Jul. 2, 2016

WHO IS TO BLAME FOR COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN IN MARRIAGE?

I wish to apply Stuart Hall’s theory of communication here. He suggests a four-stage theory of communication: production, circulation, use (which here he calls distribution or consumption) and reproduction. For him each stage of communication is relatively autonomous from the others. This means that the coding of a message does control its reception but not transparently- each stage has its own determining limits and possibilities. Rather than the traditional idea of sender-receiver approach, I propose communication in marriage proceed from: (1) Thought (2) Encoding (3) Decoding. It is a cycle of actions that does not necessarily begin with one couple and stops with the other. Ordinarily, information exists first in the mind of the sender. It can be in the form of concepts, ideas or feelings. A message is sent out to the receiver in words or other symbols. The words or symbols transmitted are received. The receiver then translates the words or symbols into information that he/she could understand, then use.

At the exchange of wedding rings, the couple says, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity”. They commit to each other in mutual love and lasting fidelity. Both spouses already communicate their intentions and desires by that exchange. “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity”, is an expression of willingness to belong to one another for the rest of their lives. Pope John Paul 11 describes it as free giving when he writes, “By respecting and fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance, encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service and deep solidarity” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 43). Couples communicate by language, symbols and feelings. They communicate their desires, needs and ambitions. They communicate their conjugal love. They communicate through procreation and upbringing of children. They communicate by physical presence and availability. They communicate even in their physical absence.

I once encountered this couple in Africa- wife speaks well while husband has speech defect. The man is simply mute and can only express himself through signage. The wife loved him dearly. For his sake, she studied the sign language in order to communicate effectively. They live happily and have one of the perfect bonds. They accompany each other to markets, farms, church, etc. They develop such mutual understanding and instinct that sustain their union. One smiles when the other smiles, laughs when the other laughs, etc. They transformed what ordinarily would have been obstacle into strength for their union. They understand the importance of being truly present for each other.

Unfortunately, some couples underestimate this power of communication in their marriage. They are so formal and dry in their relationships. They stifle and suffocate marriage flavor. They live like mere roommates; part ways in the mornings and meet at nights, say hello on their way in and out. One is not interested in how the other is doing at work. They hardly sit together to share jokes. They rarely eat together. They do not pray together. They do not bathe together. They do not have family discussions. Bedrooms are apart from each other’s. Dialogues are no touch zones. Feelings get bottled up in an explosive marriage device. In many cases the man is busy and engrossed in business. The wife herself enjoys television and movies that become her other half in marriage.

Some young couples become preys to contemporary info-tech addiction. I met this young couple who had some misunderstandings in their marriage. When narrating her story, the lady said her husband is an addict of his smart phone. She stressed that her husband was consumed in the phone that he didn’t have time for her. She questioned him before me, “How can a married man come in from work and not have time for the wife? He is either doing WhatsApp, To-Go, Facebook, Yahoo Messenger, Twitter or LinkedIn. My husband rarely communicates with me. Once he comes in, he manages to eat his food while also fiddling with his phone. As soon as he’s done, he jumps to the cushion and begins his chats with whom I don’t know. My husband chats on WhatsApp till I sleep. And this happens every night. He has no time for me”. That’s nasty.

Some women can also be responsible for poor communication in their marriage. They don’t realize that a quick “hi” from their office schedule could make a difference in their husband’s daily schedule. They do not realize that a text message to say “Honey, have you had lunch?” could remind the husband that she’s on the other end of the marriage rope. Jones left the house early in the morning with a complaint of migraine to his wife. He waited to hear the wife call him to ask how he was doing. She would not remember. It didn’t matter to her, or she claimed to be busy. Jones comes back from work feeling terrible not for his migraine but because he’s unhappy with his wife. She doesn’t look at his countenance to find out what is going on. She doesn’t recognize his feelings after fifteen years of marriage. He is frustrated and is looking for opportunity to explode. So their relation begins a gradual downward slope. Jones is brewing inside. He doesn’t say it. Wife is insensitive, can’t read his feelings. But they can’t talk it out. Who is to blame?  

It’s good to know that communication goes beyond words. First are your thoughts, next is how you encode it, then how your partner decodes and processes it.  Communication breaks down when the three steps do not correspond in marriage. They’re not check boxes that follow successively one after another. They are developed in the process of getting together, doing things together, growing together, sharing and loving in marriage. They improve or degenerate over time as the marriage gets older depending on how the couples handle their affairs. In marriage, thoughts are no longer conceived by one party as single individual but for mutual benefits each couple. Wife puts into consideration husband’s feelings while husband considers wife equally. Plans take collaborative approach. The other person feels cherished, valued and loved. The thoughts influence the way they are delivered to the other. Be they feelings, verbal or symbolic expressions, they have to be packaged in the interest of one’s partner. Invariably, the husband or wife is in the proper frame of mind to enter into conversations with the encoder of the message at each point in time. Dialogues take place in situations devoid of bias, abuse or denial. Information is communicated effectively. Feelings are shared. Disagreements are resolved. The decoder hears well, understands correctly and acts on the message for the good of the couple. The aim of communication in marriage is therefore not to apportion blames but to encourage support and affection. In that sense, each person takes responsibility for the sake of sustaining the marriage union.