Marriage Misconceptions

Related to this bewildering dilemma—a mate who neither speaks nor hears—is another common problem that has its origins in childhood. Girls are subtly taught by our culture that marriage is a lifelong romantic experience; that loving husbands are entirely responsible for the happiness of their wives; that a good relationship between a man and a woman should be sufficient to meet all needs and desires; and that any sadness or depression that a woman might encounter is her husband's fault. Or at least he has the power to eradicate it if he cares enough. In other words, many American women come into marriage with unrealistically romantic expectations which are certain to be dashed.

Not only does this orientation set up a bride for disappointment and agitation in the future, but it also places enormous pressure on her husband to deliver the impossible.

Unfortunately, the man of the house was taught some misconceptions in his formative years, too. He learned, perhaps from his father, that his only responsibility is to provide materially for his family. He must enter a business or profession and succeed at all costs, climbing the ladder of success and achieving an ever-increasing standard of living as proof of manhood. It never occurs to him that he is supposed to "carry" his wife emotionally. For Pete's sake! If he pays his family's bills and is a loyal husband, what more could any woman ask for? He simply doesn't understand what she wants.

Inevitably, these differing assumptions collide head-on during the early years of marriage. Young John is out there competing like crazy in the marketplace, thinking his successes are automatically appreciated by his wife. To his shock, she not only fails to notice, but even seems to resent the work that takes him from her. "I'm doing it for you, babe!" he says. Diane isn't convinced.

At first, John tries to accommodate Diane. At other times, he becomes angry and they slug it out in a verbal brawl. The following morning, he feels terrible about these fights. Gradually, his personality begins to change. He hates conflict with his wife and withdraws as a means of avoidance. What he needs most from his home (like the majority of men) is tranquility. Thus, he finds ways of escaping. He reads the paper, watches television, works in his shop, goes fishing, cuts the grass, plays golf, works at his desk, goes to a ball game—anything to stay out of the way of his hostile wife. Does this pacify her? Not even close! It is even more infuriating to have one's anger ignored.

Here she is, screaming for attention and venting her hostility for his husbandly failures. And what does he do in return? He hides. He becomes more silent. He runs. The cycle has become a vicious one. The more anger she displays over his uninvolvement, the more detached he becomes. This inflames his wife with even greater hostility. She has said everything there is to say and it produced no response. Now she feels powerless and disrespected. Every morning he goes off to work where he can socialize with his friends, but she is stuck in this state of emotional deprivation.

Of course, if both spouses work or if the wife is the family breadwinner, then the dynamics of the situation are changed. But the fundamental need for sharing and intimacy in marriage—especially for the wife—remain. Regardless of the circumstances, if one partner feels neglected over a long period of time, she may begin looking for ways to hurt her spouse in return. When a relationship has deteriorated to this point, the idea of intimacy with one's mate seems as foreign as a visitor from Mars.

I know that I have painted a bleak picture of the all-too-common ways that communication can break down in marriages. But if you recognize yourself in any of the scenarios above, do not give up hope! Each of us can improve communication in his or her relationship by turning to a variety of time-honored solutions.

5 Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy

By Dr. James Dobson

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