—Ephesians 5:22-33.
“I Don’t Know What She Wants”
It is not easy to recognize the emotional needs of one’s spouse. A person may hesitate to spell out his or her needs to others because of fear of rejection, further hurt, or disillusionment—or may not know what such needs are. “I swear, I don’t know what she wants,” admitted one husband. “She keeps saying we have to talk, and then when we do, it always turns out I’m saying the wrong thing. . . . So I get worried about it, and I don’t say anything.”
The Bible, though, shows that, rather than clamming up like this husband, you need to show discernment. “By wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established,” states Proverbs 24:3. Therefore, try to discern what is behind your mate’s actions or remarks. Ask yourself: Why is he or she telling me this? What does he or she really want or need?
At times, a wife may perplex the husband with her volatile emotions. But “a man of discernment is cool of spirit” and seeks to ‘draw up’ from her the real problem. (Proverbs 17:27; 20:5) Is she struggling with some oppressive emotional load? (Compare Ecclesiastes 7:7.) Is her hostility concerning the time you get home from work really an outcry against your indifference and lack of affection? Or have you hurt her by some thoughtlessness? Is extra effort—and time—needed to smooth matters over? Discerning the need, however, is only the first step.—Proverbs 12:18; 18:19.
In the Bible, Job stated that the words of his mouth would strengthen the listener. (Job 16:5) This applies also in marriage. Sincere expressions that enhance the self-worth of your spouse are reinforcing. “You husbands,” commands the Bible, “continue dwelling in like manner with [your wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor [viewing as precious; especially dear] as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.” (1 Peter 3:7) When you make your wife feel precious, her hostility often melts.
Of course, according to custom, couples are emotionally closer in some lands than in others. Yet, regardless of the local traditions, husbands who apply the Bible in their marriage see the value of getting emotionally closer to their wives. Knowing that she is cherished by her husband makes it easier for any wife to bare to him the depths of her heart, and this increases their happiness.
“A good listener,” states the book The Individual, Marriage, and the Family, “has the capacity for making the other person feel that he is especially valued and what he is saying is of concern and significance.” Therefore, couples who wish to cultivate intimacy should pay attention to how they listen. An active listener gives his mate full attention and attempts to understand what that one is saying without interrupting, arguing, or changing the subject. Empathetic listening, as well as the cultivating of an unselfish personal interest in the matters of your mate, is the lifeblood of intimacy.—Philippians 2:3, 4.
To improve intimacy, marriage counselors further suggest: (1) Learn to confide in your spouse rather than in someone else. (2) Create some quality time each day, or at least weekly, without distractions, when you can pour out feelings and thoughts. (3) Share small everyday happenings with each other. (4) Regularly show affection in little things—giving a small but unanticipated present, doing a chore the other dislikes (without being asked), leaving a loving note in the lunch box, or giving an unexpected touch or hug.
However, even devoted couples will still disagree at times. The suggestions in the box shown above can help to prevent such arguments from escalating into marriage wreckers.
Even if disagreements become serious, refuse to give up on your marriage. One couple, whose conflicts had led to a separation, reconciled by reading together the Bible’s counsel on marriage at Colossians 3:18, 19 with the determination to apply this. When straightforwardly discussing the feelings that caused resentment, both asked: “Why didn’t you tell me before that you felt that way?” They listened and tried to see the other’s point of view. Now, after their being back together for nearly a decade, the husband acknowledges: “Things have only got better, thanks to the beautiful counsel in Jehovah God’s Word. Our happiness was worth the effort.”
[Box on page 4]
Emotional Support—How Important?
“Most couples who have an enduring marriage have a deep appreciation of the emotional security of that marriage.”—Dr. April Westfall, Marriage Council of Philadelphia.
“This inability to apprehend the logic of emotions lies at the root of much of the discontent between the sexes, and helps to make marriage the most difficult of all relationships.”—Worlds of Pain—Life in the Working-Class Family, by Lillian Rubin.
“Men’s confusion and consequent lack of responsiveness to their wives’ emotional needs is both a cause and an effect of unhappiness in many marriages.”—Psychology Today, October 1982.
[Box on page 5]
• Set a mutually acceptable time and place to talk.
• Pinpoint the issue and stick to it.
• Have attitude of problem solving, not winning.
• Focus on the present, not on unrelated past events.
• Have only one person talk at a time.
• Try not to attack personally nor hold grudges.
• Be specific, yet sensitive to spouse’s feelings.
• Avoid mind reading. Ask for clarification.
• Be open to giving and receiving feedback.
• Avoid sarcasm and name-calling.
• Be willing to compromise for the sake of your marriage.