A wedding, they say, is the beginning of a lifelong adventure; an adventure of discovery, sacrifice and change. Above all, an adventure in which two strangers connect and stay connected through good and bad, ups and downs, joy and pain. Sadly, ‘marriages’ don’t come with a lifelong guarantee. Once the wedding event is over and the honeymoon phase of admiration, head-over-heels ‘love’ and the glue that stuck it all kind of dries up, you suddenly find the spouse sharing your bedroom a stranger! Then through the many arguments, unexpressed feelings and inexpressible thoughts you really wonder – ‘can I make it through another day let alone a lifetime?’
One of the reasons this happens is simply because we forgot to stay connected.
What exactly do we mean when we say ‘connected’? Going through the dictionary gave me this meaning: ‘Be or become joined or united or linked’ and the example given was “Two streets connect to become a highway”. For us married couples or for the ones about to get hitched, it simply means you become ONE. So how do two strangers remain one – by staying connected always!
He: I have always been someone who can speak at all times, to all kinds of people and so I was the dominant ‘talker’ in our marriage. With a career as a trainer and storyteller, talking was something I could do quite comfortably. But I soon realized what I lacked was sharing my feelings and ‘wide-open’ conversation with my wife. And you know what – that is precisely what she needed!
She: I come from a family where my parents led us to ‘do’ everything they wanted done. Be it choices or styles, I was just an obedient little girl. So I was very self-conscious about speaking and used to listen more. I had never done any ‘in-depth’ sharing; rather I was used to putting them deep inside my head and tossing them about.
For me, expressing what I really felt was a struggle and his endless ramble of words (actually sensible if it was not during an argument) caused me to kind of shut-up or else make some strong statements in defense. And that only led to times of anger, outbursts, silences, ‘emotionless’ behaviour and in truth, sadness and pain. I sometimes had so much to share and pour out, but he would just drown me in his ‘flowing words’ and I used to ask myself, “Why can’t he understand me?”
He: My problems in marriage were only mounting and just as I thought we had this ‘peace’, up came another disagreement. So we decided to look up ‘what we were doing wrong’. After going through some books, I came across what is called the “Levels of Communication” in the book, Why I Am Afraid to Tell You Who I Am, by John Powell. He explained how people tend to communicate at various
levels and the need to get deeper in our communication in order to really connect. This is our version of the levels (how we understood and applied it).
The casual talk stage – hi, bye, how are you, etc.
The sharing information stage – information about anything your memory recalls or triggers but without any of your own opinions added to it. The sharing ideas or opinions stage – Adding your opinion to information you share, making it personal; expressing your ideas on different topics – advice, critique, possible solutions, etc.
The sharing feelings stage – expressing clearly what you are going through without any accusations thrown at your spouse. Being specific, honest and not being judgmental and never blaming the other.
The wide-open stage – a place where trust is the foundation stone, lifelong commitment is the cement and unconditional love is in the air. A place where risks are taken, secrets are gently broken open and two vulnerable strangers connect!
And so we decided to try it out and down the ladder of depth (trust & truth) we climbed…
She: It was at first, hard to communicate especially in the last two levels. First I could not even define my feelings clearly and then the thought of sharing everything was so fearful and confusing. ‘What-if’s’ dominated my every thought and my inner voice advised me strongly against this foolish ‘secret’ sharing mode. When I did find the courage to share, I found myself fighting forest fires. For hearing secrets from him stunned me!
He: The wide-open stage is great in theory but in reality it is hard! Harsh, actually! Hearing her secrets and sharing my secrets was so difficult – defenses erupted, comparisons rose up, pain seared with no mercy and the commitment to a lifetime was indeed tested. I wondered out loud, why did I even take this journey? It was in this self-defeating moment that the very definition of wide-open stage stared at us: a place where trust is the foundation stone, lifelong commitment is the cement and unconditional love is the air. A place where risks are taken, secrets are gently allowed to flow and two vulnerable strangers connect!
As we reflected on this, we both understood that the foundations of trust, lifelong commitment and unconditional love are the keys and the only way to keep these foundations alive is through prayer. I also found that using a paper to scribble and sketch when we are having a connecting conversation, greatly aided the process. You see, spoken words are quickly forgotten and can get misinterpreted.
She: When we began to pray and stay on the foundation, wonderful things began to happen. We soon found our conversations deeper and the hurt was lovingly removed by the renewed will to change. Using a paper and pen to capture every thought, kept us clearly on track.
It is not like we are always on the wide-open level, but we make time to have that deep truth conversation atleast once a month. We have also learnt to pray before we have this talk as this helps us a lot. We come into this conversation, having asked God’s forgiveness for mistakes done knowingly and unknowingly, in open and in secret, in words and in thoughts, in action and in refusing to act. It is a journey in discovery, love, forgiveness and acceptance – a journey that makes two unique people connect in the covenant relationship called marriage.
This article is adapted, with permission, from Family Mantra (www.familymantra.org), a magazine that addresses urban family issues
Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine