Patricia pulled nervously at a tissue as she spoke. “Our first date was very romantic and unforgettable. We went to dinner but never tasted the food. We were so enraptured with each other, w talked for hours and lost track of time. I felt I had known him all my life. I had had numerous relationships with men, but this one was different.
“When John finally asked me to marry him, it was inevitable. In the beginning, our marriage was much like our courtship. We shared everything and considered ourselves best friends; we shared things we would never tell anyone else. Sometimes we’d be in bed holding each other, talking until the wee hours of the morning.
“Gradually, over the years, each of us has pulled back and closed down. There is little to say to each other. Sometimes I have little feelings for this man I once adored. I think he feels much the same way.
“What happened? Nothing dramatic. We got so busy with our separate worlds we hardly noticed that we weren’t friends anymore. The signals were all there, but we refused to recognize them. He’d bury himself in the antique cr he was rebuilding. I became very resentful and shut him out just or spite. The couple who didn’t have enough hours in the day to discuss life, didn’t exist anymore.
“Our friends used to tease us because we would get so wrapped up in talking with each other, they didn’t want to interrupt us. That seems like a long time ago. Now we stay together because of the children. We have lived this way for so long now, it would be very difficult to open up to each other again.
“I doubt if we could talk in a way that wouldn’t threaten or interrupt the comfort zone each of us established. Our relationship may not be great, but it is predictable and there is a sense of security in our misery. Now we are strangers. We have lost the ability to care or see things from the other’s viewpoint.”
People marry dreaming of a lifelong intimate friendship with their mate. Instead, most marriages end up purely “functional,” where partners perform the duties of provider, nurturer, parent, sex partner, cook. The functional marriage is incomplete and unsatisfying.
The great news is, a functional marriage can be transformed into a highly effective marriage by establishing an intimate communication system.
Communication is what sparks the caring, giving, sharing, and affirming that are presnt in intimate friendship.
Why Couples Can’t Communicate
Many reasons exist for the inability to communicate. Perhaps the most obvious is that most of us have never been taught effective communication skills. When we have never learned proper skills we continue to function in the ineffective ruts we create for ourselves.
Another reason couples fail to communicate adequate is they are afraid to share real thoughts and feelings with their mates. There is justification for such fear. Who hasn’t opened up to a partner and been rebuffed? Some get hurt so badly they crawl permanently inside a shell and refuse to come out.
Every conversation is influenced by the misunderstandings and unresolved problems from the past. The greater the hurt and anger from the past, the less likely they couple can continue to communicate without third-party intervention.
Learned Patterns From the Past. The manner in which you speak and listen today is affected by what you learned as a child when growing up. You carefully observed how family members talked, listened, and responded. You may have observed positive patterns such as respect, directness in asking for things, and cheerfulness–and you may have observed destructive patterns, such as hostility, mind reading, silent treatment, and yelling.
You began to experiment with what would work for you, and you most likely carrid these same patterns with you into your marriage. You may have learned to have what you consider to be quiet, respectful discussions. But this pattern of communication may not work well with a mate who learned to settle matters through loud negotiation and arguing.
Social Conditioning. Boys and girls also learn to communicate with their peers, especially between the ages of 5 and 15. Little girls play most frequently in pairs, with a series of “best friends.” The relationship between the girls is solidified by private talk and sharing of secrets. The information isn’t important, but the experience of sharing it with a best friend is. Little boys, on the other hand, play more frequently in groups, often outdoors. There is less talking and more activity when boys get together. A new boy is easily admitted to the group, but once in he must jockey for position and status within the group. Such attitudes are reinforced through the growing-up years.
When a woman gets married she thinks she has found an improved version of her best friend and confides in him through private talks and shares “secrets.” Many of her secrets involve how to improve the marriage.
The husband has never heard so many secrets in his life and concludes there must be something terribly wrong with the relationship. This puts him on the defensive! He doesn’t need the heart-to-heard talks as much as he may miss doing things with male friends where activities played a major role.
The woman feels tremendous inner satisfaction while she is talking. The husband senses real trouble, since they have to keep discussing things! Their relationship can weaken as she pushes for more intimate talks about what she feels is wrong and he tries to prevent them. One thing is for sure, males and females have very different ideas on how to communicate and become best friends.
Nothing may have a more profound influence on your style o communication than your temperament. Temperament is a combination of inherited traits that affect your behavior. These traits are passed on through the genes and are largely responsible for your actions, reactions, and emotional responses as well as how you communicate.
The following brief description of the four temperaments introduces you to the communication patterns most like used by each.
Sanguine. Sanguines are outgoing exuberant conversationalists who love to talk and can easily dominate conversations. A compulsiveness compels them to tell long, dramatic, detailed stories, which make them favorites at social gatherings. This compulsion to talk makes them very poor listeners. A short attention span and the fact that they are easily distracted further complicate their ability to listen. Then tend to be loud persons who explode easily.
Choleric. Cholerics speak freely but more deliberately than sanguines. They dislike the long, detailed stories of the sanguine. They would tell the same story but skip insignificant details, press their point home, and move to the next pont of interest. Cholerics find it easy to make decisions for themselves and others but can often be opinionated, domineering, and bossy. Cholerics usually think they are right–and because of the keen and practical minds, usually are! Cholerics make good debaters but argumentative and sarcastic marriage partners.
Melancholy. Melancholics are introverts and are exceptional analytical thinkers. They speak only after a careful analysis. They thrive on detail and are dominated by a variety of mood swings. Sometimes melancholics are outgoing, friendly, and extroverted, but they vacillate to being withdrawn, depressed, and irritable. They are extremely sensitive and tend to take everything personally. Of all the temperaments, they have the most difficulty expressing their true feelings.
Phlegmatic. Phlegmatics are quiet, slow, more deliberate, and noncombative speakers. they rarely get angry and will go to almost any length to avoid unpleasant confrontations. They never laugh very hard or cry very hard and most often appear “expressionless,” which makes them difficult to read. They are always the same: steady and dependable. Their natural dry sense of humor can be a joy–except to a spouse. They are usually easy to live with unless their slow and methodical manner becomes a source of irritation to a more aggressive partner.
No temperament type is superior to another.. Each communicates in a different and distinct manner. Usually we are blends of all four, with one or two dominating. I am chol-san, and nothing can change that. Understanding the temperaments helps me understand my mel-san husband’s style and why he goes on and on about things. Our inherent temperaments play a big part in determining how we communicate as a couple.
Is There Hope for Achieving Better Communication?
The happiness of a couple, to a large degree, can be measured by the effectiveness of their communication. Effective patterns of communication allow the couple to negotiate problem areas, fulfill needs, avoid misunderstandings, and develop intimacy over the years.
When a relationship is riddled with ineffective patterns, the couple will misinterpret motives, needs will go unmet, problems will go unsolved, and hostility will increase. As the years roll on, the chance for solving these problems lessens because of ingrained habit patterns and deep-seated resentment.
Many people get so caught in a web of inadequate communication habits that they give up. Others say they want to improve communication, but they lack know-how and commitment to break negative habits and establish new ones.
You may or many not be aware of what you should or should not be doing. But by becoming more aware of the patterns you and your partner are using, you can avoid typical pitfalls that trap thousands, greatly improve your chances for learning to communicate at new and deeper levels, and understand your mate better.