Sunday, March 6, 2016

How I Learned to Talk with my Husband

Growing up, I always thought that I was fairly good at communicating. Two of my literary heroines, who I sought to emulate, are Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables, and Elizabeth Darcy, from Pride and Prejudice. Spirited and convicted, these two women are not afraid to speak up for themselves. In a similar way, I often thought that I did a fairly good job speaking up for myself and my beliefs. As I matured and grew, I tried harder to temper everything with love and compassion, while still being my straightforward self. With many solid friendships among men and women, I thought that I was excellent at communication. 

However, when I first began dating the man who is now my husband, I discovered what a horrible communicator I really was.

To give you an example (trust me, I have plenty!), let me tell you about a Friday evening during a college semester, about a month and a half into our engagement. We didn’t really have any established plans  that night (we’re very laid back people), but there was an activity on campus later that night which potentially sounded like fun to me. So I just let that thought float around in my mind as I read some homework books in the lobby of Jacob’s dormitory. He was playing ping pong with other students, and I figured: Hey, that’s great. He’ll play ping pong for a bit, then maybe we’ll head over to the other activity. 

As I kept reading, he kept playing, and finally I decided I was done with my reading. And he kept playing while I watched. But…but…what about me? Putting a good face on it, I bottled all of my frustrated feelings inside.  At some point, (it’s hard to remember exactly how it happened, since this was a random incident 2+ years ago) we went outside for a walk. And, being the drama queen that I am, I tearfully sniffled away and at first wouldn’t speak. Then, I let it all out in bursts of sorrow and tormented anguish.

Because in my mind, I had this fun idea (which, naturally, I didn’t tell Jacob about) to go to a potentially fun campus activity at some point. And since he was playing ping pong for a while in the dorm, obviously he intended to play all night and ruin my hopes and dreams for the evening. But did I want to potentially hurt Jacob’s feelings—since his heart must be set on playing ping pong all night—and ask him if we could do something different? Nope, not at all.

Thankfully, he is a very patient and blunt man, and talked through everything with me. In the end, the night was really enjoyable, and it taught me a lot. I learned that I had much to work on in the area of communication!
Y’all may have read this story in total shock at my utter lack of logic and good communication. [deep breaths, people-it'll get better soon] I unfortunately had been so deeply influenced by the culture, that I fell into the trap of passivity when (not) communicating with my significant other. Take an honest look at the examples of non-communication that you have been given through various mediums. Whether from books, movies, or other women, we discover a million excuses to not honestly communicate with our husbands or boyfriends. To name a few:
He's so tired and stressed out when he comes home from work; I can’t talk with him about any of my problems, issues, or difficulties.
I need to be gentle with him, so that he doesn’t feel that I’m belittling his sense of manly pride by making a small critique or offer an opposing viewpoint.
Women and men think differently. Therefore, I need to embrace my coy, feminine self and sidestep around issues, since that’s naturally how I operate. He just needs to figure me out better.
I don’t want to nag him, so I can’t ask him to do this chore a different way or treat me differently.
Lest you think that I pull these kinds examples out of thin air, let me give you some concrete sources where you can find similar reasoning. First off, there’s a lovely set of old-fashioned holy cards I've seen in many Catholic bookstores; laminated rectangles that have a picture of the Holy Family, with prayers for a husband or wife, on the front. Awesome, right? (they actually are quite lovely on the front) And then you look at the back of the cards, where you see listed “Ten Rules for a Happy and Successful Wife/Husband.” What are a few of these rules?
Avoid arguments. Your husband has his share from other sources.
Keep your household troubles to yourself.
Keep your business problems and troubles where they belong.
I also want to bring up this little article that I found, of "tricks" to help me learn to communicate with my husband.  Among other things, this article recommends that women, when they are passively trying to get their husbands to do certain chores or tasks, “reward good behavior—the sexier the better.” It also advises that wives “lead by example;” meaning, when they see their husbands do a household chore in a way that they don’t like, the wives can pointedly show their husbands “what works for me,” so that the husbands can then immediately change their ways and act according to what their wives demonstrated.

Keeping this in mind, I ask you: 
When we…
“Reward” our husbands (or boyfriends) for “good behavior,”
“Lead by example” and expect them to automatically know what we wish or desire,
Keep our problems to ourselves, and
Avoid arguments or disagreements at all costs…

Are we belittling them by thinking that they can't handle the truth? 
Are we trying to “train” our husbands to behave as we want them to behave? 
Are we trying to create a peaceful harmony of non-communication? 
Are we embracing passivity instead of actively building true communication and togetherness?

Let me tell you what I’ve experienced.
When you try to pull the passive card, where you bottle up your feelings, problems, and thoughts so as to “not stress him out,” you may succeed at keeping a semblance of peace for a while. I truly believe that most women who act in this way, as I often did, have the best intentions at heart. We just want to love and respect our men, not wear them down with problems! You just put a good face on, smile, and not think about all those little things that bugged you earlier in the week. After all, they’re just little nuisances, and not anything to worry about, right? 

After a while, little things pile on more little things, and you continue to keep it all bottled up inside. The pressure builds and builds, but you figure, Hey, I just need to get over myself and not be so petty. So you don’t say anything. And then, one day, you explode. The pent-up stress floods out, perhaps the tears pour down, and maybe you even stomp off, leaving a bewildered husband or boyfriend standing on the sidewalk, wondering what just happened?
Every time I would go through my post-bottled-up explosion, I would rediscover the gift of honest communication. Actually talking with Jacob about things made me feel better, brought me true tranquility (not just a semblance of superficial peace), and pulled us even closer together as a couple.

I have learned that:
If there’s something bugging me—even if it’s small—it’s helpful to talk with my husband about it. If it truly is a small thing, we resolve it in a couple minutes, and it’s gone into past history. If it winds up being indicative of a larger issue, then we resolve it accordingly before it turns into an even bigger problem.

If I bottle things up for days, weeks, or months, that tenses me up and makes me more stressed. But, if I bring things up as they happen, I’m a lot calmer, more understanding, less over-the-top dramatic, and way more peaceful.

In my zeal to communicate with my husband, I shouldn’t talk his ear off the second he walks in the door, flooding him with all of my joys, sorrows, and problems. But, neither should I wait until the “perfect time” magically presents itself. I can purposefully carve out a time with him to specifically discuss different important topics as they arise, not wait for them to pop up a week or two later.

Just because men and women communicate differently does not mean that women should be coy and sidestep around issues. I know that many women don’t want to spell things out for their husbands or boyfriends, and instead want these poor guys to read their minds, but let’s face it: this does not create fruitful dialogue at all. It is completely obvious to me that my husband and I think differently—but does this mean we can’t communicate in an open, blunt manner? Nope, not at all.

What’s more conducive to good communication in relationships?
A woman who sidesteps and doesn’t actually say what she means, hoping that the man will eventually get a hint or ask her to explain herself further? 
Or, a woman who openly talks to her significant other in an honest and transparent manner as they reach a mutual understanding?

Although some may disagree with meI want to point out that several months ago in one of his songs, Justin Bieber brought up this issue as a relevant problem that is difficult in relationships. 

What do you mean? Oh, oh
When you nod your head yes
But you wanna say no
What do you mean? Hey-ey
When you don't want me to move
But you tell me to go
What do you mean?
Oh, what do you mean?

In fact, I find it really interesting that he was criticized by a woman who thought that this song promotes rape. Justin Bieber then clarified things during an interview with Ryan Seacrest:
"Well, girls are often just flip-floppy. They say something and they mean something else. So ... what do you mean? I don't really know, that's why I'm asking."
I hear ya, Bieber. I don’t get it, either, and it kind of makes me crazy. I think this is a bit of a problem in our culture, too. And do you know what? 
I’m also trying to do my part to change this problem.
I’m trying to communicate with my husband openly and honestly.
I’m trying to practice patient, loving, transparent dialogue. 
I’m trying to respect the fact that my husband deserves the truth, not some bewildering passive sidestepping around an issue. 
I’m trying to know that my husband cares about me, and legitimately wants to love me and help me become a better person—and he can’t do that when I’m refusing to be open with him. 
I’m trying to become more deeply united with my husband in our marriage—how can we do that if we’re continually communicating on different frequencies?
In short, I’m trying to love my husband more by communicating with him better.

I’m not claiming that he and I are perfect at communicating, but I can honestly tell you that over the past 4+ years of being together—first as friends, then while dating, engaged, and now married—my husband and I have grown tremendously in our communication. I can honestly tell you that I cannot think of a single thing out there of which I am nervous or hesitant to discuss with my husband. Honest, open communication has brought us so closely together as friends and as a married couple-it's so epic! Learning how to talk with my husband may have been painful and difficult at times, but it was so worth it. 

We don't need to read tons of articles about "tricks" to communicate with our husbands. Instead, I recommend a different tactic: Talk with him. 
Don't talk around him, don't talk at him, but talk with him. You'll be amazed at how your communication and intimacy as a couple can improve by doing this one simple action! 


  1. Good post! Nathan and I both made a study of healthy communication before we even met - one benefit of being older when marrying (but only if you actually take advantage of it). However we still have to avoid these pitfalls from time to time!

    The crazy thing about books and learning to communicate from them is that lack of communication is such a common device to create tension in a story! I love Elizabeth Bennett, but goodness, her whole problem is that she doesn't bother to communicate with Darcy in a sane manner! And then when he does lay things out for her, the etiquette of the day prevents her from writing a letter back and being like "DUDE TELL ME MORE I WAS MISTAKEEEEEN."

    1. Thanks-I'm so glad that you liked this! I think it's awesome that you two took advantage of growing in healthy communication before you ever got together, so you could bring that into your marriage!

      Yes-you are so right! Quite often, the conflict in fiction stems from poor communication, and then we normalize it. I think we can tend to think that "it's supposed to be this way" after seeing bad communication between people in countless stories. In fact, one of my favorite old movies, "My Favorite Wife," pulls its key humor from miscommunication. When I watched that movie with Jacob during our engagement, I saw it all with new eyes-he was so befuddled as to why this movie, which shows poor communication as humorous, was supposed to be entertaining!

      Haha, oh my yes. Very well said-Elizabeth is awesome, and her spunk is great, but there is such a huge communication void so much of the time between her and Darcy! As much as I love reading about the Regency Era, I would not like to live then, because some of society's rules of social interaction between men and women just got to be ridiculous. (that, and the fact that I would probably be bored out of my mind making "mandatory" social calls to people where we would talk about non-controversial topics)

  2. Loved this so much!! I can't stand marriage advice which is basically based around complicated strategies of communication which actually results in less communication. I couldn't be one of those who 'play games' or try to convince my husband to guess what I'm thinking. He's never going to guess what I'm thinking--if I want it to be known, I'll say it.

    1. I'm so glad you liked this, Rachel! I think it's awesome that you also are into talking with your husband. So many times in facebook groups that I'm a part of, women will ask for advice on how to get their husbands to change their behavior, and as I'll see all of the elaborate strategies that different ladies recommend, I'll write in something like, "How about you just talk with him?" Isn't it nice how something so simple as blunt communication works so well in marriage? :)

  3. Thank you for helping me understand how to communicate as Jesus would communicate with people. Please, this thought was a bit hard for me. I hope you can approve it.

    1. You are very welcome, Joseph! I'm so that that you liked this. Like you say, it's so good to be able to communicate better with others as we seek to imitate Christ!

  4. Haha! Tim (fiance) and I had many instances almost exactly like the one you described where I was being passive and felt ignored or whatever, then proceeded to bottle up all my hurt and frustration till I exploded at him. Like Jacob, Tim's response was usually blunt and patient. He also had to convince me that even if he did have his heart set on playing games with his friends all night, that he loves me and spending time with just me isn't some big horrible sacrifice for him. (And even if it was a little sacrifice to give up some game time, didn't mean that he didn't also enjoy his time with me.) I'd like to say I've made HUGE progress in communicating openly and honestly with my future spouse.

    Also I need to express the massive amount of distaste I feel for the “reward good behavior—the sexier the better” types of advise. Like you said, how demeaning for your husband! You train children and pets by rewarding them for good behavior. But a spouse is an equal partner. I've found, not just with Tim, but with any guy I know well, they just need to be acknowledged and appreciated when they do something well. "Thanks for doing the dishes, Hun. I really appreciate it," goes a long way for most guys.

    Also, I know I'm preaching to the choir, but sex and sexiness isn't a reward. It's a free gift of love between spouses. Your spouse needs love and affection, good behavior or not! Now if an expression of sincere gratitude for help around the house turns into something romantic, that's an entirely different situation. But "rewards" are withheld if the desired outcome isn't achieved. One certainly shouldn't withhold affection from their spouse because of some petty reason like the dishes or laundry didn't get done.

    Thanks for a great article, Anne Marie! God bless!

    1. Hi, Emily! Thanks for sharing in this fabulous rant with me :) Isn't God so good for giving us patient, straightforward men? I am so glad that you have made progress in communicating openly with Tim! Honestly, you will see the fruits of that in your marriage. So many times, I have thought about how grateful I am that Jacob and I went through rough growing pains of communication while dating or engaged, because it has made married life much more smooth and peaceful.

      Thank you for sharing my dislike in the "reward good behavior" thing!!! Ugh, it drives me crazy! Like you said, sex is a free gift! Yet, I have read a couple of different articles that all lean towards the stance of using sex and intimacy as bribery for getting your partner to do things. Nope, doesn't work that way. In fact, when a couple is more open and intimate in their verbal communication instead, that will manifest itself in the physical intimacy that they share.

      I'm so glad that you enjoyed this article, Emily. Thank you for your awesome thoughts and for being so counter-cultural in communication :)

  5. Great post, AnneMarie! I've definitely bought into so many of those excuses before. In fact, I still struggle with many of them...
    I think there really has to be balance in how we approach communication. When my husband comes home from work, sometimes he really does need some space and time to unwind before I share about an issue going on around the house. It doesn't mean I should keep it to myself, it just means I need to let him have a few minutes alone or wait until later in the evening to broach the subject.
    I've found (though we are still on this journey), that it is often best to simply ask my husband how he would like me to communicate. So, I'll ask, "What would be the best way to communicate in such-and-such situation?" This way I can avoid generalized advice that may not be best in our specific marriage!

    1. That is an excellent point, Shannon! I've definitely had to learn (still learning) not to go to the extremes-I would, at times, either never bring stuff up (for the sake of him unwinding) or I'd bring up everything as soon as he walked in the door (which wouldn't let him unwind at all). Definitely something that each couple needs to figure out! I think it's neat that you ask him how best to communicate about things-that is an awesome way to respect his needs and to strengthen open communication in your marriage!

  6. When we have something important that we want to discuss, or even not so important, just something we want to talk about that night, my husband and I will often send each other an email. "Things we need to discuss tonight." And list them out. But we try to be silly and use code words and abbreviations so the other person really doesn't know. It's fun and silly. But it lets the spouse know that conversation needs to happen that night. It's really helped us.

  7. Ann-Marie, that is such a cute idea! Very practical, too. Thanks for weighing in on this topic-I think it's also really cool to hear your perspective, since you have a couple of kids scampering around the house already. I'm sure it's less convenient for you two to make the time to communicate, so it's really awesome to hear that you do it!