Friday, September 19, 2008

Communication - Key to a Happy Marriage - Part 4 Out of 4

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

Another example of how men’s and women’s dominance influence conversation is when they returning from a weekend vacation. The wife will focus on the emotional aspect of vacation, such as the serenity, beautiful scenery, how enjoyable it was to finally be alone for Shabbos and away from it all, while the husband will pleasure himself with talking about the new car he rented with the latest gadgets or action–related topics. For a couple to share and enjoy conversing together, they must learn how to discuss topics, stories and experiences on their spouse’s wavelength.
Included in the category of how to talk is learning how to properly express yourself so that your spouse understands you. At times, a husband or wife will request or reply to each other in an unclear or cryptic message with the expectations that their spouse has ruach hakodesh – divine inspiration – to understand their coded messages.
For example, the wife would like to purchase a new housecoat, shaitel or shoes. She approaches her husband and says, "Avi, there's a shaitel sale at Chani's wig store." "Go gezunterheit and enjoy yourself," may be his reply; or if she says that her housecoat is getting shabby or her shoes are starting to wear out, he could reply, "My suit and shoes are also wearing out." In either instance he's not getting the hint, and the wife gets frustrated because she thinks that her husband fully understands her and is just inconsiderate of her needs.
Another example is if the husband would like to go to his parents for dinner or Shabbos, and he's not sure if his wife will agree. If he hints by saying, "Rochel, you know, I haven't seen my parents in a while and miss them." His wife's reply might be," You know something? I also haven't seen my parents for quite some time and I miss them too! But that's part of married life – it's not as easy to get out whenever we want." The husband feels hurt because his wife is not sensitive enough to his feelings, when in reality his wife innocently thought that he was merely expressing his feelings, which she was sharing with him. (However, in certain instances understanding must be used. For example, when a wife feels the need to buy clothing or something for the home and she isn't sure if they can afford it, she should tactfully ask her husband if they could presently afford an extra expense before her request.)

Even though couples must strive to express themselves properly, nevertheless, until they learn to do so, husband and wife must learn how to interpret their spouse's hidden messages.

It is also incumbent upon husband and wife to learn each other's sensitivity level. A husband cannot talk to his wife in the same manner that he talks to his chavrusa, and a wife must likewise be careful how she talks to her husband. A couple’s life is so intertwined that any negative remark, even if hinted, can cause friction and ill feelings towards their spouse. Therefore couples must avoid using expressions like: "What's wrong with you, don't you know how simple it is to..," "What a stupid mistake," "Stop talking nonsense," or (sarcastically), "You did a great job on...” Besides disrupting shalom bayis, hurting their spouse’s feeling is a prohibition of onaas d’varim.

4) How to Listen
The last area of proper communication is listening to your spouse while he/she is speaking. But it's not just listening; it's listening in a manner that your spouse feels that you are listening to him/her. For example, a husband or wife is engrossed in their own affairs while their spouse would like to discuss something with them. Even if they are listening to every spoken word and can repeat verbatim what the other said, nevertheless one doesn't feel that he/she is being heard. Therefore, to give this feeling of being listened to, it is of utmost importance to give eye contact– look at your spouse when he/she is talking to you. It is known that when Rebbetzin Feinstein would speak to her husband, Rav Moshe, he would close his sefer and look at her.

In addition, it is also helpful to nod your head every so often and verbally express your interest in what your spouse is saying by remarking, "Yes, I hear," or "uh huh," and commenting every so often on what is being said. The satisfaction of the speaker depends on how much he feels that his/her spouse is listening.

If a husband feels that his wife is conversing more with others than with himself, (or vice versa) the reason could be that his wife feels that others are more attentive to her and show a greater interest in what she is saying than her husband.


There is much more to learn in the area of communication than appears in these articles. However, chazal say, "Ten le’chacham ve’yechkam od" – teach the wise man and he will become even wiser. When one is determined to reach a goal, he does not have to be guided the entire way. His determination will merit him siyata dishmaya – help from Above – and he will find the right path to reach that goal.

A couple who are determined to develop their communication skills with each other, will set aside the required time to learn these skills, and will strive to achieve the four objectives mentioned above. They will then be on the proper path for a happier and enriched married life and will realize that proper communication is the key to a happy marriage.

(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 superstock)

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