Tuesday, December 18, 2012

If Marriage is a College Degree, Communication should be a 4 unit course

Let me paint a picture of a very common scenario between couples. A couple is going on a date, an event, a party, or so forth, and the woman is trying on clothes. Of course, she is having what women like to call a “fat day”, when nothing she owns seems to look good on her. She tries on an outfit and asks her boyfriend/ partner/ whatever you want to call him, “Do I look fat in this dress?” or “I just feel really fat in all my clothes”. Here is a typical male response, or at least what he’s thinking, “Why don’t you go on a diet or go to the gym more if you think you’re gaining weight?” 

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where we have our first major difference in communication! In this scenario, this is NOT what the woman wants to hear. (Well of course she’d want to hear how she doesn't look fat and how she’s perfect and beautiful…but) Women would rather hear empathy, such as “I understand, I felt really fat yesterday.” I’m sure some of you are chuckling, because I don’t think most guys would say that. That sounds like something a one of your girls would say to you? Right?

Every married couple have heard at one time or the other that communication is the key to a great marriage. At the very early stage of my marriage I guess that got me thinking "Great, I'll be good at this, all I have to do is talk right?" Then for the guys who are created by God with a tendency to internalise, and actively seek out the solution-they think "Cool, I'll just listen untill I come up with the solution"

What a recipie for disaster, after a while he was like "Girl, you talk to much!" And I was like " You don't understand me?" I knew that men were different from women but I didn't understand that they saw conversation in totally different ways.

He believes communication should have a clear purpose. Behind every conversation is a problem that needs solving or a point that needs to be made. Communication is used to get to the root of the problem as efficiently as possible. I use communication to discover and express how I'm feeling and what it is I really want to say. I see conversation as an act of sharing and an opportunity to increase intimacy. Through sharing (or analysing) what that lady at the supermarket did I release negative feelings and solidify my bond with the man I love.

Then it comes to story telling or "Gisting"; When he tells a story, he has already sorted out the important from the (seemingly) unimportant, and shares only those details that he sees as essential to the point of the story. I wanted ALL the details, I accused him of being secretive, emotionally detached and boring. For me, on the other hand, to discover the point of the story I might not know what information is necessary or excessive until the words come spilling out. But a woman isn’t necessarily searching for a solution when she initiates a conversation. She’s looking for someone to listen and understand what she’s feeling.

Then it comes to serious issues that have a way of cropping up on a Monday night when you are both stressed after hours of traffic and the baby is crying uncontrollably because she's cutting the third tooth. 

If you respond to stress or conflict with an ingrained pattern that includes avoidance, anger, denial, etc., it can get in the way of effective communication. I think keeping things bottled up is the reason "Oyinbo" people will walk out after 40 years of marriage and say "Mi o se mo".

My husband would say that my problems weren’t as real and pressing as they seemed in that very moment and crying wasn't the solution. He thought he was being helpful in providing “reality checks” like: “You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill” or “You’re getting overly emotional about it.” I would be infuriated! To me, it felt like he is attempting to undermine my feelings or talk me out of having them (No way! I'm gonna have a good cry!).
I had a habit of always wanting to tell (advise) him what to do. Nobody likes to be told what to do. I had to learn to resist telling him what to do. If that wallpaper doesn't last, although annoying, it isn't a do or die affair.

Contrary to common belief, you don't have to say everything you're thinking, but everything you do say has to be accurate. If your partner asks you if you're upset, and you are, you have to be willing to say, "Yes". It's important that both partners know they are going to be told the truth. Ladies, don't say you're fine and burst out in tears 20 minutes later and because you can't find the remote control.

Men and women need to reflect on words and feelings. After receiving input from your partner, verify that what you are hearing is what your partner is actually saying. You've got to say, "What I hear from you means..." That way you can clarify if you are not getting the right message. That way you avoid leaving the room thinking she was upset just because you chose to not buy her apples instead of the real underlying issue of neglecting to put her first. 

Do not leave the discussion until it is completed. Walking out should be prohibited! Both partners should discuss issues and be patient enough to get to a place where you both feel you've been heard and your concerns fully addressed (sorry guys, this part might take a while).

Marriage is hard work but when you put in the effort just like when getting a degree, the rewards are awesome!

Ijeoma Olujekun

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