In this second blog of a series on communication Dr. Wall ponders the messages we convey to our spouse when we shut down and won’t talk. Communication is occurring in spades, but it might not be the message you intend to send. For the first blog on communication click here. For the entire series click here.
My husband won’t communicate with me. He just sits there and won’t talk.
A Common Comment From Wives
I don’t want to fight.
A Common Comment From Husbands
I get a kick out of these people who say they don’t communicate when they are communicating fine. Everything you do communicates. Like we said in our last blog, cows and flies don’t communicate, but people do. All the time. Even when you aren’t saying anything you are communicating.
Let’s say you and your spouse had an argument (which is communicating that you are both stubborn and you both want your own way and I’m smarter than you and you are stupid) and then you got mad enough to quit talking. You are still communicating. You’re just not using words. What is your silence communicating?
It depends how long it goes.
If you won’t talk for a half an hour or so and this is a recurring pattern, your partner might cut you some slack and say to herself that you just needed to calm down. And after the half hour if you say something to open the lines of verbal communication then you may be able to clear the air. As long as we have a good habit of reconnecting verbally and KINDLY we’ll probably be fine. Going forward, though, it’d be much better if you said you needed some time to pull yourself together than to just shut down. The total shut down is pretty rude, but if you are able to re-engage soon enough, the two of you will be Okay.
But if, after a half hour of silence, the two of you get into a verbal sparing match again, that wouldn’t be good, especially if this is the recurring pattern of choice. Then the half hour is going to be interpreted as the lull before the storm and your spouse will be working up her defenses and you will be working up yours and then BOOM! We’ve got another battle on your hands.
But what if you don’t talk for the rest of the day and you go to bed without a kiss goodnight or cuddling or pillow-talk or love-yous or chatting about your day or chatting about tomorrow or chatting it up about your kids or the news or the sports or the phone call you got from your mom or the car that needs repaired or the bill that needs to be paid tomorrow or which one of us is going to stay home to meet the stupid cable guy (again!) tomorrow? Nothing. All of a sudden you just disappear and your wife looks around and you are gone. And she goes to the bedroom and you are rolled over on your side looking away from her and she quietly slips into bed and tries to snuggle against you and you pull away, making it clear that you do NOT want her touching you.
And lets say you do this withdrawal thing for a day or so. What are you communicating now? You think you are NOT communicating just because you aren’t saying anything? You are NOT a cow. If you are a cow and not saying anything the other cow isn’t going to get ticked or be hurt or anything because cows don’t have feelings to get hurt. A cow will go months without talking and won’t have any hurt feelings at all. But your spouse?
And, if you are so cruel as to avoid your spouse for a day, like I just described, what will be going on in your heart, if you are so stubborn and self-absorbed as to not talk to your spouse for 24 hours? How mean do you have to be to do this? What kind of bad habits are you learning? And what are you teaching your spouse? And what are you teaching your kids if you treat them the same way or if you won’t talk to mommy, but you’ll be all grins with the kids?
You don’t need a degree in family dynamics to know that if you talk to your kids or not and you don’t talk to your wife, your kids are going to be messed up. And so is your wife. And so are you.
So don’t tell me you aren’t communicating. Lots of messages are being shared here. It might not be the message that you are intending to send. You are probably just trying to convey that you have hurt feelings or you don’t want to fight or you’d like someone else to apologize for a change and that you are NOT going to be the one who apologizes first. You’ll just wait it out. You’ll test her. That’ll get your point across.
Well, like I said in my last blog, we can be really off base when it comes to reading minds and only God can do that and if you want your spouse to read your mind you better tell her what is on your mind, so she can read the words you say and see if the words you say match your mood, and over time, if the words you say match the mood you convey, she might have a clue as to your desire for her to apologize, for example, (‘cuz you’ve said it before), but if you’ve never told her that, there’s no way she’ll know that and you know what she’s going to think, while you are sitting or laying there totally ignoring her existence? You know what you are communicating?
Put yourself in her shoes. Have you ever had someone purposely and willingly NOT talk you for hours and hours, even though you were in the same room and you loved that person and like this person was your spouse, the person you said you were going to be faithful to till death us do part through sickness and health and all that? Ever had that done to you? What did you go through? What did you feel?
So don’t tell me you don’t communicate.
You communicate fine.
When we teach communication skills in marital therapy, what we are teaching is how to convey what you intend to convey. How to convey what you intend to convey so your spouse really does know what you are trying to say and what you are thinking because if you don’t say what you are thinking or you tell her what you are thinking and your spouse doesn’t believe you and fills in the blanks herself, we’ll have a bunch of negative messages in there if we’re not careful and over time that can wear people out.
And then you’ll divorce each other and marry someone else and you’ll do fine communicating with that spouse, too, only you still won’t be conveying what you intend to convey and your next wife will also fill in the blanks, and if you are not getting along particularly well she will fill in the blanks with negativity and pretty soon you’ll be looking at divorce number two or even divorce number three, or you’ll just throw out marriage altogether, thinking marriage is the problem, but marriage is what gives us dependability and protection and safety and reliability and if you just cohabit your intended messages will be even more skewed toward hurt, because your cohabitee will think why would he just live with me for nothing and what’s in it for him and intended messages won’t be believed, much. Cohabiting couples have a terrible time with intended messages because without the marriage vow to seal the deal everybody’s intentions are suspect: You say one thing (“I love you”) and do another (“marriage is just a piece of paper”) and these cross messages play with people’s brains. It’s communication loud and clear.
And if you decide to really get your point across and not talk to your spouse for a month or more and not say a word and not even acknowledge your spouse’s presence, like she doesn’t exist, if you do that ‘cuz you are testing her or trying to convey that you are hurt or that you don’t want to fight or it takes you that long to get your courage up to even talk to her or to say something teasing or funny to break the ice and you don’t have the courage to do that, then you will be communicating very well, thank you very much, that she is a complete waste of your time and you do NOT need her and you may as well fall off the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned and you don’t mean anything to me as well and maybe I’m getting my needs met elsewhere, and you can’t influence me in any positive OR negative way, and you may as well cease to exist. Well, if you do that to her and you are communicating very well, loud and clear, these messages of continual disdain, well then, you shouldn’t be surprised, that if you do this to her a couple of times, that she communicates to you with the sheriff serving you some papers that convey to you in no uncertain terms how the communication that you were giving her without words was being interpreted and you can spend the rest of your days telling everyone what a complete crazy person your X wife was. Just make sure you leave out the part that you don’t have the fortitude to resist the temptation to not talk for a month or more. It takes are real moron to be able to do that. If you could package that little trick we wouldn’t have to worry about over populating the earth because mankind or humankind, or whatever is politically correct, would cease to exist, as we know it.
For the other blogs in this series on Communication see:
Dr. Wall looks at the current research about how we can read (or not!) each other’s minds. He probably lets his mind wander just a tad too much.
In this third in a series of blogs on communication between husbands and wives Dr. Wall gives advice to the partner that tends to want to talk about issues more than the other and suggests using the indirect approach. The direct approach usually escalates things.
Dr. Wall continues his series of blogs on communication by cautioning about using anger as an everyday communication tool. It’s better left for emergencies.
In this fifth blog in a series on communication Dr. Wall piggybacks on a cartoon by his son, Marty, on the importance in marriage of being able to work through your problems.
Here’s a few other blogs on similar topics:
Dr. Wall gives an example of what could have happened in his own life if he hadn’t listened. YIKES!
In one of Dr. Wall’s earliest blogs he looks at the subtlety of revenge in marriage.