Friday, August 29, 2008

Communication– Key to a Happy Marriage - Part 1


Communication– Key to a Happy Marriage
Part one
By Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

Marriage is one of the most important areas in our lives where proper speech plays a vital role. One of the prime goals of marriage is to create an inner unity– kesher pnimi– between husband and wife, which, when attained, will give them the true simchas hachaim, as mentioned in chazal (Mesechta Yevamos 62b). However, the right tools are required to reach this goal. One of these tools is proper communication between husband and wife. In most, if not all of shalom bayis problems with married couples, there exists a communication problem as well. And the fact that books that deal in family communication are usually best sellers clearly indicates that communication problems exist even in marriages that are not "on the rocks." Conversely, when couples can communicate effectively, they are usually able to successfully solve their differences themselves. Thus we can conclude that proper communication is one of key factors in establishing a successful marriage.

Defining communication

Communication from a Torah perspective differs from what many people understand it to mean. A common misconception is that if one cannot say what he means or mean what he says, then he is lacking communication. For example, if I think that my spouse is lazy, clumsy or did something stupid and I cannot tell him/her so, then I cannot communicate properly. Since statements like these violate the Torah prohibition of ona'as devarim (hurting another's feelings with words) and will probably initiate an argument between the couple. Obviously, this not the type of communication that is conducive for shalom bayis.

Proper communication in marriage can be broadly defined as the ability to:

a) Express yourself and be understood without hurting your spouse's feelings,
b) Discuss issues and differences with your spouse and arrive at conclusions and/or compromises which are suitable and agreeable to both sides without developing into a quarrel,
c) Share experiences, dreams and problems with your spouse, and
d) Listen and understand your spouse so that he/she feels understood and that you're listening.
It is quite obvious that a couple, who can converse with each other in the above manner, will set forth a chain reaction towards a positive relationship, beginning with mutual understanding of each other. This feeling of being understood will cause a husband or wife to feel happy and content with each other. The happiness and contentment will bring on closeness between the two and automatically strengthen and solidify their marriage bond. Thus they will experience the peace, tranquility, bliss and harmony in their marriage as described by chazal.

Developing Communication

The first step in developing proper communication is for the couples to commit themselves to spend time talking with each other, which is termed by the Chazon Ish as "ribui sicha"(Letter published in the chasan guides of Rav Shlomo Wolbe and Rav Chaim Friedlander).

Just as a novice swimmer or driver improves his skills by swimming or driving, the more a husband and wife converse with each other, the more they will perfect their communication skills. For this reason, the Chazon Ish writes that couples must spend time together conversing during the first year (shana rishona) of their marriage when they are working on building the foundations of their new life. During this year, since couples are usually free of the pressures and responsibilities of supporting and raising a family, they are advised to spend an hour a day in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably over a meal engaged in social conversation with each other. The time should be exclusively theirs with no interruptions with telephones and cell phones put on “voice mail”. This will enable them to transform this time into "quality time"– i.e. relaxed and focused n each other's conversation. At times they could go out together for a walk or to dinner for a change of pace, as long as they are alone and talking socially, and not about business matters, for example, who will pay the bills, bring the auto in for repair, etc.

One should realize that this shana rishona period of one year is not a fixed time – zman –which terminates one year after marriage. Rather, it's a stage– matzav– that a couple must achieve in their relationship, and can very often extend well beyond the shana rishona. If after years of marriage, a couple still have difficulty communicating and discussing differences with each other, and there is no mutual trust between them, then they should realize that they haven't yet achieved the goals of the shana rishona.

One roadblock in developing communication, which is also detrimental to the marriage relationship in general, is the "monotony of the daily routine." We observe a married couple living together, sharing space and responsibilities, and most of the conversation between them is about managing their finances, and division of the household chores– cooking, cleaning, shopping, picking up the children, garbage removal, etc. They may also operate on different schedules so that they hardly see or speak to each other during the day because the husband or wife has a second job or other commitments during the time that their spouse is free. The result? Instead of feeling that they are growing closer to each other, they seem to be drifting further away. Many years ago I was told that a well known newspaper published a report stating that the average couple spends only eleven minutes a day talking with each other. More recently, I read a book on family communication that lowered the figure to a half hour weekly. That’s than 5 minutes per day! Is there any wonder why there are so many problems in today's marriages? How can a couple live together in harmony when they have never learned to communicate properly with each other?

Therefore, it is incumbent upon newlyweds to set aside "quality time" during their shana rishona as part of their daily routine in order to develop this most vital area of marriage. Couples who are past their shana rishona and are experiencing difficulty in communication must make a resolution to set aside time from their busy schedules to make an artificial shana rishona in order to start the ball rolling of learning how to properly converse with each other.

(A complete treatment of family communication is discussed in my shiurim: “Communication – Key to a Happy Marriage”, “Understanding Your Spouse’s different Nature” (separate men’s & women’s version) and ”The Art of Communication” – available in, CD tape & MP3 format.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of wikimedia)

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