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.  For Part One in the series click here.  For Part Two click here.  For Part Three click here.  For Part Four click here.

A quota from your spouse is a coma.

Dave Ramsey, Radio Financial Adviser

20100524-webIn the last four blogs we’ve been looking at communication in marriage and how cows and flies don’t chat or joke or fraternize, but humans do and we do it just fine. We just might not communicate what we intend. So it’s good to check in. Flies and cows don’t problem solve either or collaborate or ponder pros or cons or think things through. We have the capacity for these things and marriage is a great place to develop these skills. Or not.

Sometimes I hate to report on research on marriage and divorce because I fear that someone might take the research and use it as an excuse to dump their spouse. (“See. We don’t have a chance”). I’m hoping instead, the reader will be chastened a bit and realize that if such and such is a problem, we’d better work on it. I’d much rather do marital therapy than divorce therapy. Please come see me BEFORE it’s too late. Please. If your spouse says we need therapy, then come see us. If you wait to all of a sudden be teachable until after you get papers from the sheriff or your spouse has moved out or in with someone else, your odds go down. Don’t play Russian roulette with your marriage. People REALLY do get divorced after all.  If your spouse says you two have a problem, then believe him or her that the two of you have a problem.   Swallow a little pride.  Marital bliss isn’t built on stubbornness.

So…if this issue that I am going to discuss today is an issue for you: Give us a call! Today. Let’s work on this. Pronto. Besides. It would be really boring to be married and not have this figured out!

Take a look at my son, Marty’s cartoon.*  He’s raised a very critical issue that all couples have to deal with: How do we solve our problems together?

In studies of people AFTER they divorced a very common characteristics is that they report that in their previous marriage they were not, as a couple, able to work through problems without fighting. So they either did fight about it, or they didn’t talk about things that NEEDED to be talked about and then the relationship would get worse.

Here’s the math:

Solve your problems = your relationship will improve over time

Don’t solve your problems = your relationship will get worse over time

Here’s a qualifier: EVERY RELATIONSHIP HAS CERTAIN THINGS THAT WILL NOT IMPROVE. We have to make peace with those. There are NO perfect people out there for spousal material, so we’ll always have some issues staring us in the face. But we can at least make the best of a bad situation or try to make a bad situation better or to work together to reduce the negativity of the bad situation. We want to rise to the occasion. Let’s prove to each other that we can learn and grow and improve with what ever comes our way, good or ill. As we solve our problems we will learn to trust each other and believe in each other more and more over time.

Here’s an assumption I make in therapy: That you married your equal. Your spouse isn’t dumb and neither are you. If your spouse were dumb, as soon as you met him, you’d have thought, eeeuuw. And that would have been the end of that. If your spouse was way way smarter than you, as soon as you met him you’d have felt inferior and thought, I wouldn’t be good enough for him, and have crossed him off your list. No one wants to feel inferior to her spouse.

Here’s an exception: I attended a workshop recently and the presenter told us that recent research is finding that alcoholics literally have brain damage and that this is why you can’t reason with an alcoholic: They seem so self-absorbed. The presenter didn’t tell us what happens to alcoholic brains when they don’t have any more alcohol, but the assumption I came away thinking was that he was saying the brain was still damaged. I at least know that if you drink yourself to death your brain will really be damaged and you won’t be your spouse’s equal if you are dead.

Here’s another exception: And I certainly know that you can marry someone and they have completely lied about who they are and they aren’t who they say they are and it’s a complete disaster from the get go. I have no way of knowing who these people are, but I would guess this isn’t a common experience for most.

Here’s another exception: There’s a story in the Bible of a gal who was very wise who was married to a guy who was very foolish and the foolish person ended up dying of his foolishness and the wise woman was rewarded. There you go. Did they marry as equals? I don’t know. The story doesn’t say. It’s a lesson for us today.

Here’s my conclusion on exceptions: I’m guessing that, all things being equal, we marry our equal and then after marriage, if we seek different moral paths, we can become unequal. That’ll lead to marital problems, no doubt. For example, you marry your sweetheart that you met at the bar and you both partied hearty and had a ball and then one gets a good job or pregnant and grows up and quits or drastically cuts her drinking and her husband has a delayed reaction and doesn’t grow up and parties until he is brain damaged! What fun that would be, unless he finally gets it and becomes a bona fide partner instead of a party animal. Otherwise he and flies and cows will have a lot in common, including eating from the gutter.

Or one person lives a life of immorality (serial affairs or  extended exposure to pornography) or selfishness (regular pot smoking or excessive video gaming [yes! I put excessive video gaming in the same category as pot smoking! Selfishness is no respecter of persons.]) and one doesn’t. Over time, these two spouses are going to be in different universes.

Here’s the deal: But for the rest of you, which, I assume, as a marital therapist dude, is most of you, you are married to your equal and that you are not dumb and neither is your spouse and if you disagree on something, other than a blatant moral issue (like criminal behavior or domestic violence or perversion), that there is a good reason why you disagree and you’d be smart to humble yourself a tad to see the wisdom in what your spouse is saying, because the whole advantage of marriage is that two heads are better than one and we’d better compare notes and that you have something to say and so does your spouse, but if both of you are too proud to listen….

Here’s what happens if you don’t: If you don’t listen to your spouse or he or she doesn’t listen to you, then you can’t pool your wisdom and you will flounder and get discouraged and if it goes long enough, finally, one of you will say this is a bunch of crap and call your lawyer or you’ll be so discouraged you won’t be able to get off the couch at all and your life and family and household will disintegrate around you and your spouse will be the one talking to lawyers.

Here’s some encouragement: So it would behoove you to take your spouse’s point of view into consideration. There is probably a very good reason why he or she thinks thus and so. It’d be good to figure that out. You’d be amazed how many issues there are where both of you are right! You both have slivers of the truth and you put all of your slivers together to make boards that both of you can use to build a ship that will sail. That is the root word of board after all is bord, from the Old English word for a ship’s side, and we need two sides for this ship to make port.

Here’s an example: One of you thinks you are broke and the other thinks you need a new car. You fight about this. Wait a minute. You are broke! You do need a different car! YOU ARE BOTH RIGHT!! How are we going to figure this out? You need to work on our budget together and decrease your spending and increase your income and start saving for the next car. You can’t cut your spending unless you work on it together. You can’t increase your income without working as a team for the benefit of the whole family. You can’t save unless you are heeding each other’s concerns. As you solve this difficulty and work together on the common good you’ll grow closer together, you’ll have more money and drive a paid for car! Woohoo! We can do this! We work together!

This is when marriage is fun and the most rewarding: When we rise to the occasion. When our problems don’t get us down, but get our brains are activated to work together to solve our problems for the common good. HELLO!! This is why married people do better than single people! We’ve got someone to talk this over with, to compare notes.

Here’s a NOTE to single people: If you are single you know that it is difficult sometimes to make appropriate financial and moral choices or even career choices when living alone. You don’t have the closeness of a married partner with which to talk things through. The power of a secret is a secret and if you don’t have someone to tell your secrets to, the secrets can be overwhelming and make self-control difficult. Wise singles know this and over time will develop a relationship with their brother or sister or parents or a wise person from work or church or their networking group that they can sit down with over coffee or over the phone to discuss important decisions. It is critical to wise choices to have someone with which look at pros and cons. “Through many counselors comes wisdom” it says in Proverbs, “but a foolish person ignores advice.”

If you are married and have not figured out this very critical and important advantage of being married you are missing out on one of life’s finer blessings.

*Thanks to Marty Wall for the use of his cartoon in today’s blog.  To see other examples of his cartoons see his website fritzcartoons.com.

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For the first four blogs of this series on communication between husbands and wives see:

Part One On Communication: Careful! You May NOT Be Able to Read My Mind After All!

In this first blog on a series on Communication 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.

Part Two On Communication: We Have Trouble Communicating. NO, You Don’t!

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.

Part Three On Communication: Forcing The Conversation Doesn’t Work

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.

Part Four On Communication: Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!

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.

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Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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