Why does the honeymoon end so suddenly for many couples? Who do so many married partners simply "coexist" in the same house, but without the deep fulfillment they desire?
HER eyes flooded with tears, the woman before me began to shake and sob. Bending over with her face in her hands, she quietly moaned as- she cried — finally catching herself, sitting upright and wiping her eyes. "I have always realized how empty my marriage was," she blurted out. "But hearing you describe in your talk today what marriage ought to be like makes me realize that I've just got to do better in my marriage!" "What's wrong?" I inquired, asking the question in several different ways.
The Cause of Utter Despair
There were, of course, a number of things wrong. But obviously the deepest and most pathetic problem of all had nothing to do with sex, money or other widely publicized stumbling blocks to a happy marriage. "My husband just won't talk to me," she said again and again. "I am lonely and frustrated. I don't even really know the man I married. I feel like I'm living with a stranger." This case is typical of literally millions of marriages. Often, at least one of the partners thinks that they communicate. But the other partner, normally the woman, knows that they do not and feels alone and frustrated. She senses that she and her husband are simply coexisting in the same house. They do not necessarily fight and hurt each other physically or even verbally. "But there is not the openness, the closeness, the total sharing of two lives, the love that there should be. One authority on the subject quoted a woman discussing her ten-year-old marriage: "It's heartbreaking. Before I was married, I used to go out to restaurants and just by looking around the room I could tell who was married and who wasn't. Either the married couples were eating in dead silence, or the woman was gabbling away while the man ate and pretended she wasn't there. I swore that this would never happen to me — but it has." Why such cases as the above? Why don't husbands and wives, of all people, communicate more fully to one another?
Hindrances to Total Sharing
Newly marrieds often work hard at learning and adjusting to each other's attitudes and preferences. They take pleasure in exchanging opinions on almost everything. After a few months, however, the opinions are all exchanged, the attitudes seemingly understood and the interest and excitement of "getting to know you" is over. As the marriage continues and children come along, the wife's interest and talk is increasingly about her children and a myriad of domestic details which usually hold little or no interest for the husband. The couple often take for granted each other's attitudes on certain topics rather than even bothering to discuss them. Most husbands care to hear only good news about their children, and are either irritated or bored if the wife confides in them the detailed problems involved in rearing their family. Wives usually miss their husbands most when the children are small. Having no adult in the house to talk to all day, such wives feel an urgent necessity to talk with their spouse at night. But many husbands retreat behind their paper or quietly turn on the TV rather than endure what they feel is a boring "rehash" of household frustrations. All of this sounds very natural and normal. Do you see anything wrong with it? Perhaps not. And the reason is because we have failed utterly in our modem society to teach the real purpose and meaning of marriage.
What Marriage Ought to Mean
A few years ago a popular and beautiful song expressed the thought "No man is an island." That is exactly right. Man without a mate, man without a life partner, is incomplete. Although many individuals — whether through necessity, ignorance or choice — go through life deprived of this relationship, their lives lack a vital element. In the beginning of the Bible God says: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help suitable for him." Man, throughout the Bible, means all humans. And all human beings need a partner with whom they can share their triumphs and sorrows, their laughter and their tears, their appreciation of a beautiful sunset — or the toothless grin of their firstborn child. They need to share — in fact, to be complete they must share — their plans, their hopes, their dreams. Marriage presents a challenging confrontation where man must go beyond himself and develop in many ways. He then becomes a more mature and understanding human being. If a marriage is reduced to two people merely coexisting, living under the same roof while remaining separated in their deepest hopes, feelings and aspirations, then that marriage has completely missed its goal.
Concept of Family Kingdom
Another important element in marriage is that of children. The family is the building block, the foundation of all decent society. And the strongest link in many a family is often its smallest member. There is an old saying: "A man's home is his castle." This analogy should apply to his entire family, where he is the king; his wife, the beloved queen; and his children, the royal princes and princesses who need training to fulfill their future responsibilities. So the parents enthusiastically work together to ensure that these future leaders are carefully nurtured, guided, disciplined and trained for the important roles they must play in years to come. The intelligent and joyous blending of these two concepts in marriage — the open and loving union of the bodies, hearts and minds of the married couple, and the creation of the vital "family kingdom" — such a blending can and should produce an opportunity and an atmosphere where men and women can find complete fulfillment. This fulfillment is pictured by the Psalmist: "Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways.... Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table" (Ps. 128:1, 3).
Put These Concepts to Work
Once you fully grasp these concepts relating to the meaning and purpose of marriage, why not set about building your marriage and your home around them? Instead of the husband and wife being bored and disinterested in sharing each other's thoughts, both should be vitally interested in the miniature "family kingdom" which, together, they are energetically building. There should be a purposeful common interest in teaching and training their children, in improving their home and their financial position and in planning for the future. Their future. For in a truly happy marriage, it is not "my house," "my car," or even "my paycheck." Rather, whether expressed in words or in total attitude, it should be "our house, our car, our income, our future." And so the mutual attitude should constantly be forward-looking and planning for improvements in your "castle," your home. The wife's feelings, and her understanding and expertise in home decorating, landscaping, appliances, etc., should always be taken into account. Every major purchase such as a home or car should be a family project — affording the opportunity and benefit of a sharing experience between husband and wife. Nothing to talk about? No, everything to talk about and share. That is the correct answer. Without being silly or unrealistic about it, husbands and wives should think of themselves as "partners" in a great adventure — in building a career, a business, a life, together. They should talk over details regarding their mutual allies — their friends, business associates and relatives. With the wife entering wholly into the discussion, they should plan their mutual strategy and discuss in detail what each can contribute to bring their goals in life closer to reality. Then there are the children. What an area of discussion, planning, mutual problem solving and heartfelt sharing of hopes and dreams they provide! My wife and I have four children — three of them teenagers. How many hundreds of hours have we spent enthusiastically discussing their future! Each child is different. Yet their mother and I identify totally with each personality which our love has produced. Our marriage is strengthened as we discuss the abilities and shortcomings of each of our children and how we can guide them, nurture them and help prepare them for full and successful lives.
When Tragedy Strikes
Of course all is not peaches and cream in any marriage. The husband may lose his job. One of the children may be seriously injured. Somehow, tragedy seems to strike all of us in one way or another in the course of a normal life. If they meet tragedy together, man and wife will be drawn even closer. Often, a real setback will spark communication and a sense of sharing that may have been previously lacking. A couple need each other more than ever at such a time. The willingness of each partner to sympathize and truly seek to understand his mate is paramount. Anything that can break down the barriers of pride, selfishness, insensitivity and coldness is serving a good purpose. For a marriage without deep and heartfelt communication is no marriage at all. Those who are thoughtless and selfish can easily find duties or distractions to avoid a heart-to-heart talk with their mate. Many married people fear this type of communication. They are somehow afraid of opening up in depth. They are always "too busy." They never find the time to truly explore the heart and mind, the hopes and dreams of the very one to whom they are united for life — one who may be practically bursting with desire to be included in the life and thoughts of her beloved. Even when on vacation such individuals find distractions. And at home they may cultivate a circle of charming friends, friends who help fill in the time and enable them gracefully to avoid a long, completely candid, heartfelt talk with their mate. In such cases, perhaps only a tragedy is enough to shock the insensitive partner into an awareness of his responsibilities. And, ironically, all too often it takes the tragedy of threatened divorce to bring the message home.
Why Married Partners Neglect Communication
A complete revealing of one's self requires a great deal of courage. People fear unveiling their inner selves and opening up to another human being, even to their mate, their doubts and fears as well as their hopes and dreams. Why? They fear to be misunderstood. They fear ridicule, criticism or censure. Until a solid relationship has been slowly and painstakingly built over a period of months and years, even married people avoid "telling all" to one another. Yet, until this lack is rectified they can never truly be "one." There will always be an inner yearning for "someone" to whom they can truly unburden themselves and know that they will not be quickly or easily misunderstood. Men are often more proud than women. They have greater difficulty in admitting that they are afraid. By a harsh word or growl, a man may cut short his wife and terminate a conversation which he fears. A conversation which might unveil part of his true nature if it were pursued. Why? We all fear being judged, being criticized, being misunderstood. And many of us fear receiving unwanted and ill thought-out advice. Especially advice from a loved one, one who can hurt us deeply. A husband may be experiencing a complicated problem in his work or profession. He hesitantly starts to share this deepest anxiety with his wife, something he has thought about and analyzed for months. Immediately she blurts out: "You should stand up for yourself like a man and take thus and such action...." Her husband lowers his eyes and feels sick inside. "She didn't even wait to hear the whole problem!" he thinks. He feels that she treats him like a little boy with her ready-made answers regarding something she knows nothing about! He is crushed and defeated in his desire to find mature help and understanding regarding what may now be the biggest problem of his entire career. But he is forced to withdraw, to change the subject, or to leave the room. His wife meant well, but she did not know how to listen. To understand deeply another human being, we must learn to listen, and not reply. We must listen well — attempting to perceive the emotional colorings of the words as well as the words themselves. We must take time to allow our mate to unburden his or her heart to us, again and again. We must not offer criticism or judgment during this learning process. We must fervently seek to understand. There is a very close link between love and understanding. Because the very nature of true love is outgoing concern, true lovers always seek to understand, to encourage, to share the depths of their beings with one another.
What To Do
To all who would practice the art of total communication, of understanding, of love as outlined in this article, I have some suggestions which I give here in summary. First, build a deep interest in the growth and fulfillment of your mate as a person. Some of the last quoted words of Jesus Christ found in the Bible are these: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." There is no greater opportunity afforded on this earth to give, to share, to inspire joy and a sense of fulfillment in another person, than the opportunity of marriage. If each partner thinks, "How much can I give toward the joy and fulfillment of my mate?" — what a recipe for paradise! Teach yourself to share and to communicate on the highest level. Take time for long talks together — perhaps including walking, hiking or cycling together over the countryside if you can. Plan to take short overnight or business trips together occasionally — leaving small children with competent family friends or relatives. Such trips should become "second honeymoons" and put new zest into your marriage. Take holiday or vacation trips together. Do things that you can truly share and enjoy with one another. At home, develop mutual interests and hobbies that you can share — gardening, stamp or coin collecting, concert going, or a collection of classical recordings. It matters not what it is as long as you share it by the hour with one another. As long as it is a vehicle to stimulate a deeper closeness and understanding between you and the most precious individual on the face of the earth — your mate.
You Should Dream and Work Together
In your walks and talks and laughter and tears, go back in retrospect, together, and relive the thoughts of a young boy who sat on a hillside, looking at the sky, and dreaming of the future. Discuss and analyze those dreams lovingly and understandingly with one another. Then work and pray together to make them come true. In like manner, relive the hopes and aspirations of a young girl who often walked alone at sunset across her father's fields — dreaming of a husband and home of her own someday, of children, security, warmth, laughter and joy. Be sure you work together to make her dreams come true. Learn to respond to one another — openly and lovingly. Have no secrets. Bear no grudges. This is your only life, your only mate, your only love. Learn to think and feel in unison, solving all your problems together as a team. The mutual encouragement and stimulus you'll feel, the added warmth and love you'll experience, will add an extra dimension of understanding and purpose and joy to your life that cannot be obtained in any other way. Truly, "it is not good that man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18).