Why A Lack Of This Marital Trait Spells The End Of A Marriage

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man and woman talking on couch

By now, you're aware that love alone does not ensure the success of a marriage — communication plays an important role, as well. You didn’t see it coming. You probably can’t even pinpoint how or when the shutdown began. And you certainly don’t know why it happened.

But, suddenly you and your spouse aren’t talking about more than basics. And the irony is that communication is more vital than ever when you have a communication breakdown with your spouse.

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Communication in a marriage is much more than 'hi' and 'bye'

Perhaps you are looking at your marriage and wondering where it went wrong, or who this person is who sleeps beside you at night. Maybe you don’t even recognize yourself, and the distance frightens you more than anything else. Relationship problems keep popping up and never seem to get resolved. When you stop communicating with your spouse, the content of your communication reduces to only the administrative imperatives.

"Are you working late tonight?"

"Jimmy’s game starts at 5. I’ll meet you there."

"I’ll drop the kids at practice. You’ll need to pick them up."





It can get so dry and shallow that it makes your heart hurt. "What happened?" you ask yourself.

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When did you stop communicating with your spouse?

Before going any further, pause and go back in time to when you and your spouse were first together. You wanted to know one another. You looked into each other’s eyes and smiled more. You were curious and listened more than you spoke. You validated, supported, and looked for ways to make your new love interest happy.

Let that sink in for a moment. How do you feel looking back on that time? Now, brave the exploration into how that started to evaporate.

Did the entrance of children obliterate anything not relevant to feeding and diaper changes? Did your careers and financial pursuits creep in as headliners? Or did you settle into the disillusionment stage of love and decide you knew all you needed to know about your spouse? Perhaps you worry that you chose the wrong person.

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Communication is everything in marriage

Talking is the lifeblood of all healthy relationships. It is the vehicle for expressing feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, and curiosity. We connect through communication. Imagine having smoke alarms all over your house, all of which have dead batteries in them. You rely on them to warn you of a fire, but without charged batteries, they are useless.

They take up space but communicate nothing but annoying chirps at best. When there is a lack of communication with your spouse, the batteries of your relationship get drained — you can’t count on it for anything more than the bare essentials.

Give it a little more time in that state, and your relationship will end.

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Seek and attain emotional intimacy

When you stop engaging on an emotionally intimate level, you stop seeking to know one another. You might think you already know everything there is to know about your mate. Or, like many couples, you make assumptions about what your spouse is thinking, feeling, or how they will react.

You may have withdrawn because your partner is critical. Or maybe you're afraid to say certain things for fear of angering them. When you stop communicating with your spouse, it drains the lifeblood of your relationship and eventually kills it.

When things get to the point of "administrating" a marriage, arguments become trigger-happy. No one wants to fight, so conversations are kept to a no-risk minimum to avoid conflict. You'll survive, but you won’t thrive.

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Men and women communicate differently

Try as we might to bridge the gap, gender differences remain, at least to some extent.

There’s a reason that women can talk, laugh, and cry all night with a gaggle of girlfriends and a reason why men can walk away from a Super Bowl party feeling on top of their game even though they never talked about anything personal all night.

We all need different things to feel safe in a relationship. Most women need an emotional connection to feel sexual, while men need a physical connection to feel close. It’s a wonder the two ever get together when you think about it. And when it comes to conversation, women need to feel heard at a heart level to feel validated. They don’t want to be fixed or squeezed into a budget matrix and analyzed. They want to be understood and accepted on a deep level.

Men, on the other hand, seek to feel respected. They need to feel validated for their competence and will often become defensive or shut down if they perceive criticism. These are the natural tendencies of each gender, and they masquerade in countless detailed costumes. However, the wearer of the mask is always the same.

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The death of intimacy?

When therapists deal with communication issues with clients, they are always seeking to remove the masks.

Some questions they may ask are:

  • "What’s underneath that?"
  • "What is the primary emotion that causes your anger to come up?"
  • "What do you think he is saying when he interrupts you or tells you what you need to do?"
  • "What do you think she is saying when she counters your ideas with ideas of her own? How do you feel, at that moment?"

Intimacy dies when you stop communicating with your spouse. Communication is the balm of life — it softens the rough edges and helps us navigate life’s inevitable challenges. We feel less alone and supported through communication.

But, intimacy requires vulnerability, an uncomfortable state for some people. To be vulnerable is risky and can feel dangerous, especially if a person has been betrayed after they’ve trusted a person with sensitive information in the past.

We choose what to do with the vulnerability that is shared with us. We can bless another by cradling vulnerability offered as an expression of trust and confidence, or we can use it as ammunition.

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For true intimacy, be vulnerable

There is no intimacy without vulnerability, and there is no marriage without intimacy. Everyone has an innate yearning to be heard and understood. The only reason we repeat and rephrase ourselves is that we aren’t convinced we are being listened to beyond the transcript.

We want an emotional engagement with our spouse. And we don’t want to have to go to war to accomplish that. When you stop communicating with your spouse, it’s a signal that something in your relationship isn’t quite right.

Couples that explore what’s going on and make the changes necessary to address the underlying causes often regain their connection and start talking again.

If you have trouble identifying the reasons you’ve stopped talking, seeking the help of a therapist might save your marriage. Love isn’t a competition. But when it is treated as the gift it is, both partners — and the relationship — win.

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Dr. Jerry Duberstein, Ph.D., is a couples therapist and his partner, Mary Ellen Goggin, JD, is a relationship guide. They lead private intensive couples retreats and are the co-authors of Relationship Transformation: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too.

This article was originally published at The Free & Connected blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.