Communicating in a Marriage or Family Unit

The need to communicate effectively in a marriage or family unit is perhaps one of the most challenging responsibilities we must face today. It is a responsibility because a relationship is the most dynamic area of life, dynamism that is based on the hidden, individual thoughts, desires and feelings of the people involved. People think constantly. Their thoughts are generated in directions that are influenced by past experiences, present perceptions and personal feelings. In today`s complex social, economic and mechanical world, no one`s total past experience equals anyone else`s. There may be some overlap, but the specific conditions that form any particular experience is entirely unique, and therefore specific to the person influenced by them. In addition, every situation is so multifaceted that two people observing the same event can have two very different perceptions. And, of course, forces that are unique to that individual at that time evoke personal feelings. So, the thoughts of another person are generated by such a unique combination of factors that they are without precedent. There is no knowledge of any event, issue, or existent that is common to all observers. No one, man, woman, or child, can be presumed to have a thought or opinion that is predictably based on any single social, cultural, religious, or ethnic factor. A man does not think specific to his gender. Neither does a woman.

Communications is a challenge because those unique thoughts that will dictate the person`s actions are completely hidden until revealed, an act that is determined only by the person generating those thoughts. No device known to man has been able to let us read them. No past behaviour can determine them. Just because your spouse revealed an inclination to a particular opinion yesterday does not mean that the same inclination will govern his/her thoughts today.

Thus, conditions that affect any relationship are both hidden and unpredictably changing, causing the other person to always be different each time you approach them. Of course, to that person, you are the other person who changes unpredictably and covertly, and are different from before no matter how strongly you feel that you have not changed, either inherently or visibly.

Why is communications necessary?

A relationship is God`s gift to man as a pleasurable and stimulating distraction from the rigors of everyday life. From Adam, our presumed first ancestor, we see the gift of companionship as the ultimate answer to reducing the stresses of loneliness or enhancing the pleasures of living. We begin our relationships with the highest of zeal and anticipation. Yet, the person who is now just there, or whom we may see as the irritant in our search for contentment, was once the significant source of inspiration and contentment in our lives. But a relationship needs to be managed for it to give the stimulation or contentment it is designed to provide. And that is where we err.

Consider that we establish a routine that allows us to come to our significant other when we are tired, irritable, or dejected, knowing that the presence of the other will restore us. And it once did. This is generally because the level of stress and the restorative value of the relationship used to offset each other. Marriage (or the equivalent) creates new conditions that cause the stresses to grow exponentially. There is more pressure to earn higher wages, have a larger home, and interact with different people. Then there is the responsibility for the home, the family, the in-laws and other newer conditions as children bring other families into the fray, go to school, get sick and express their own individuality. Then, each partner has so much stress that the established restorative value of the relationship no longer heals the strained feelings. One can no longer give the usual encouragement or support to the other. In addition, the other person is too drained to have any energy to give. In short, instead of managing a relationship, we simply rely on it to maintain its own strength. We keep sucking at it without putting back anything. And we are disappointed when it runs dry.

How we communicate erroneously

Since a relationship is designed to be the oasis of tranquility in a world of stress, when we suffer great stress, we place undue demands on the relationship, specifically for its restorative value. In these times of fast-paced change when all other responsibilities demand far too much of our time and energy, we are exhausted when we approach the person in our intimate settings. Each person makes demands on the time, consideration and allegiance of the other. No one considers that the other is equally drained. Since this is the place where our base of tranquility and refuge has been established, we allow our tiredness to show and our management efforts to be diminished. Then, communication with the spouse or partner becomes an effort to get consideration, not give it. Such implausible attempts at communing within a relationship may cause each person to feel further drained by the demands of the other person while believing that the other person may be shirking in their duty to offer the support, respect, or latitude each person feels is rightfully earned.

Another failure in our attempts at communicating may allow us simply to leave the relationship as a done deal, one that requires no active intervention and, perhaps, may benefit from being left unmolested. The presumption is that its settled arrangement will allow it to still be available when we have the time or energy to give to it. We do not realize that, by neglecting the other person, we are silently communicating the message that their opinions are not important to us or that their needs do not matter. We communicate, but not the true message, only the actions that are open to destructive misinterpretation.

The result of these acts of miscommunication is that we will begin to see the primary relationship as the problem, draining us rather than providing solace and satisfaction. Rather than persist in our vain attempts at seeking consideration, we will replace the relationship with other forms of gratification. This may range from some sort of special social or sporting activity to chemical diversions or simply another relationship, which by virtue of its freshness, may give the pleasure or satisfaction we may be seeking. Then, marriages will fail; families will go astray; hostilities will replace companionship. When a family-based relationship fails, it produces the greatest stress because it is a stress on what we have erected as our personal refuge, our inner sanctum.

Thus, we know three things about communicating in a relationship. We know that it is a true management challenge. It requires our strength and attention. We know that, if managed, it can be a source of contentment and inspiration. Finally, we know that, if left unmanaged, it can be our greatest source of stress and disappointment.

The role of communications in managing a relationship.

To manage a relationship requires communication. Communication is the art of exploring the hidden thoughts, fears and desires of the other person so that each of you can operate within the true perceptions of the other. It is this act that makes the other person feel special – that their inner self, their most intimate form of identity, is considered important. In personal relationships of family and marriage, therefore, communing with the other person`s personal, hidden thoughts and opinions is, not only useful, but also essential to the wellbeing of the relationship.

To communicate in a marriage or family is to be able to offer your attention and consideration to the other person, to make that person feel special to you rather than require them to make you feel important or special. This is even more important when the other person is exhausted or otherwise depleted by the stresses of life. In today`s climate where the stresses are no less on one gender than the other, the role of the more mature person will understandably alternate between the two persons. In short, it is the person who has the strength to indulge and consider the other at that time who manages the communication and the relationship – at that time. At least one person must be able to take that mature position. In the mature position, the manager sees the other as the unique existent with thoughts and feelings that are new and need to be explored with respect and consideration. For anyone to be the manager who initiates effective communication in a relationship, he/she must be willing to give the other person his/her proper place of importance.

The manager must also be able to approach the other with strength. In a world of immense change that drains our strength from every corner – work, social demands, material, or travel demands – this can be a difficult undertaking. Thus, even the well-intentioned person can be too weakened by the stresses of life to have the energy left to focus on effective communications. That relationship will remain unmanaged unless one or both people will first learn to deal with change from a position of mature understanding. The person who can approach life with a measure of identity that is immune to the forces that control the external world, will be able to access the strength and keep it, even when the world refuses to give it or acts to destroy it. With that secure strength, communicating becomes a natural exercise of being genuinely interested in considering the private thoughts and needs of the other person without also feeling depleted by the process. Since that strength is self generated, that person will be able to communicate effectively more often than not, taking the less mature position only on occasion rather than as a general rule.

To secure the inner strength that will allow selfless communicating, a person must learn to:

  • Appreciate and consider the constancy of change and understand it
  • Remove self from measures that can be destroyed by change and re-attach them to internal measures that are self-directed so life can be approached with objectivity
  • Invite the opinions and needs of the other as different perspectives that can offer a greater view on life, not as a rival position that invades and competes with his/her identity
  • Have the depth of understanding to work with the fears and limitations of the other, thus to help them expand and immunize self and become an equal contributor to the common responsibility.

These requisites are not difficult conditions that make communicating an onerous responsibility. Rather, if approached with clear understanding, they can make it easy, and the relationship the pleasurable and stimulating experience it is designed to be. This is the art of communicating, not that of being able to express oneself more succinctly, but that of being able to participate in the thoughts and feelings of the other without also feeling threatened or invaded by their differences.

The Understanding Change approach to communicating recognizes that, if unthreatened by the fear of losing one`s identity in the process of considering the other`s differences, anyone can communicate effectively without instruction. By focusing on how to secure one`s identity in a world of change, and by showing how to explore the other person whose identity is not secure, the Understanding Change approach to communicating takes a complex challenge and turns it into a simple exercise anyone can do with little instruction and less effort.

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