TO UNDERSTAND AND TO BE UNDERSTOOD By Father Henry Siew
(Taken from CatholicNews—3 September 2006)
The primary objective of communication in interpersonal relationship, and especially in spousal relationship, is not to gather data but to understand each other better, says Father Henry Slew
GIVING OR SEEKING information such as those related to the weather or bus routes or the best chicken rice stall is an impersonal act. As long as you get the information, you are not really bothered with who the information provider is. But when it comes to interpersonal relationship, communication has a different emphasis.
Through communication you get to know someone’s individual preferences; his response to a particular problem; his opinion about an issue; his feelings towards an event. Your primary aim is not to gather data, but to understand each other better.
Disclose your inner self
All the more, the objective of interpersonal communication in a marital relationship is to achieve better mutual understanding.
However, many couples do not communicate in ways that are conducive to this purpose. They make three mistakes:
1. First, when they talk to each other, they often converse about events and things rather then about themselves;
2. Second, when they communicate, they distract more than they listen;
3. Third, they seldom express to each other the desire for deeper mutual understanding.
As a result, many couples in fact do not know each other well.
Communicating one’s inner self is challenging because people tend to prefer talking about things outside themselves. When a conversation becomes personal it makes them feel uncomfortable, and they try to change topic. Yet only when you disclose personal matters are you engaging in personal communication. They uncover your true self, your personality, your likes and dislikes, your strengths and weaknesses. These aspects of self are very sensitive—you risk revealing your weaknesses and you may be rejected or ridiculed, and that is frightening. But if you do not reveal yourself to your spouse who is supposed to be close to you, how could he or she become intimate with you? When your spouse senses that there is something going inside you, yet you refuse to share yourself, she or he will feel confused, helpless or rejected.
When one discloses, the other must show openness to the disclosure. Communication is giving and receiving. When one is willing to share himself or herself, the partner must be well disposed to listen attentively. Some married couples take each other for granted and do not listen adequately. They think they know their other half so well, know what the other wants to say, that they do not have to wait until the other party finishes what he or she wants to say. Listening only to the beginning of a conversation, they quickly jump to their own conclusions because they are often preoccupied with their own agenda.
Frustrated at not being able to put across a message, the spouse inevitably repeats what he or she has said. However, this repeated attempt to convey a message may be perceived as nagging. The one who feels nagged at will stop listening completely, while the other feels increasingly frustrated and upset for not being heard and understood.
Some of you have the mistaken idea that when your spouse shares with you some problems, difficulties or frustrations, he or she is asking for help to solve these problems. Thus, when your spouse speaks, you “prepare” a solution while pretending to listen. But in doing this you lose concentration of what she is saying and too often you are too quick to interrupt the sharing by offering your opinions and suggestions: “Why don’t you tell them that. . .”, “You should not bother about what he said. . .” and “You should not have done that.”
If you really care, you should just shut up and listen. When a person shares, what he or she expects first and foremost is that you listen and try to understand, rather than to receive a solution. A solution may be needed, but it will only come later. Do you understand your spouse’s present needs when he or she talks?
Some of you think that whenever a contentious topic is brought up with your spouse, there must always be a winner. When your spouse complains, you feel that you are personally being attacked and you must defend. Your mind is busy preparing arguments to refute or retort what your spouse says because you “cannot lose”, Whatever your spouse says becomes a point of contention. What a pity! That which is an opportunity to deepen understanding for each other is turned into a time to hurt each other.
When you are not listening to understand your spouse, it is because you are preoccupied with winning an argument. You try to pick up statements that can be used as a subject for ridicule or retaliation such as “You say that you never. . . but last month when. . .” and “Oh ya, your mother is not like my mother. . . she is very understanding? How about the time when…”
To avoid contention, try to look at a complaint calmly. It is often an expression of a need unfulfilled. So go beyond the question at hand and see the needs and feelings within. When you can discern them, you have understood your spouse. When your spouse feels understood, the negative emotions will dissipate.
Do you care?
If you are interested in your spousal relationship and want to understand your spouse, you should enhance the art of communication. When you are talking to each other, talk more about self than things. When you are listening, focus on your spouse’s thoughts, feelings and needs. As such, the one who speaks is understood and the one, who listens, understands. In this way, you can encourage each other to open up, to share meaningfully and to grow in your love for each other. What can he better for a spousal relationship?