This might be one of the greatest lies out there. More importantly, it might be one of the biggest communication barriers in a marriage. Regrettably, many of us go into marriage with this unrealistic expectation – that somehow this person God gave me is not only going to meet my every need, but he/she is going to anticipate my needs without my having to spell it out for him/her. Heartbreak sets in rather quickly. Sometimes it is on the honeymoon; sometimes you get a few months before you come to the realization that this person does not really get you at all.
Most of us did not grow up in homes that modeled clear communication and healthy conflict management. And, like it or not, we tend to do what we observed our parents doing. It takes being intentional and a great deal of effort to reprogram ourselves for the honest and vulnerable communication required for a marriage to survive.
Consider a husband, whose mother did everything for him, marrying a wife who grew up in a home that encouraged independence. He expects her to take care of him. She expects him to take care of himself. As a result, he feels neglected and hurt. Irritated, he throws a few snide comments her way and ignores her.
Deep inside he thinks, “If she really loved me, she’d know she should take care of me at lunch!”
She, sensing his irritation, asks that famous question, “Is something wrong?”
One of the most-used lies in relationships sputters from his mouth, “No. Nothing’s wrong, Why?”
The truth is no matter how trivial his hurt might seem, it is not trivial to him. He entered marriage with an expectation whether he realized it or not. When expectations go unmet, people feel hurt. Even little hurts, if not addressed, build up over time and communication becomes increasingly strained. Spontaneous affection–holding hands, affectionate touching – subsides because both parties hurt do but not talk about it. This cycle can continue until it virtually kills a marriage. Each spouse must realize the vital importance of working out the minor hurts, even if they appear trivial or unimportant to one or the other.
Work out the Hurts
1. Do not play the ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ game. If your spouse asks you what is wrong and you are hurt, do not lie and say, “Nothing is wrong.” Instead, choose to communicate and work things out.
If you are feeling upset, hurt, neglected or angry, share your emotions with your spouse in a non-critical and non-threatening way. Just tell the truth about your needs and expectations even if they seem small or trivial.
For Example: “I know it is silly, but my mom always fed me lunch and took care of me. It made me feel special and loved, and I guess without realizing it, I expected you to do that too. I’ve been feeling neglected because you don’t do that.” Non- threatening. Honest. Now they can laugh at the differences in their upbringing and land on a compromise that will work for both.
2. Do not ever stop communicating. Ever. Marriage requires constantly understanding expectations and working out compromises. It can be challenging but also rewarding and fun. Trouble results when we stop – or we never start – letting the other person know how we feel. Rather than expecting your partner to read your mind or “just know” what you want or feel, communicate. The fruit of years of talking and being honest and finding compromises is truly knowing each other and sometimes even anticipating what the other wants or needs.
3. Choose to be vulnerable. Do not be afraid of it. Vulnerability is letting another person know your feelings, needs, expectations and hurts without blame. It is taking down the walls of protection we have up to let the other person truly see us. Too often spouses criticize, ignore, blame and avoid rather than just telling the other person transparently what they need or feel. For instance, instead of complaining that your spouse works too much, tell him or her how you are truly feeling. Instead of, “You are never home when I need you, this house is your responsibility too, you know…”, try, “I miss our times to just be together in the evenings! I’m missing being with you. Can we plan a time to put work aside and just spend some time together?” A spouse who feels cared for and missed is going to respond more positively than one who feels criticized and blamed. The second approach might feel more risky but it is more honest and more effective.
4. Take the initiative. Sometimes unmet expectations and unresolved hurts have gotten so deep couples forget how to talk to each other at all. Do not wait; ask your spouse if he/she is feeling hurt by you in your marriage. Listen without defending your actions. Listen for needs and expectations that have gone unmet. Them make every effort to meet those needs or to find a compromise that you both are happy with. Share your needs and hurts in a non-critical way. Keep striving to communicate and meet needs even if your spouse lets you down. After all, that is what marriage is all about.
5. Get outside help if you need it. Find a coach, a counselor or a mediator. Attend a marriage conference that promotes good communication. These cycles can be stopped. Your marriage can be repaired. Love and positive feelings can be restored. Do not give up! Get help.