Paul and Josephine have been married for 20 years and have four children. Their relationship is not bad, nor the best; it is just mediocre. Josephine has tried to improve their relationship but it seems to get worse. For instance, after getting Paul to go with her for a seminar on Family Life, she felt they became much closer and the relationships within the family also seem to be warmer. But the moment she suggested to him to take their children over to his mother’s so that they could have a romantic dinner, she got the shock of her life. Paul just burst out at her, “Whatever I do is never good enough for you. I just give up trying to make you happy, Josephine, because you are never satisfied!”
“You don’t really care about me. You just throw me a few crumbs now and then. I’m never a part of your life!”
Hurt and broken Josephine withdrew and, like most hurt spouses vowed in silence not to ‘improve’ their relationship.
We all have such experiences; we think we have accurately heard, understood, and interpreted both the words and body language. We even assume that we have responded accordingly, only to discover that we were dead wrong. Misinterpreting statements and the obvious nonverbal language is so common that we misidentify it as the root cause of a broken marital relationship. This is a serious mistake, and it is a huge part of the problem.
Although communication breakdown is a major contributing factor in martial difficulty, it is never its root cause. That explains why effort after effort on a variety of communication skills and techniques fail to mend a broken relationship. It goes to show that lack of communication is not the cause of breakdown. Rather, it is just a symptom of the hidden disconnection between the couple – the lack of feeling for and interest in each other. Couples stop communication and start fighting because they are already estranged, disconnected. Since they have already lost that vital feeling for interest in each other, they have no more desire to communicate any more. They also give up hope as well.
The truth is most couples get married not because :-
- they communicate well with each other
- they have excellent conflict management skills
But they found each other irresistible; they are in love
Since the cause of marital breakdown is the loss of love; the misconnection, doesn’t the appropriate remedy lie in resuscitating or regaining this lost connection, lost love? Most couples, it not all, marry because they found each other irresistible.
The main reason Paul and Josephine stopped communicating is because they lost interest in and feeling for each other. Their apparent lack of communication is but only a symptom that they have already disconnected. Thus, the focus is to regain this vital lost love for each other.
Women need to talk about an upsetting relationship because they want to feel better. Men refuse to talk about it because talking would not make them feel any better. Obviously, the more the wife persists, the more the husband resists, and both end up all the more disappointed and disconnected.
The primary source of comfort for women is emotional bonds and relationships. Thus it is risky for women not to invest in relationships for fear of isolation and deprivation. But it is far more risky for men to invest in relationships, for it makes them more vulnerable to that feeling of being inadequate in a relationship. Man’s greatest pain is his feeling of inadequacy, especially in relationships. Now can you imagine what happens when Josephine follows her fleeing husband from room to room persistently pestering him for a better relationship to ally her fear of isolation? Talking and relationship, for Paul there and then, is like driving him into the arms of his enemy for solace?
The hidden woman-man vulnerability syndrome
This emotional vulnerability struggles naturally occur when both wife and husband fight to protect themselves from their basic fear of isolation and inadequacy respectively. Paul needs Josephine to give in so he need not feel being inadequate, but Josephine wants him to do what she wants so she won’t feel isolated. Towards the end of their third year of marriage Paul began to hear Josephine’s logical call for more intimacy as “Your expressions of love are not good enough”. It puts him high on the avoidance behavior mode, yelling or absolute indifference, which only intensified her sense of isolation and deprivation. This emotional vulnerability of the gender triggers off a vicious cycle; her persistent pestering being shunned by his endless wall of indifference. Talking about relationship for men here is not helpful, but futile. Both are going their own war path to ‘master’ each other. Being human, we all hate to submit. Thus, they found themselves in this war for dominance that ends only in absolute breakdown and separation. Seeking connection in the midst of such warfare is simply beyond words.
A huge part of the problem is that most of this gender vulnerability and struggle lies hidden in the unconscious. You may never ever hear a husband say, “I feel ashamed each time you get uncomfortable with my driving”. Or a wife say, “I need that pair of Gucci shoes so that I do not feel deprived”. Being an integral part of our intricate defence system, we need to learn to befriend and feel safe with them. The pre-requisite for connection is feeling safe in our deeper insights into our own hidden life.
The husband thinks and feels that he is fulfilling the relationship because he can relax with her in the next room. But this is absolutely offensive to his wife, because she feels that he is failing her in actively interacting with her. They key to connection lies in this insight into the hidden nature within all of us.
Prayer: Father God, fill me with your love that I may always revere as spouse as the most precious companion you have given me. Help me to value to my spouse, especially in the midst of difficulties in our relationship. I seek this grace through Christ. Amen.