Column: Silence is often golden when it comes to marital communication

For Better or Worse

June 10, 2013|By Cathy Drinkwater Better,

Communication is the backbone of a good relationship: not talking — communication.

I'm pretty sure Doug wishes I would stop talking sometimes. Go figure.

Spousal communication in marriage wasn't a big deal when I was growing up. When my dad said, "When's dinner going to be ready?" my mom had no trouble reading between the lines: "I'm hungry, I'm tired, and I want my dinner now."

Dad didn't always catch what mom was pitching, though. She could be both subtle and diplomatic, depending on the situation. She knew what not to say.

She could tell dad that I was going to a party on Friday night, and he'd grunt his approval from behind the evening paper. She'd simply leave out the part about there being boys at the party, because what dad didn't know didn't hurt him; or me, either, for that matter.

Communicating with my dad wasn't the easiest trick in the magician's trunk; but mom's skills were so honed, she could just think something, instead of actually saying it, and he'd be crystal clear about her meaning. When she came home from the store, she didn't have to shriek, "Where were you when the girls were smearing chocolate pudding all over the walls? And why does Cathy have a bloody Band-Aid on her shin?!?" Instead, she'd thank dad for watching us; then look around the room and fix him with a steely glare.

He got the message loud and clear.

Nowadays, spouses are in a state of constant and unrelenting communication. You can't wash up on the shore of a tiny, deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean without instantly receiving an email asking you to pick up milk on the way home. (Of course, the minute you hang up and try to call for a rescue boat, your battery dies.)

Doug and I communicate all the time. I just have to talk a little louder these days. Our main difficulty is interpretation.

If I were totally unbiased and not at all over-sensitive, I would always know exactly what Doug meant — if he ever got a word in edgewise, that is — and be able to accept it in the spirit with which it was offered. Unfortunately, I am biased and over-sensitive.

If I ask Doug, "Do these jeans make me look fat?" and he answers, "They look fine," I'm fairly certain that, in this context, "fine" means, "I know better than to tell you the truth. You do look like you should have a 'Wide Load' sign on your rear in those jeans. But go for it anyway." Even though he denies it.

Another example: "How's your dinner?" say I.

"It's OK," says he. What does he mean by "OK"? Doug says "OK" just means "OK," but I think he's sugar-coating it. I think what he's really saying is: "I hate it. And if you ever make this macaroni-and-tofu casserole again, I'm going on a hunger strike."

But misinterpretation can go both ways. The other day Doug came home from a relaxing afternoon of fishing on the lake near our house. In his outstretched hand was an offering for dinner — which he delivered with a big, proud smile on his face.

I took one look and cried, "AAAGGGHHH! Don't bring those smelly, nasty things into my kitchen." For some unfathomable reason, he thought I meant, "Go ahead lean those gorgeous fish in my sink and let's eat!"

In truth, they weren't half-bad.

Effective marital communication isn't easy, but it is worth working at. So we plan to keep the lines of communication open ... and learn to read body language.

Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at

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