Cindy from Mass, NY
Q: How can you improve communication in a relationship
A: Cindy, your question is like a Rorschach ink blot for marriage counselors. Hmmmmm. Let me see. How many tomes do I want to write? How about a short version. Both parties can increase self-awareness so that they have more experiential material to share. Both parties can decrease their shame so they won’t have to experience pain when they communicate. Both parties can develop their healthy use of anger so that they have some defenses if they get attacked for what they communicate. Both parties can increase their invitations for communication and both parties can better strategize for when to approach the other in a more receptive emotional state. Each one of these deserves a tome. – Bryce Kaye
Nathan from Greenville, S.C.
Q: Hi, My wife and I have been married for over one year and have been together for almost three. I am 22 years old and my wife is 31. She has three children from a previous marriage. I have no children. We are both in the military and have been apart from each other except for the weekends here and there and on vacations. I have had some problems paying my bills on occasions and we have fought about money. But I think that that is the least of the problems. We have also argued about how to express our feelings to one another. I will admit that I am the quiet one in the relationship. It is hard for me to express anything that I feel, unless I am being pressured constantly about talking. Then when I do talk to my wife about how I feel about certain issues she thinks that I am being so rude to her about what I have to say. I try to be sensitive in wording my explanations. But they just come out too straight forward and harsh. How should I go about fixing this problem? The second issue is that my wife’s ex-husband cheated on her and he was into drugs that’s why she tells me that she got a divorce. We are almost 2,000 miles apart right now and when she calls me and I’m not there she is automatically assuming that I am out cheating on her. I have confronted her about this, I said “I am not your ex-husband and I am not cheating on you. If I was going to cheat on you then I would have never asked you to marry me.” I have honestly not cheated or done anything to make her think I have. But I feel as though I am being compared to her ex. And I really don’t like it. We will be together soon. I am leaving the Military and I was wondering if there was any advice that you could give? Thanks!!
A: Nathan. It’s a good thing that you’re getting out of the military. Since you have such difficulty communicating, you will need to be more physically present to help compensate. It will be hard keeping your relationship alive. I would suggest that you don’t focus on the cheating thing. Don’t argue about it. It’s only a red flag that she doesn’t feel important to you. That’s the real issue. Your difficulty with intimacy will spill over into these other control issues. Focus on getting your shame levels down and increasing your language about feelings. You can do that by joining a therapy group when you get back home. Stay in it a year. It may cost but I has the potential for making a big improvement in your marriage. – Bryce Kaye
Dora from Lafayette, Pa
Q: All of last year my husband seemed undecided as to whether he wanted to remain married or not. First he asked for a divorce then he recanted. Then he decided that the relationship was not going to survive. Then he promised to make a firm decision and then asked for more time to find himself. I do not know where this uncertainty is coming from and even though our marriage did have some problems, I did not think they were serious enough to warrant our splitting up. It seemed that I was the only one who was having problems with communication within the marriage so it came as quite a shock when he voiced his unhappiness. We have been married for over 20 years and I am very much in love with my husband. I am trying to save my marriage while at the same time trying to adjust to my husband’s revelations about his feeling. Please let me know what I can do to save this marriage.
A: Dora. I’m sorry but I’m not going to be of much use in this one. Your husband’s ambivalence is not decipherable from my crow’s nest up here. I would suggest that you get assertive in the form of negotiating for some ongoing marital therapy so that you don’t get jerked around so much. It doesn’t sound like your husband is being completely open to you about what scares or hurts him in the relationship. Maybe he needs a third party as a translator, both to you and to himself. – Bryce Kaye
Allison from Reading, Pennsylvania
Q: I’ve read through your site and I know where the problems lie; even with myself, I know where I can be in the wrong. However, what is never explained is how to “convince” (though I know that may not be the right word) the other party that there is a problem on their side. I’m constantly being told that I should just “shut up about it” and “move on” and “quit dwelling” and just deal with the pain that has been inflicted (emotionally, a few times physically). In all aspects of my spouse’s life, I’ve noticed dysfunction that I can’t do a thing about and is destroying the relationship. Guess all I want to know is, what are the magic words?
A: Dear Allison, when you find those magic words, would you please tell me? I’ve been looking for them for years. Unfortunately, the only one that I’ve ever found doesn’t really have the power to control the other person. It only influences. It doesn’t control. The word is “invite”. If the other person declines your invitation to communicate, to negotiate, or explore examining the relationship in marital therapy, or to plan interventions, then you can’t do any more. You might try reading a book called “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Uri. The book is excellent for principles to help negotiation and reduce reactivity. However, you can only do so much and some people will still act out their old pain at your expense. You may also want to explore either CODA (Codependents Anonymous) or Al-Anon if serious pathology is going on. These organizations can help you reduce the amount of emotional shame you build up by being around toxic anger. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye
T.R. from Flowery Branch, Georgia
Q: My husband and I have been married for 6 years, and he has been working 2 full time jobs for the last 4 yrs by his choice. I also work a full time job. We have 2 children, and he recently told me that I could have the house and the car that I drive, that he wanted out of our marriage to start his life over. He is almost 40 and I am 31. I love him very much, and when I tell him that I love him he replies with whatever, and that really hurts. I told him the other night that I loved him. This was the night that he told me that he wanted a divorce and he told me that I loved the material things that I had, and I told him no, that I loved him. I need to know what I can do to make things better, any advice that I can get would be greatly appreciated.
A: Dear T.R., there may be nothing you can do if he has stopped listening. He may be emotionally out of the marriage and if so, then there’s nothing you can do. However, if he isn’t, I’d be more curious about what he has been needing to feel loved that he hasn’t been receiving. I would suggest that you stop trying to persuade him about your feelings and and get real curious about knowing more and more about what he has been missing. If he will communicate, it will be hard to hear without arguing. However, you may learn a lot more and your intent listening may be the most powerful form of interaction you can offer. Even so, it will depend upon whether he is truly still in the emotional relationship. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye
Marcia from New Orleans, La
Q: About 3 yrs ago I got pregnant, and even though we hadn’t talked about it before, we decided to get married. I feel like we never got the chance to become “friends” first. After being introduced by a mutual friend, we started dating immediately. My problem is that I can’t help but compare this relationship to a past one. My ex and I were best friends for over 3 yrs before it progressed into more. He was the only person I felt really “connected” to- we talked about anything and everything. I felt like I could tell him anything I thought or felt without feeling embarrassed or foolish. Our relationship didn’t work out, and I not only lost my boyfriend, but I lost my best friend of 5 yrs. It’s not that my husband and I don’t talk. It’s just that we only talk about work, money, the kids- nothing else. Shouldn’t there be more? What can I do to get him to open up about other things, how he feels, etc.? We’ve only been married 3 yrs and already I don’t think I want to live like this for another 3… Can you help?
A: Marcia. I can only help but indicating the most viable direction. You’re talking about how you can change another person. You can’t. I can’t. However, you can invite him to explore growth inducing situations along with you . What you describe, the inhibition of intimacy, will not be fixed by anything less than an intimate community that helps him recondition his values (and reduce old shame). I would suggest that you both consider exploring the PAIRS program together. Click on www.pairs.com and learn more about it. You might also explore the Lifespring fellowship together. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye