Friday, September 5, 2008

Communication - Key to a Happy Marriage - Part 2

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

Couples ask, "Where do we find the time to sit down and talk with each other with our busy schedules? We would need a 26 hour day for this!" The answer to this is one word: motivation! If I would offer a couple $100 per day for each half hour they would spend engaged in social talk with each other, (that's $3,000 per month!) I'm sure that they would have no problem finding the time. Why? Because money talks! This exercise simply proves that we can motivate ourselves to do the impossible.

Another interesting observation is that even with a tight, hectic and busy schedule, we somehow manage to find time or squeeze in anything that is important to us. Imagine a housewife deeply involved in her housework who receives a surprise visit from her best high school friend, whom she hasn't seen or spoken to in years. The friend informs her that she is in the neighborhood for only a short time, and decided to surprise her and spend some time reminiscing about their high school years and catching up on their lives. The housewife is so full of joy and excitement that she puts her house on hold, drops everything she's doing and sits down to enjoy some relaxing conversation with her friend. Imagine if this high school friend would be her husband, do you think that she would have the time? The same scenario holds true for the husband. Does he give her the same time that he spends talking with or helping a friend?

Husbands and wives get so involved in their own personal lives, housework and child raising that they hardly ever have time for themselves. Yet with some willpower, motivation and realizing the importance of spending quality time together, they can make this one of their top priorities in marriage and succeed in finding the necessary time for this.

Sometimes couples that have reached the "compatibility stage" in marriage feel that social conversation is no longer necessary for them to maintain their relationship. This is a gross error! If a couple doesn't want their marriage to get stale they must constantly keep up social conversation throughout their marriage.

The Dynamics of Communication

Once a couple has made the resolution to set aside time for social conversation, their goal now is to learn the four basic communication skills which are:

1. what to talk about
2. when to talk
3. and the two hows – how to talk &
4. how to listen

1) What to talk about– It is the duty of each and every husband and wife to know which topics and subjects interest their spouse and which they dislike talking about. A person naturally feels close to someone who takes an interest in them, and conversing on topics that your spouse enjoys talking about will automatically generate this closeness. By ribui sicha, a husband and wife slowly learn the topics that interest each other in areas of current events, politics, science, relationships, child raising and subjects in Torah, and avoid discussing topics that they dislike. Even if a couple discuss the Parsha at the Shabbos meal or reviews certain halachos with each other, it must be discussed in a format that is suited for both. A husband must realize that his wife is not like his male chavrusa, and the wife must recognize that men study Torah in a different manner than what she is accustomed to learning in her Bais Yaakov. By trial and error and determination to succeed, the couple will be able to learn exactly what their spouse likes and dislikes talking about.

It is an unfortunate situation when couples, after years of marriage, are unable to converse with each other claiming that they have nothing in common to speak about any more. I advise these couples to make the topic of their first discussion "Which topics are of mutual interest to each other." I also advise that even if the wife wants to discuss a topic which hardly interests her husband, (or vice versa) nevertheless, he should make an effort to show an interest and partake in the discussion so that the wife will reciprocate when he wants to discuss a topic which may not interest her.

I make the following suggestions to couples that have difficulties in finding what to talk about:

1. To discuss their happy and enjoyable past experiences that they shared together. They can do this by taking out some old picture albums and relive the past. (One couple did this each Saturday night with a slide collection they had, and claimed that it worked wonders for them).
2. Another idea is to listen to a shiur together on a subject of mutual interest. (Avoid choosing a tape on shalom bayis which may cause the husband or wife to notice the other's faults in their relationship while overlooking their own shortcomings.)
3. Discussing dreams is another option .For example, if they were treated to a paid vacation, where would they choose to go?
4. Even studying Torah together is a good means to improve communication. I suggest to couples to use 10–15 minutes weekly or biweekly of their time together and review the laws of taharas hamishpacha, Shabbos, Brachos and lashon hara. On Shabbos they should discuss the weekly Parsha, and during the summer months include Pirkei Avos. I found that once they start the ball rolling, they are able to continue on their own, and discover "new worlds" of conversation that they never thought had existed.
5. The Chazon Ish writes that couples should tell each other when leaving the home, where they are going and upon returning where they have been, because sharing each others' experiences is another means of creating closeness between themselves.

(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.

(Picture courtesy of montpeliervillage)

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