Frank Discussion With Dr. Kaye
Cindy from Mass, NY
Q: How can you improve communication in a relationship
A: Cindy, your question is like a Rorschach ink blot for marriage counselors. Hmmmmm. Let me see. How many tomes do I want to write? How about a short version. Both parties can increase self-awareness so that they have more experiential material to share. Both parties can decrease their shame so they won’t have to experience pain when they communicate. Both parties can develop their healthy use of anger so that they have some defenses if they get attacked for what they communicate. Both parties can increase their invitations for communication and both parties can better strategize for when to approach the other in a more receptive emotional state. Each one of these deserves a tome. – Bryce Kaye
Nathan from Greenville, S.C.
Q: Hi, My wife and I have been married for over one year and have been together for almost three. I am 22 years old and my wife is 31. She has three children from a previous marriage. I have no children. We are both in the military and have been apart from each other except for the weekends here and there and on vacations. I have had some problems paying my bills on occasions and we have fought about money. But I think that that is the least of the problems. We have also argued about how to express our feelings to one another. I will admit that I am the quiet one in the relationship. It is hard for me to express anything that I feel, unless I am being pressured constantly about talking. Then when I do talk to my wife about how I feel about certain issues she thinks that I am being so rude to her about what I have to say. I try to be sensitive in wording my explanations. But they just come out too straight forward and harsh. How should I go about fixing this problem? The second issue is that my wife’s ex-husband cheated on her and he was into drugs that’s why she tells me that she got a divorce. We are almost 2,000 miles apart right now and when she calls me and I’m not there she is automatically assuming that I am out cheating on her. I have confronted her about this, I said “I am not your ex-husband and I am not cheating on you. If I was going to cheat on you then I would have never asked you to marry me.” I have honestly not cheated or done anything to make her think I have. But I feel as though I am being compared to her ex. And I really don’t like it. We will be together soon. I am leaving the Military and I was wondering if there was any advice that you could give? Thanks!!
A: Nathan. It’s a good thing that you’re getting out of the military. Since you have such difficulty communicating, you will need to be more physically present to help compensate. It will be hard keeping your relationship alive. I would suggest that you don’t focus on the cheating thing. Don’t argue about it. It’s only a red flag that she doesn’t feel important to you. That’s the real issue. Your difficulty with intimacy will spill over into these other control issues. Focus on getting your shame levels down and increasing your language about feelings. You can do that by joining a therapy group when you get back home. Stay in it a year. It may cost but I has the potential for making a big improvement in your marriage. – Bryce Kaye
Dora from Lafayette, Pa
Q: All of last year my husband seemed undecided as to whether he wanted to remain married or not. First he asked for a divorce then he recanted. Then he decided that the relationship was not going to survive. Then he promised to make a firm decision and then asked for more time to find himself. I do not know where this uncertainty is coming from and even though our marriage did have some problems, I did not think they were serious enough to warrant our splitting up. It seemed that I was the only one who was having problems with communication within the marriage so it came as quite a shock when he voiced his unhappiness. We have been married for over 20 years and I am very much in love with my husband. I am trying to save my marriage while at the same time trying to adjust to my husband’s revelations about his feeling. Please let me know what I can do to save this marriage.
A: Dora. I’m sorry but I’m not going to be of much use in this one. Your husband’s ambivalence is not decipherable from my crow’s nest up here. I would suggest that you get assertive in the form of negotiating for some ongoing marital therapy so that you don’t get jerked around so much. It doesn’t sound like your husband is being completely open to you about what scares or hurts him in the relationship. Maybe he needs a third party as a translator, both to you and to himself. – Bryce Kaye
Allison from Reading, Pennsylvania
Q: I’ve read through your site and I know where the problems lie; even with myself, I know where I can be in the wrong. However, what is never explained is how to “convince” (though I know that may not be the right word) the other party that there is a problem on their side. I’m constantly being told that I should just “shut up about it” and “move on” and “quit dwelling” and just deal with the pain that has been inflicted (emotionally, a few times physically). In all aspects of my spouse’s life, I’ve noticed dysfunction that I can’t do a thing about and is destroying the relationship. Guess all I want to know is, what are the magic words?
A: Dear Allison, when you find those magic words, would you please tell me? I’ve been looking for them for years. Unfortunately, the only one that I’ve ever found doesn’t really have the power to control the other person. It only influences. It doesn’t control. The word is “invite”. If the other person declines your invitation to communicate, to negotiate, or explore examining the relationship in marital therapy, or to plan interventions, then you can’t do any more. You might try reading a book called “Getting to Yes” by Fisher and Uri. The book is excellent for principles to help negotiation and reduce reactivity. However, you can only do so much and some people will still act out their old pain at your expense. You may also want to explore either CODA (Codependents Anonymous) or Al-Anon if serious pathology is going on. These organizations can help you reduce the amount of emotional shame you build up by being around toxic anger. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye
T.R. from Flowery Branch, Georgia
Q: My husband and I have been married for 6 years, and he has been working 2 full time jobs for the last 4 yrs by his choice. I also work a full time job. We have 2 children, and he recently told me that I could have the house and the car that I drive, that he wanted out of our marriage to start his life over. He is almost 40 and I am 31. I love him very much, and when I tell him that I love him he replies with whatever, and that really hurts. I told him the other night that I loved him. This was the night that he told me that he wanted a divorce and he told me that I loved the material things that I had, and I told him no, that I loved him. I need to know what I can do to make things better, any advice that I can get would be greatly appreciated.
A: Dear T.R., there may be nothing you can do if he has stopped listening. He may be emotionally out of the marriage and if so, then there’s nothing you can do. However, if he isn’t, I’d be more curious about what he has been needing to feel loved that he hasn’t been receiving. I would suggest that you stop trying to persuade him about your feelings and and get real curious about knowing more and more about what he has been missing. If he will communicate, it will be hard to hear without arguing. However, you may learn a lot more and your intent listening may be the most powerful form of interaction you can offer. Even so, it will depend upon whether he is truly still in the emotional relationship. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye
Marcia from New Orleans, La
Q: About 3 yrs ago I got pregnant, and even though we hadn’t talked about it before, we decided to get married. I feel like we never got the chance to become “friends” first. After being introduced by a mutual friend, we started dating immediately. My problem is that I can’t help but compare this relationship to a past one. My ex and I were best friends for over 3 yrs before it progressed into more. He was the only person I felt really “connected” to- we talked about anything and everything. I felt like I could tell him anything I thought or felt without feeling embarrassed or foolish. Our relationship didn’t work out, and I not only lost my boyfriend, but I lost my best friend of 5 yrs. It’s not that my husband and I don’t talk. It’s just that we only talk about work, money, the kids- nothing else. Shouldn’t there be more? What can I do to get him to open up about other things, how he feels, etc.? We’ve only been married 3 yrs and already I don’t think I want to live like this for another 3… Can you help?
A: Marcia. I can only help but indicating the most viable direction. You’re talking about how you can change another person. You can’t. I can’t. However, you can invite him to explore growth inducing situations along with you . What you describe, the inhibition of intimacy, will not be fixed by anything less than an intimate community that helps him recondition his values (and reduce old shame). I would suggest that you both consider exploring the PAIRS program together. Click on www.pairs.com and learn more about it. You might also explore the Lifespring fellowship together. Good luck. – Bryce Kaye
Confused in Louisiana
Q: My husband of three years works out of town a lot, sometimes all week long, only coming home on the weekends. The problem is not only that I miss him, but we have two children, ages 2 & 4 who miss him even more. When he does come home on the weekends, he is tired and just wants to “relax” he says. But, he doesn’t understand that all week long I have also worked my 40 hrs AND taken care of both kids. He doesn’t care that I need a break too. I also try to plan “family time” for the weekends, going to the playground, amusement park, movies, or even just a BBQ with our family or maybe a few friends. He gets mad because he’s not involved in making the plans, and would rather just veg out on the sofa in front of the tv all weekend. Before we got married, and even as a child, my husband was a very athletic person. He even still played football with his friends and co-workers up until he hurt his knee two years ago. I am only trying to get our family to spend quality time together, even if its just playing in the backyard. I don’t want my kids to be couch potatoes, either. I feel like he’d rather live in another town than spend two days with me and the kids… Am I imagining all of this? If I wait for HIM to make plans for us as a family, I may wait forever! What should I do?
A: Dear Confused, I would suggest that the first thing you try is to set up a weekly meeting where both you and your husband agree to meet at a specific place and time to plan future family activities. Place a calendar on the kitchen (maybe the refrigerator) where you can record your planned events. Make sure that you both agree that these planning meetings will always occur at the same place and time and that he buys into his responsibility to be there for them. By setting up this routine, your husband will be more likely to mobilize in a proactive manner instead of reacting to you in a defensive manner when you try to grab him when he’s relaxing. When you do get together for planning, do so with a calendar in front of you. Then brain-storm with him for shared activities that you and he can share. However, plan them in advance and book them at least a day to a week ahead of time. Write them on the calendar or better yet, ask for him to write them in. Your second issue (the inequity of free time) would best be postponed for a later negotiation after you have more togetherness going on. – Bryce Kaye
Berm from Newton, GA
Q: We have been married for two years. When we first got married my husband would talk to me, now he doesn’t say anything but probably two words a day to me. He isn’t a heavy talker, but he tells everyone else about the things that are going on in his life but not me. I think it could have something to do with the money. I had told him we need to get on a budget, because we owe too much on charge cards, since then he will not let me sit down with him & pay the bills. He does not believe in a budget. Our sex life has gone from good to bad. If you do not talk about things how can your married life be better? I feel like I have to talk to everyone else, because I have no one to talk to.
A: Berm, I would recommend for you to drop the money and budget issue right now. Instead, invite your husband to spend some fun time with you. Don’t ask him in general terms. Ask him if he’s willing to do specific things with you on a specific nights and times. Some men are threatened very easily, especially with talk about feelings. Your husband may be one of those by the sound of it. I would suggest focusing on sharing activity for a few months in order to bring down the tension. After he feels more secure with you again, then you can ask him if he’d be willing to choose a professional planner that he could trust to help with “planning” not “budgeting”. – Bryce Kaye
Barbara from Las Vegas, Nevada
Q: What can be done to improve communication in a relationship and stop power struggles?
A: Dear Barbara, You’ve asked the most simple yet at the same time most difficult question for me to try to handle in this format. Volumes upon volumes have been and will continue to be written, etc. Let me try to give you a simple but powerful answer: First things first. Before you assume that you have to diagnose a complex condition, make sure that the critter is being fed! (I mean the relationship). In the Marital First Aid Kit, look up the Emotional Starvation Syndrome. If it fits, try some of the suggested interventions and see what happens. Many couples can see a change in behavior within a month of diligent work. This is especially likely if good communication had existed during the early part of the relationship. Such would indicate that you and your partner both understand the language of emotion, have some insight into your feelings, and are not too shame-bound to tolerate emotional exposure. However, if there has never been good communication of feelings in your relationship, then a simple intervention will usually not work. This is because either you or your partner may be dealing with the symptoms of hidden shame within your own personalities. If this is the case, then a purely educational approach to improving communication skills will usually be unproductive. Your relationship would then likely need some form of therapy. An excellent program to do this can be found at www.pairs.com . The PAIRS program goes beyond teaching communication by actually helping couples to examine their own emotional make-up. Another avenue would be for both of you to see a good marriage counselor in your area. If you choose the latter, make sure they understand about shame and don’t merely try to teach communication skills alone. – Bryce Kaye
Lawrence from Seattle, Washington
Q: My wife and I have ceased to communicate as we once did. The openness we once had between us has disappeared into who knows where. I long for the closeness we used to share.
There are a few factors that come into play:
1)I have recently left my full time job to pursue a home business, which is not getting off to a great start. This has put a bit of a financial strain on us, but it only means giving up a few luxuries which aren’t necessities.
2)There is a 13 year age difference between us. I’m 42 and she’s 29. There are times when I offer advice from the perspective of experience and she feels I am offering advice without respect to her feelings.
3)When questioned about certain things she becomes defensive and short, saying I am making accusations that are unfounded.
What I am seeking is a way to communicate my needs and expectations to her while respecting hers in return. Can you help? Lawrence
A: Lawrence, from what you have said it may be that your move into your home business has made matters worse. You may be taking your business (authoritative/decisive) emotional state into your home. You are not alone as the boundaries between work and home become more blurred in the cyber age. I would recommend for you to consider trying to communicate with your wife when you and she are outside the home. Either that or when both of you are sitting in a hot tub or some other situation that equalizes role differences. She may already have come to subliminally associate home as your new office where you think you’re the boss. It’s hard being 29 and feeling that you’re a footnote to someone else’s “more important” agenda. You may be doing nothing wrong here except perhaps not being aware that your agenda and will may be inadvertently overshadowing hers. Seek out other places for communication. – Bryce Kaye