Communication Myths that can Cripple Your Marriage - Part II

Last time we talked about the first 5 of 10 myths that cause a great deal of frustration and pain in many marriages. Although these myths can be destructive they are rather common in that most people believe one or more of them at some time, even in a healthy marriage.

To review, the first 5 myths are:

Myth 1: We should never go to bed angry.

Myth 2: My spouse ought to know what I think, feel and want.

Myth 3: A successful discussion always ends in agreement.

Myth 4: If we bring up or discuss a problem it needs to be solved now.

Myth 5: When I share my feelings my spouse must always do something in response.

Now we will look at Myths 6 through 10.

Myth 6: If my spouse rejects my views he/she is really rejecting me. 

Rejection hurts, especially from someone you care about. However, disagreement and rejection are two very different things. If disagreement feels like rejection to you, you may be caught in “personalization”. Personalization occurs when a person believes that whatever someone does or says is a direct, personal reaction to – or judgment of – them as a person. It is important to remember that your view on a particular issue is separate from who you are as an individual. You and your spouse both have the right to hold differing opinions, and that doesn’t have to be a problem. When a couple is able to respectfully reject each other’s views or opinions from time to time without personalizing, it actually demonstrates the strength of the marriage. Discussing different views helps to strengthen problem-solving, critical thinking and even intimacy. Remember, having a spouse who agrees with everything you believe and think is not only unhealthy, it’s boring.

Myth 7: If my spouse does what I want it doesn’t really count if I had to ask. 

It’s almost like a sitcom: She says, “You never bring me flowers,” so he comes home with a bouquet and she says, “You didn’t think of it on your own so it doesn’t count!” Or he says, “Why don’t you rub my shoulders anymore?” so she starts and he says, “Don’t bother. I don’t want a massage out of pity!” There are no winners with this myth! As I mentioned in Myth #2, your spouse is not a mind reader, and the only way they will know how to meet your needs is if you ask for what you want.  Acts of love can be expressed in countless ways and not everyone naturally demonstrates love the same way. (For some insight on this, I recommend The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.) Letting your spouse know what you need or desire is a tremendous gift because most people appreciate knowing what they are aiming for in hopes of hitting the bulls-eye. When you buy into this destructive myth you are much less likely to have your needs met and will therefore be less likely to feel motivated to meet the needs of your spouse. This relationship pattern often gives way to a negative downward spiral that is sure to compromise your marital satisfaction and happiness.

Myth 8: Couples who really love each other should naturally communicate well. 

Unfortunately, no matter how much you love your spouse one or both of you may still be unskilled or ineffective at communication. There are many reasons why communication may suffer in a marriage. For example, you and your partner may have different communication styles, like one being more naturally talkative, expressive and open and the other being quieter or more reserved. Many of us have developed bad habits such as interrupting, being critical, judgmental, defensive or blaming. It’s possible that your parents did not effectively model constructive conflict resolution strategies and therefore you are more prone to debate rather than resolve differences. The list of possible reasons for having ineffective or unfulfilling communication with your partner is long and varied, but it is important to know that your challenges may have little to do with how much you love each other. The truth is this: Couples who really love each other will make an effort to hone their communication skills. One book I recommend is Communication Miracles: Easy and Effective Tools to Create More Love and Less Conflict by Jonathan Robison, or you may want to meet with a professional marriage counselor to strengthen your ability to communicate effectively. 

Myth 9: My spouse knows I love them so they shouldn’t need me to apologize when I offend them. 

If you’re old enough to remember the movie Love Story, you may recall the famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I hope you haven’t been living with that destructive misconception all these years! Real love means having your loved one’s best interest in mind, and when you have said or done something to hurt, anger or trigger fear in them you can be sure that some relational damage has been inflicted. Apologizing for offending your spouse is powerful evidence of your love.  According to the research, one of the most effective ways to repair a damaged relationship is through sincere apology. That includes acknowledging and taking full responsibility for causing your spouse pain. It also includes a genuine commitment to not repeating the offense. Without acknowledgment and heartfelt contrition there will be an absence of emotional security and trust in the relationship – the bedrock of every healthy marriage.

Myth 10: If we really loved each other we would never argue.

This myth is completely untrue and may be one of the most destructive. The reality is that two people living together who each bring their own backgrounds, history and opinions into the relationship will inevitably encounter situations in which they don’t see eye to eye. Oftentimes, these are high-stakes issues that trigger emotion and the result can be heated discussion or arguing. The truth that dispels this myth is that if you really love each other, you develop enough confidence in your spouse and commitment to your marriage that disagreement doesn’t threaten your security in your marriage. The way a person feels about arguing has a great impact on whether they believe this myth or not. Some people grow up in families with a lot of interaction and expression of opinions (sometimes loud), so arguing comes naturally and doesn’t feel threatening to them at all. Others come from households that avoid conflict – sometimes to an unhealthy extent – and even the thought of an argument is frightening. Someone who never “learned” to argue as a child may interpret passionate verbal exchanges as a loss of love and acceptance. It’s important for spouses to study one another and observe one another’s communication and conflict management styles so they can make a plan for how to handle disagreements in a way that meets both partners’ needs.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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