TheRelationshipCafe 02/26/08

Communication is Critical to Any Relationship

Communication is key to any relationship, and even more so in marriage. In the busyness of our daily lives, it is critical to take time every day connecting with our mate. We must tune into them, paying special attention to their concerns as well as their dreams. We need to be attentive to their frustrations as well as to the things that make them smile. This is the glue that binds our hearts together; communication. Sharing painful times as well as humorous ones---creates a bond between two people.

Imagine what happens when communication diminishes. Couples become too caught up in their own activities and interests. Sometimes even involvement with the children can create a wedge in a marriage. One of my favorite topics, and addressed at length in my book How to Get Your Husband’s Attention, is that distance—emotional and physical—creates gaps in feeling connected to one another. Couples must make communication a priority in their relationship. Recently I received an email from a woman who has been waiting to hear from a mate from whom she has been separated for several years. Listen to her story. 

Dear Dr. David. I have been married for almost twenty years, but my husband left several years ago, after a time of difficulty between us, moving to a city some distance away. In the meantime we’ve kept in touch with one another, and he has promised to move back, which he has never done. He doesn’t tell me much about what he’s doing, and sends money infrequently. We have three children, and he rarely calls to talk to them. He says he loves me and wants to reconcile but I do not hear from him for weeks at a time. I’ve let him know that this isn’t working for me, and he promises to stay in touch, which he doesn’t do.  I want to believe his promises, but have serious doubts about his intentions. I wonder if he really loves me, or if he is stringing me along. Please help me decide what to do. 

Sadly, your husband sounds like he is saying one thing and doing something else entirely. His words don’t match his actions, and in such cases you have the right, and responsibility to question his motives and intentions.

We make time for the people we care about. We focus on them, paying close attention to what they say and we let what they say impact us. Your husband doesn’t seem to be listening. 

Your husband sounds quite disconnected from you as well as your children. In fact, it sounds like your husband has abandoned you and the children. It is only natural, under these circumstances, that you would question whether or not your husband really loves you.

Let’s think about what love looks like. The Apostle Paul offers us a small glimpse of love:

• Love is patient.
• Love is kind.
• Love is not rude.
• Love is not self-seeking.
• Love rejoices in the truth.
• Love protects. (I Corinthians 13)

Your husband doesn’t seem to be showing any of these traits of love. In fact, while you wait he has developed another life which you know little about. It is past time for you and he to have a serious talk about his intentions, as well as yours, considering the dishonor he is bringing to your marriage. 

Before having this serious talk with him, however, you must ask yourself some serious questions.

One, why have you settled for so little for so long? Your patience sounds more like codependency than true patience. Your belief in his intentions appears to be naiveté. Consider why you’ve allowed your husband to repeatedly break promises without setting firm limits on him.

Second, consider in what other ways you’ve overlooked trouble in your marriage. I assume you’ve let him off the hook in many ways, and it’s time you become firm with him. You note that he rarely talks to your children—this must change. He sends little money to his family—this must change. He makes promises he breaks—this must change as well. Make a list of the areas which would need to change to have a functional marriage.

Third, rehearse what you will say to him, your specific expectations, and prepare to have the difficult talk. You’ve undoubtedly been settling for too little for too long, and so change won’t come easy. Begin to think about raising the bar, and consider how you’ll tell him about your new expectations.

Finally, get counseling for yourself. You’ll need lots of support for these changes. There is no guarantee that your husband will respond positively, as it sounds like he already has at least one foot outside the marriage. You must be wise about your decisions, and be prepared for either outcome.

Remember, we teach people how to treat us, and you’ve allowed your husband to give very little to you for a long time. It is time for you to insist on more for your marriage, and more from him. He must decide if he is going to begin honoring you, with his presence, protection, kindness and commitment. He must give up his life in this other city and place his energies back home with you and his children.

What do others think this woman should do? Should she hang in there if he makes vague promises, or is it time to insist on much more from him? Let us know what you think. 

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