When Talking Stops

The destructive action that precedes the breakdown of good communication in a marriage is not simply a refusal to speak or share feelings; it's an excess of criticisms being volleyed back and forth between you and your partner. When you articulate your differences or make a complaint, it's the tendency to condemn each other, to make one way wrong and the other right, rather than pinpointing the real issue or celebrating the variety between you. Before you can ever hope to do the latter, you must learn how to deal with the inevitable grievances you'll have about each other in a manner that solves the issue, at least arrives at a compromise, but doesn't blame or make the person wrong.

An illuminating study was done on the attribution of blame in marriage. This study looked into who tends to do the blaming, whom or what they blame for marital tensions, and what this means in a marriage. If, for example, John is being inconsiderate to Sharon by speaking rudely to her (more than once over a period of a week) she has two possible targets for her blame, one external and the other internal. An external cause for John's negative behavior would be: “he's overly stressed at work.” An internal cause would include: “he's an uncaring person.” If Sharon chooses the internal cause for John's rudeness, she's more likely to respond in kind; that is, by speaking rudely or nastily back to him. If, however, she chooses to believe his rudeness stems from a high stress level, she's more likely to respond with kindness.

He Really Can't Read Your Mind

One of the most common mistakes individuals make in their marital communication is expecting a partner to understand what they need and want without telling them. This is a big mistake. Once the expectation is set, and your partner doesn't fulfill these wants, anger can result. “If you truly loved me, you would know what I want.” How? Why would you believe this to be true? Yet many couples operate with this kind of assumption.

The way out of this mistake is to take the risk of being rejected and express exactly what you want and need. Becoming vulnerable is essential for couples to communicate effectively. Without taking the risk of being honest and forthright, you can create the possibility of a breakdown in your communication system. Over years, such a breakdown can destroy a relationship.

Question

What is excess criticism in a marriage?

Excess criticism is when your conversation contains more negative than positive aspects, either in tone, body language, or actual words spoken. It's when you look at your spouse with fear instead of love, and when you look for the differences between the two of you, rather than searching for similarities and common interests.

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