This is the first of a 3-part series I will be posting on marriage. I really wrestled with the idea of writing on the subject of marriage, and for a couple of reasons. Marriage is a very tricky subject to write about because each marriage is as diverse as people are different. Views on marriage and what makes a successful one are highly polarized and naturally so. There isn’t one magic formula for a perfect marriage; some might even go further to say there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. My view on this is that there is no such thing as ‘the’ perfect marriage, but there is and can be ‘a’ perfect marriage. And no, I am not trying to make a distinction wholly based on semantics here. Persevere with me for a moment of intellectual argument and I will try to explain.
When you refer to ‘the perfect marriage’ it connotes a presupposition that there is one ideal model for what marriage should be and look like, which is not the case. On the other hand, when you make reference to ‘a perfect marriage’ it connotes that there is such a thing and validates the existence of it without alluding to a one size fits all magic formula. That, for me, is the key difference.
So having established (I hope) in the preceding paragraphs, that there isn’t a blanket approach that guarantees a successful marriage for all married couples, I would like to state that although there isn’t a magic formula, there are fundamental elements of a great marriage. By way of analogy: although there are several methods to cook a meal, there are certain ingredients without which certain meals cannot be made. It’s like trying to make jollof rice without rice for example. Even if you had the tomatoes, spices, and whatever else is needed to make it – it just wouldn’t be jollof rice without rice
I said that to say that there are key ingredients that are required for success in any marriage; recipes may differ but some ingredients cannot be left out! In this 3 part series, I will identify what I feel are the 3 most important things which form the bedrock of any successful marriage. In similar vein, the absence or lack thereof would cause any marriage to falter.
The first is Communication.
Communication is more than just speaking, talking, or ‘gisting’ (as used in common parlance in Nigeria). My discussion will focus on behaviors: verbal and non-verbal, astuteness, timing and empathy, amongst other things.
1) Listen: true listening is a skill that not many people possess. The best way I find to describe listening is by describing what it is not. Listening is not hearing, anybody with a functional ear drum can hear. Listening is not apathetic and listening is not judgmental.
If you are married, your partner desires to be listened to and be understood. Listening requires focus, you need to know when to drop everything you’re doing and pay attention. Of course it isn’t every conversation that requires intense focus; everyday mundane discussions around general stuff, can be allowed to slide. Sometimes listening is about hearing what the other person is not saying audibly, being astute enough to understand what that unusual silence from your partner means, or why he/she is wearing a frown on their face is very important. Understanding that the excessive eagerness in the tone of their voice, when you offer to stay back home and not hang out with your friends for the night could be pointing to some attention depravity.
Another good practice with listening is clearing your intent. Are you listening to accumulate more arsenals to attack your partner and reinforce your point of view? If that is the case, you never truly hear what the other person is saying. It’s like being in church service and the minister is teaching and all you can think of is someone you know that needs to hear that message – what that does is you are unable to apply the message to yourself because you had the wrong approach to listening. You exonerate yourself from its applicability by focusing on the other person and not yourself.
So a practical example, you’re a wife, your husband is unimpressed by the way you have decorated your home. Each time he tries to explain his frustration with what he considers drab and substandard décor, you attack him and inform him that if he is not happy at home he should have married someone else as you are not an interior designer and didn’t tell him that you were one when you guys were dating. This sort of listening is defensive. Defensive listening is a marriage dissolution recipe. It isn’t open to solutions or addressing issues, rather this type of listening takes everything personally.
Listening is not about establishing who is right or wrong – it is about understanding – not acceptance – but understanding. At least if you understand the other person’s position – even if you don’t accept it, you are clear exactly why you don’t accept it and can better help them understand your non-acceptance – you get what I mean?
Back to my point on defensive listening, a defensive listener seldom ever sees anything that they need to change about their own behavior, rather they only feel criticized, feel bad that they are being criticized and feel bad that their partner can’t see that they are feeling bad and is continuing to perpetuate the same issue that is making them feel bad. Even if you don’t agree with your partner’s point of view about you, you should acknowledge that at the very least, it is a point of view about you that they hold, and that for some reason they believe it to be true, and so rather than just feel bad (granted, feel bad you must, we are all human, we do not like criticism because it hurts) try to understand what it is that you do that makes this other person perceive you or your intentions the way they do and focus on addressing that.
2) Express yourself: as in literally – say something! Vocalize! The best way to be understood is to express. If you’ve got something on your chest say it, if your partner’s behavior is bothering you, let them know. Yes, they may challenge you and get upset etc. but it’s very important to speak out and speak up. Suffering in silence is a self-inflicted condition.
Or if it is something you like but your partner doesn’t know or understand, tell them. Contrary to what we sometimes see on TV, humans aren’t really mind-readers. Ladies, if your husband keeps buying you gifts you don’t like, save the man his money and the trouble and find a way to tell him the truth and point him to what you like. Good intent doesn’t right a wrong gift.
In the same vein, guys, if for example, you would like your wife to take the initiative in bed and not always wait for you to start things off, you should seriously consider having a discussion with her. She may be completely oblivious to your need but also totally willing to change once she is made aware that that is important to you.
3) Be sensible: Know when to talk and when to shut up and listen. Understand that you mustn’t always have the last say, even if you are 1000% convinced you are right and have a stronger case. Pick your battles – don’t squabble over every single issue – quarrel no be food! (in pidgin).
Timing is also very key. If you have something very serious and important to discuss, find a time when your partner will be most attentive and receptive, Very serious issues should seldom be discussed over phone as it could dilute the seriousness of the issue.
Never resort to shouting. Yes, tempers may run high, the other person may be frustrating the hell out of you or maybe you feel completely misunderstood and justifiably hurt, still the rule remains NEVER RESORT TO SHOUTING. It doesn’t make sense to have a shouting contest between each other, it serves no other purpose than to fuel conflict. If you find that the conversation is getting out of control and emotions are running loose, find a way to take a ‘time-out’. Maybe end the conversation there for the time being, or back down so that the discussion can get back on track. I have never seen anything positive come out of a conversation where 2 people were screaming at each other – in fact that is not a conversation. My husband and I argue and disagree over stuff – but we never shout at each other – God forbid that we do and imagine the example we would be setting for our kids if we did!
Communication is the bedrock of any relationship. It is the water that irrigates the ‘garden of marriage’; it is the diffuser of misunderstanding and it is the glue that pulls and keeps couples together.
If you’re married and you have read this article, I encourage you to reflect with yourself in mind, not your partner…remember no defensive listening 🙂