“Earl and Bubba (feel free to insert Boudreaux and Thibodeaux if that works better for you) are quietly sitting in a boat fishing, chewing, and drinking beer, when suddenly Bubba says, ‘I think I’m gonna divorce my wife – she ain’t spoke to me in over two months.’
Earl spits, sips his beer, and says, ‘Better think it over. Women like that are hard to find.'”
And the hilarious message is…marriage would be great if women just shut up and didn’t bother us husbands by talking to us. Now there’s intimacy at its finest! Sure, there are plenty of women who would do well to learn to not try so hard to change their husbands, or to understand when to just remain quiet and appreciate the silent connection. And the same could be said of many men as well. Again, I believe this “funny” email represents a common marital challenge. With the right perspective and effort on the part of both husbands and wives, this frequent source of tension can be greatly transformed to facilitate the kind of intimacy men and women both desire in marriage.
It is amazing what kind of healthy changes happen in a marriage when a spouse who “talks too much” can learn to stop actively trying to change their mate to fit into the mold of their choosing. However, this can be hard to let go of when one’s spouse seems to frequently engage in behaviors that just seem so intolerable to you. But consider this…how often has your “nagging” or “badgering” (could be wife or husband) actually created the desired change in your spouse? Doesn’t it usually just lead either to big conflict or to silent separation, often followed by an actual increase in the detested behavior? Or sometimes the behavior does decrease or change, but is accompanied by so much complaining or passive-aggressive jabbing that you end up wishing your spouse were still doing the first thing and you had never made it an issue. Sound familiar to anyone?
I know this goes against the grain of your natural impulse (it certainly does mine), but watch what happens when you decide to stop focusing on the irritating behavior, stop riding your spouse about it, accept that your spouse really does have the right to choose to do things that don’t meet your approval (not that you would ever do something not in his/her approval list, right?!), and instead dwell on what you do appreciate in your spouse and on your own healthy response to whatever you consider unhealthy in your mate. “But Dr. Butner, what about the obnoxious behavior? If my spouse won’t change it WITH my heavy-handed reminders, I know it won’t change WITHOUT my regular prompting!” I hear you. But, with all due respect, if your way isn’t working, maybe it’s time to try a different way – one that doesn’t come as naturally or easily.
The other perspective/behavior change that can radically transform this frustrating pattern takes place on the receiving end of whatever criticism is taking place. Next time your spouse shares some impassioned criticism with you, take time to calm your self and think about it before you respond. So maybe what was said to you wasn’t 100% true. But what if it was 70% true, or 50% true, or even just 10% true? Instead of defending your self against what you see as the “percentage of untruth” in the criticism, see if you can identify the portion that is true. Then take the hard road of personal responsibility by owning that accurate complaint against your behavior or attitude, calmly and sincerely expressing to your mate how you can see the impact of your choices on her/him, and then working toward correcting this part of your self. Or if your immediate interpretation of any form of complaint or criticism from your spouse is that he/she is trying to control you, consider the possibility that your spouse really loves you for who you are and wants to be with you, but feels hurt or frustrated by something you have been doing, and trusts you enough to believe you will respond lovingly if she/he brings it to your attention.
And now and then, you might try spending some time together in intimate silence, which can be both intensely difficult and intensely fulfilling. Sometimes when my wife and I are sitting quietly together, either one of us can feel such an urge to say something, just to fill the “awkward silence.” However, as our relationship has deepened as a result of our personal growth and maturity, we have both come to appreciate and savor those times of extended silence when the intimacy between us is felt and trusted without feeling the need to prove it through words. (I’ll offer this aside to suggest a good fishing trip – as with Earl and Bubba above – can actually be another great example of what I mean by this kind of intimate silence, but I realize I risk making some folks really uncomfortable at the implications for other relationships – especially between male friends. And I almost certainly run the risk of derisive wisecrackery from my good buddy, Troy, whose company I enjoy whether it is spent quietly or engaged in verbally wrestling with the great issues in life.)