Restoring the Information Flow

Author:
Dr. James Dobson


For the man and wife who find that the flow of information between them is blocked, compromise is in order. Even a naturally reticent man has a clear responsibility to "cheer up his wife which he hath taken" (Deuteronomy 24:5, kjv). He must not claim himself a "rock" who will never allow himself to be vulnerable again. Instead, he must press himself to open his heart and share his deeper feelings with his wife. 

Time must be reserved for meaningful conversations. Taking walks, going out to breakfast, or riding bicycles on a Saturday morning are fresh opportunities for conversation that can help keep love alive. Communication can occur even in families where the husband leans inward and the wife leans outward. In these instances, I believe that the primary responsibility for compromise lies with the husband.

Your sharing must sometimes extend to difficult subjects. If you're in charge of the family finances, and you’ve accidentally or foolishly depleted the bank account, don't hide it—let your spouse know. If someone makes a pass at you at work, tell your partner, even if it's uncomfortable to do so. As you work together to find the best solution for problems like these, you'll grow closer.

If you reveal your inner feelings honestly, with pure motives, and continually reaffirm your commitment to your marriage, your spouse will become your most treasured confidante, protector, adviser, and friend.

An extremely useful technique for couples seeking to improve their communication is the word picture, described by Gary Smalley and John Trent in their book The Language of Love. In one of their examples, a high school teacher and football coach named Jim came home each evening too tired to even talk to his wife, Susan, leaving her frustrated and angry. Finally, Susan told Jim a story about a man who went to breakfast with his fellow coaches. The man ate his favorite omelet, then gathered up some crumbs and put them in a bag. Then he went to lunch with more friends and ate a turkey tenderloin pie and a huge salad. Again, he put a few crumbs in a doggie bag to take with him. When he came home that night, he handed his wife and their two boys the little bags of leftovers.

"That's the way I feel when you come home with nothing left to give," Susan said. "All we get are leftovers. I'm waiting to enjoy a meal with you, hoping for a time to talk and laugh and get to know you, longing to communicate with you the way you do every day with the guys. But all we get are doggie bags. Honey, don't you see? We don't need leftovers. We need you."

Susan's word picture brought tears to Jim's eyes and led to positive changes in their marriage. You, too, may find that a graphic word picture is more effective at getting your mate's attention than a torrent of hostile words.

Another communication tool advocated by author-counselors Chuck and Barb Snyder is "quick listening," based on the following Scripture passage: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). After a disagreement, a husband and wife sit down together and explain their feelings about the issue. The catch is that the other spouse can't interrupt. Partners may try this and still disagree, but by giving their opinion and fully listening to their mate's, they'll increase their chances of understanding each other—and of staying best friends.

For the wife who finds herself attacking an unresponsive man and driving him away, there is a method of drawing him in your direction. It is accomplished by taking the pressure off him. By pulling backward a bit. By avoiding the worn-out accusations and complaints. By showing appreciation for what he does right and for being fun to be with. Happiness is a marvelous magnet to the human personality. 

Sometimes it is necessary to interject a certain "mystery" into the relationship in order to attract a disengaged spouse. A demeanor of self-confidence and independence is far more effective in getting attention than a frontal assault.

I remember counseling a bright young lady whom I'll call Janet. She came to me because she seemed to be losing the affection of her husband. Frank appeared bored when he was at home, and he refused to take her out with him. On weekends, he went sailing with his friends despite the bitter protests of his wife. She had begged for his attention for months, but the slippage continued.

I hypothesized that Janet was invading Frank's territory and needed to recapture the challenge that made him want to marry her in the first place. Thus, I suggested that she retreat into her own world: stop "reaching" for him when he was at home, schedule some personal activities independently of his availability, etc. Simultaneously, I urged her to give him vague explanations about why her personality had changed. She was instructed not to display anger or discontent, allowing Frank to draw his own conclusions about what she was thinking. My purpose was to change his frame of reference. Instead of his thinking, How can I escape from this woman who is driving me crazy? I wanted him to wonder, What's going on? Am I losing Janet? Have I pushed her too far? Has she found someone else?

The results were dramatic. About a week after the change of manner was instituted, Janet and Frank were at home together one evening. After several hours of uninspired conversation and yawns, Janet told her husband that she was rather tired and wanted to go to bed. She said good-night matter-of-factly and went to her bedroom. About thirty minutes later, Frank threw open the door and turned on the light. He proceeded to make passionate love to her, later saying that he couldn't stand the barrier that had come between them. It was precisely the barrier that Janet had complained about for months. Her approach had been so overbearing that she was driving him away from her. When she changed her direction, Frank also threw his truck in reverse. It often happens that way.

From Dr. Dobson’s book 5 Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy. 

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