So what possessed me to ask the question? Not sure, (a nudge perhaps), maybe boredom and curiosity or all of the above. Anyhow, I decided to ask “ What is the one thing you believe makes a marriage successful/work?” My responses were varied, routine, expected and also surprising; Can you imagine, only one respondent ( a male) said Sex, and went further to say that a female would never marry or stay married to an impotent man! Hmmmmmh, may be true, and it led me to start thinking about whether our responses represent our most real experiences or just our grave desires? Is it true too, that when something is in abundance, it is not perceived as important at all?
I must say I have never thought about this seriously myself, but I didn’t expect so many persons to respond with ‘communication’, neither did I expect compromise to fall so far behind. This informal survey gave me a rare chance to peer inside a man’s mind (can they be understood?) and I was excited and encouraged to see that age and marital status caused minor divergences in opinion.
So because communication was the overwhelming response, I am concentrating on that. Language/speech is what distinguishes us from other mammals and boy do we have the means to communicate these days. From social to mainstream media, myriad devices and connections we seem to be wired at the core, and boundary-less. Questions are, what’s the quality of our communicating? Are we communicating more or less or to the same extent these days, and to what end? I am sure we all are old enough to remember the days of letter writing and telegrams, when outside of face to face interaction we had nothing else. So we used to relish the long treks to the post office, and most of all the receipt of a letter and especially from a dear loved one, oh how we savoured each word; reading slowly or over and over again and most of all we would wait and wait and wait for weeks, sometimes even months for a response, without a problem and without impugning motive. And then, more recently when we got the ‘call box’ (for those of us lucky enough to be in close proximity to one) and we would rush to buy phone cards (possibly once per week) and be quite contented to join a line to wait our turn while we eavesdropped of course, on the conversations of those so engaged in front of us.
But in our post-modern world, does patience still have a place in communication and is distance relevant/irrelevant? And this leads me to further question, is the length of time, frequency or time of day very important? Were relationships working better those days because they were configured differently or because communicating was more meaningful (although much less) or were people just silent about their relationship woes since the means of communicating were so limited?
To get more specific to the matter at hand, communication within a union is inevitable so why was it the most popular response? Isnt it the norm that couples are expected to communicate their likes and dislikes, opinions, emotions, fears, jokes, plans, goals, ideas, sightings and just about anything else, verbally and non-verbally. Communication too within relationships involve apologizing, being empathetic, exercising humility, expressing gratitude, and most controversially and especially crucial these days, set the family head (I am old-fashioned I still believe men are).
Now, I believe, for communication to serve its purposes effectively each couple needs to learn to identify and isolate the style that works for them (compromise right?), understand communication triggers, and the barriers for them too. These all create the blueprint for normal or abnormal behaviours in the relationship (which only if they are known leads to understanding and clarity). And each relationship will have its own blue print. I speak from experience when I say, I learnt to communicate (maybe to another extreme these days) as there was a time when I was mostly mute. I cannot dismiss the fact that as a child I was hardly communicated to or with, and that shaming experiences made me afraid to speak. I took these with me to adulthood. So too each party will take baggage into the union and as a result I advise that each couple must learn, unlearn and re-learn communicating with each other.
Communication I daresay, however is not constantly checking up, or an overkill of ‘ I love yous ‘, it should not be not a tool for gratification, nor ego-feeding (everything in moderation), neither should it be used for one-upmanship or to create a scorecard. It’s about providing answers to questions that are not orated, but are asked anyhow, since we communicate so often without opening our mouths. Women I know we tend to feel vindicated by withholding sex. But please be careful ladies, this will lead only to an ultimatum on us. And I cannot over-emphasize the need to speak with the ‘right’ tone. Maya Angelou reminds us in her Memoir ‘ I know why the caged bird sings’ that it’s the human voice that infuses words with meaning.
Communication may actually give light to the other variables that already exist or must exist in a successful union. So without communication how much compromise (not a betrayal or denigration of self, neither is it a tool for blackmail or entrapment) can you have, as we need to communicate a compromise in some form or another? And isn’t it true that we must be honest in our communications? Do we lie if we don’t speak? And what about trust, isn’t trust based on our actions over time, as to be established as trustworthy our words and deeds must match consistently? Isn’t silence golden sometimes? And can I respect you if you always or more often than not give a six for a nine? And more importantly if there is no respect will we even bother to communicate at all? Is communication the basis for a friendship or the other way around? And should you be forgiven without an apology?
I am led to wonder if communication means something different for men; as we can all agree that whilst men do not necessarily speak less than women, they definitely sometimes perceive communicating with their partners as being secondary to doing so with their male counterparts, not to mention bending over backwards for them, or visiting the man caves. Now I know as females we can be overbearing sometimes and we will want to talk at the weirdest times, so generally speaking there needs to be some communication etiquette established within a relationship, as the lack there of is fertile breeding ground for isolation and infidelity.
There is no one size fits all communication model so to each (both) his/(their) own, as this is where the level of respect will be tested/communicated too. Of course, there are times when we say too much and we all know that the biblical principle ‘it’s what comes out that defiles you’ is very real, words can hurt and within a union (of any sort) is where it seems to hurt the most. This is so true that it can create ‘communication avoidance’ (from my lexicon), a severe form of punishment for those who have been so afflicted. And it gets worse, when the in-laws or the friends are privy to this phenomenon or any form of infighting and conflict. I say that to say that, communicating too much outside the union can be just as deleterious; this is the time when being in the middle provides no form of comfort or solace.
Now don’t be mistaken, I am no expert on the subject so I am not saying for a minute that a union is doomed without communication, doomsday is near if there is no love, and what I believe for sure is that love is the foundation of all communication. I say this because there is no problem that love cannot fix. And I don’t mean only mushy, heart somersaulting romantic love (as this is transient), what I mean is the true, effervescent, eternal and Godly love. The love that calls us to Love God, love self and love others and in that order. The love that leads us to find and honour our authentic self (a façade has a shelf life), because we cannot give what we don’t have. The love that reminds us that we need to give what we most want to receive. So I wish to paraphrase Ephesians 4 v 26 and say get angry but sin not; never let the sun go down on your anger (communicate in one form or another). It’s not a race to a destination, but a journey- you will need company out in the wild!