I wonder how many of us husbands were raised by non-communicative fathers?
Kyle, a friend of mine, and I were having lunch the other day at Applebee’s. His dad is experiencing aging issues that include some behavioral changes, some expected and some not so expected. Kyle said that his dad has started talking about his feelings – that’s an unexpected change. Kyle’s mom was the one who always did the talking.
That’s my story too. Sunday afternoon phone calls were the norm for staying in touch when both my parents were living. This was before social media. I have favorable memories of those phone calls.
It was not until my mom passed away that I realized she had been the one who asked questions about how we were doing and did most of the talking about how she and dad were doing. For all those years of Sunday afternoon phone calls, she was the one who was doing the connecting with us. After she passed away, the phone calls with my dad became dreadful occasions of dead air time. What had been a favorable Sunday afternoon experience was now painful.
Kyle told me that he wanted to do things differently with his kids. But he noted that he was also seeing his dad in himself and that his wife was the one who more naturally connected with their kids. I told Kyle that I have observed the same thing going on in my story – that in order to be different from my own father I had to be intentional in how I connected with my children. Kyle’s eyes lit up. “Yes!” he said. “It has to be intentional.”
I wonder how many of us husbands who were raised by
non-communicative fathers are also somewhat
non-communicative with our wives?
Husbands of childhood sexual abuse survivors often report a lot of social conflict with their wives. This can be due to the emotional distancing from their wives, which is one of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse.
But since communication is a two-way conversation, let’s take a look at our role as husbands in the communication. Here are three questions to consider.
- Do we communicate?
If they could get away with it, some men would live most of their lives with grunts when they are at home. Other husbands who do communicate with words do so only when necessary. Many husbands respond in conversation but do not initiate conversation.
Yet, one of our wives’ most important needs is communication.
So the question is, “Do you communicate?” When was the last time you initiated conversation about something other than “Where are the car keys?” or “Why is your mother coming to visit?” When was the last time you shared something or asked something that would lead to deeper relational understanding?
- What are we communicating?
Most communication in marriage tends to be about information. We talk about the kids’ basketball schedule, getting the tires rotated on the car, paying the bills, when we are going to get that project done, and the rising cost of groceries.
As men, we find it easy to talk about what we are doing but not how we are doing (see “Self-check on our own Health – Part 3”). I admit that I sometimes have to probe within to figure out how I am really doing. But I’m always better off when I figure it out. And my wife is always better off when I tell her how I’m doing.
- Why are we communicating?
As with many couples and families, my wife and I are currently engrossed in the TV series, “This is Us.” In a recent episode, Jack and Rebecca got into a heated argument. I felt uneasy as I watched, not only because of the conversation’s intensity but also because of its reality. Their argument exposed how easily a couple can digress into a spinning showdown of attack.
As I put myself in Jack’s shoes, I replayed the argument in my mind over and over the next day or so. I thought Rebecca was totally out of line. But then, how could I be sure I was not seeing things only through the male lens? At supper one night, I asked my wife what she thought of the argument and how she viewed the intent of each character.
I was not sure what my inquiry would lead to. It seemed a safe inquiry because it was about someone else’s disagreement. But obviously, there was some vulnerability on my part because I had my own thoughts and feelings about Jack and Rebecca’s exchange. I chose to be vulnerable. That’s what we need to do in communicating – be willing to be vulnerable. The subsequent conversation with my wife led to a deeper understanding of one another. Our thoughts and feelings were brought out into the open. Intimacy cannot occur without vulnerability.
Communication is healthiest and most alive when we pursue understanding of others and ourselves.
This has special significance for husbands of wives who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Safety is a central value for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. My wife, a survivor, prefers to know how I am doing – not just what I am doing – even if I’m feeling sad or grumpy. Knowing puts her in a place of understanding rather than guessing. For our wives who are survivors, there is no safety in guessing. There can be safety in understanding.
Going back to my conversation with Kyle, our vulnerability will not happen accidentally. Our vulnerability will only occur with intentionality.
Here’s the first step to intentionality: Start a conversation with your wife.