marriage bed symbol

marriage bed symbol

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Four Marriage Killers - SILENCE

Most people naturally gravitate toward where they find love and acceptance. In contrast, they will avoid people and situations that cause them pain or make them feel rejected.

Like a finely tuned machine, the following scenarios work beautifully for the adversary, because when we feel like we cannot talk with our spouse, resentments accumulate and build and drive a wedge between couples. Silence separates.

“He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God…”[1]

Good Silence vs. Toxic Silence

“Tenderness and respect – never selfishness – must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife.” [2]

Most of us will not be inclined to talk to our spouse about what feels good to us or is important to us, sexually or otherwise, especially in an atmosphere where there is a  fear of rejection or contention.

This doesn’t mean that all silence is bad. A sociable silence feels very different from a toxic silence. When silence is exercised in terms of restful or quiet reflection, or at reverent times, both partners are feeling good, and are not actually silent but may actually engage in a large amount of positive nonverbal communication (smiles, winks, giggling, touching etc.)

Toxic silence means that all positive communication has ended. If there is communication at all, it becomes negative (crossed arms, frowns, turning away from them, avoiding topics of discussion etc.)

When a husband is in the throes of passion with his wife and about to get intercourse, the last thing he wants to do is start an argument or do anything that he feels could potentially turn his wife off. Even though both need to communicate to understand what the other wants or needs sexually, both may remain silent out of fear of disrupting the mood.

Sexual Performance and Rejection

“One word could mean approval or denial, blessing or cursing, doubt or knowledge, friendship or enmity. The way we say one word, the intonation we use, may cause love or hate.”[3]

A man takes his ability to perform sexually very seriously. Many mens’ self-esteem has their foundation built on their sexual potency. If a man finds that he has a physical ailment that decreases or eliminates his libido, he may verbally shut down because he feels embarrassed and fears his wife will think of him as less than a man or unattractive.

Woman can also suffer from rejection due to sexual performance or rejection of advances.  If the husband criticizes his wife in the area of sexual performance or availability, poisonous silence can result, which is an indication of her resentment and hurt feelings.

A spouse may have an addiction to pornography, or feels strong feelings of attraction for another person, or hold some other secret they don’t share for fear of persecution or rejection.. They may be searching for a way out of these situations, but may fear how their spouse (the person who should be their greatest ally in their battle against temptation) will react.

Lack of Adequate Communication Skills

Communication skills are learned; they are not automatic. Many families lack the essential communication skills to adequately nurture a loving relationship. A tool that would be valuable to any married couple (whether engaged or married for years) is to meet with an LDS marriage and family therapist or take a course in communication as a couple at your local community college.

For example, the textbook “Human Communication” teaches:
 “Communication is dependent on the interaction of two communicators and one person cannot guarantee its success. Others may have conflicting goals, have different perspectives or communicate incompetently. Learning individual communication concepts and specific communication skills is essential to effective interaction.”[4]

Lowering the Defensiveness that Fosters Silence

We become defensive when we feel attacked or have been attacked in the past. We may be one who holds to the belief “once bitten, twice shy.” For our marriage to be healthy, trust is essential. Trust, however, cannot be given. It has to be earned. So how do we maintain the kind of trust that will eliminate silence in the relationship?

“Human Communication” goes on to show that “…Trust must be established between individuals and not be based on roles, positions or status. In other words, people should come to relationships without all the trappings of the roles they play. Reducing defensiveness is essential to building trust...” [5]

Instead of evaluating or judging our spouse’s behavior, we can report our observations of the situation or explain how our spouse's behavior makes us feel.

Instead of acting as if you have the ultimate solutions to the problem, you can approach your spouse in a spirit of being willing to listen and readiness to entertain multiple ideas.

Avoid a mind-set of apathy towards your spouse. You need them and they need you. If you want healthy communication, it’s more conducive to show your concern by listening to your spouse.

Listen to both what they say and how they say it. Try restating back to your spouse what they just said. Do this until what your spouse is trying to say matches your interpretation of what they said.

Because men and women naturally communicate differently, it’s important that both recognize what the spouse is trying to do when they restate what you have said to them. It isn’t to belittle or patronize you, and you can choose to interpret it as a genuine effort of your spouse to listen and understand.

In the eyes of the Lord, a husband and a wife are equal in status no matter what the world’s cultures say. We communicate this to our spouse by speaking to them as an equal. Neither can we manipulate our spouse for our own personal benefit. It is more productive be open and without deceit when we talk with our spouse.

Abuse Leads to Toxic Silence

Any kind of abuse can also put a damper on a person’s willingness to communicate. Physical abuse is easier to identify, but what about emotional abuse? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has defined emotional abuse to include such behaviors as:

·        name-calling
·        sarcastic comments
·        demeaning statements
·        trivializing the achievements of your spouse
·        put-down humor aimed at your spouse
·        fault-finding
·        intimidation
·        withholding information or affection as retribution for real or imagined wrongs
·        perpetual estrangement – refusing to forgive and/or collecting past wrongs
·        refusing to share in the good or bad emotions of others
·        setting inappropriate rules (no Church service, no visitors, no phone calls)
·        manipulation of others through guilt, pity or blame [6]

An atmosphere of abuse will lead to toxic silence. It is because there is no safe way of communicating with the abusive spouse without being drawn into painful confrontations.

In this situation, a common inclination (in order to avoid or rebound from rejection or a disagreement, emotional discomfort, or to avoid the risk of divorce) is for defensiveness to go up and for communication to shut down.

I believe that abuse patterns - received during childhood - tend to perpetuate when relating and reacting in situations that will arise during marriage. Therefore, new patterns must be learned to prevent the inherited abuse pattern from damaging a newly formed family.

How to Relate to Your Spouse in a Situation of Toxic Silence

To begin to eliminate toxic silence and improve communication, it’s important to first understand that undesirable behaviors are mostly learned. When a person enters into a marriage, they are given a whole new set of circumstances that they did not have to deal with when they were single.

When a person is given a challenge that is only experienced in marriage, they will respond to it according to the examples they recall from memory. Generally this comes from “How did Mom/Dad/Grandpa/Grandma behave in this situation?” or “I remember the married couple on my favorite TV sitcom/drama who responded like this in this situation and that seemed to work for them.”

We may not think this consciously, but when faced with a problem that needs immediate attention; our brain will search for a memory file to draw from to quickly to respond the situation. That memory is how we will react if we do not have a positive response to draw from. Every time the situation occurs, we will rely on whatever is in our memory –even if it’s abusive.

If your spouse begins to exhibit problems with pornography or emotional abuse or excessive anger, your spouse is not necessarily an evil person because of these habits. Would you have been attracted to him or her in the first place if they were evil to the core? I don't believe we would.

If a person has habits of being coercive or of yelling or of addiction or other forms of abuse, these are learned behaviors. I believe that in more cases than not, these dysfunctional attributes do not come from the pupil, but from the teacher and the environment they were raised in.  Such habits may take years, decades or even a lifetime of vigilance of both husband and wife to correct. This is why it is important to maintain an eternal perspective. We are all struggling to become like our loving Heavenly Father and our savior Jesus Christ. This will may not be accomplished in a lifetime for any of us.

Positive responses to life’s varied circumstances can be learned from the scriptures or Church leaders, and from positive role models with a clear code of ethics.

I choose to believe that people want to be good – that they want to be the best husband or wife, and the best lover – they can be. They just may not know how or believe they can. I also believe bad habits and bad patterns can be reprogrammed, if the person is willing to learn good habits to replace them.

Other Ways to Communicate to Avoid Toxic Silence

A powerful remedy for the root causes of toxic silence is the Christ like trait of open, honest, patient and loving communication.

“But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”[7]

Be careful in how you say the word ‘no’. Telling the other spouse “no” (in any way), and especially when approached with an offer to have sex can also lead to hurt feelings and a lack of trust and reduced communication.

Instead of saying no, you could try saying “YES, I would love to have sex with you but can we do it later?” This helps the initiating spouse not feel rejected when you find yourself in the middle of something that you are unable to break away from, or if you need a little more time to get mentally prepared for intimacy.

If you need help getting into the mood, by all means, let them know what would help you. Give your spouse an opportunity to be successful, and you will get what you want too. Be mindful that expecting your spouse to read your mind is not practicing good communication skills.

Communicating When We Feel Angry

“…he that has the spirit of contention is not of me but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger one towards another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”[8]

People get angry; there’s no point in saying we’re not angry when we are. If we bury anger, it will go somewhere else. It can resurface in other, less desirable ways such as depression or expressing anger in the wrong context (yelling at the kids or the dog when we’re really mad at our spouse).

We can learn ways to express anger without yelling. For instance, writing a letter may help get your feelings out and open the pathways of communication. President Gordon B Hinckley teaches that “…communication is essentially a matter of talking with one another. Let that talk be quiet for quiet talk is the language of love. It is the language of peace. It is the language of God.”[9]

“When you do this, I feel angry” is another way of releasing our feelings in ways that don’t alienate others and shut down all communication. Agreeing to take turns speaking instead of yelling over each other can be a great way to open communication that has shut down.

Good communication skills are not an optional thing in marriage. They are celestial in nature; they are essential to a healthy marriage. It is also a commandment.[10]

 Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ set the example. Pay attention the next time you attend the temple. Listen for all the over-communication that’s modeled for all of us. Over-communication is better than not enough, and the more you practice, the more you come to find an acceptable level that you both are comfortable with and will prevent toxic silence.

The Benefits of Communication

When we lower our defenses and look at each other as allies instead of rivals and increase our communication, intimacy and sex actually get better and are more fun. It’s more fun because it then goes from something we are doing to each other, to something a couple does together.

Being married means sharing. If you sense avoidance from your spouse or they seem to clam up when you are around, ask them if they feel like they can’t trust you with their feelings. If they don’t, quietly and calmly discuss why. You may not like what you hear, but you’ve got to understand the depth of the problem if you want to find the solution and eliminate any silence that my be killing your marriage.

Your spouse is the person you should trust the most. Discuss your issues with love and patience and most of all – without judgment. Be proactive. Think of what your spouse does or says as a potential way to serve them and show them how much you want to love and support them. Use the Atonement and pray for help from the Lord in overcoming hurt feelings and in learning to communicate better with each other.

Anytime your marriage seems in trouble, ask yourself “Are we not communicating? Is there too much silence between us?”

For some additional tips on how to communicate more effectively with your spouse, I would also like to suggest Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s article “Family Communications

[1] Doctrine and Covenants 52:16
[2] Howard W. Hunter,  Ensign November 1994 pg.51
[3] Charles Didier, “Language: A Divine Way of Communicating”, Ensign, Nov 1979
[4] Judy Pearson et al Human Communication 3rd edition McGraw Hill New York, New York 2008 pg 158
[5] Judy Pearson et al Human Communication 4th edition McGraw Hill New York, New York 2011 Pg 154
[6] From the 1995 booklet, “Responding to Abuse: Helps for Ecclesiastical Leaders” as listed by Judy Olson, in the Ensign article “The Invisible Heartbreaker”, June 1996
[7] Hebrews 13:16
[8] 3 Nephi 11:29-30
[9] “Cornerstones of a Happy Home”, Gordon B. Hinckley, Satellite broadcast fireside, 29 Jan 1984
[10] Doctrine and Covenants 136:23-24

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