Words may sting, but silence is what breaks the heart. – Author unknown
The first maxim of the communication class I had in college was that you cannot ‘not communicate.’ Your words and physical presence are saying something to whoever you’re with, especially your spouse. Silence speaks. So does small talk, stillness, grunting, avoiding eye contact, touching,
This really is worth thinking about: your spouse is getting daily messages from you. More than that, those messages are sinking in. They either influence the way your partner feels about herself or himself, or they color your partner’s perception of you, and of your marriage. Your communications aren’t just being heard. They’re having impact.
For sure, communication can be misunderstood. After a rough day I may offer a grunt when my wife welcomes me home, a sound she interprets as disinterest when, in fact, it mean “I feel like trash and wish murder was legal so I could shoot the jackass who just made my day miserable.”
But the fact we can be misunderstood doesn’t negate our responsibility to communicate certain things, daily and clearly, to our partner. One of those “certain things” seems more important to me today than ever.
Here’s my all-time favorite movie speech about marriage:
“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’ ”
(from the 2004 film “Shall We Dance?”)
It’s noteworthy that God’s first negative comment about humanity had to do with solitude: “It is not good that man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) A human partner was summoned, designed in contrast to Adam, but sharing with him the need for physical and emotional union.
So not only are we not meant to go through life unnoticed, we’re also not meant to go through life feeling unnoticed.
I know there’s no way to be married and not disappoint. No way at all, not even when we’re trying our best. Still, we’re all capable of communicating “I notice you” to our spouse. We can comment on how our partner looks, sounds, what he is doing, how well she has done something, how concerned we are that he looks tired, how glad we are that she seems to be in such a good mood. Those are all ways of saying “I see you; you’re noticed.”
The world regularly says to the person we love “You don’t count” in so many ways. Our loved one gets ignored, pushed aside, spoken to rudely, manipulated by co-workers, or betrayed by close friends. All of which says to her or him, “You’re insignificant.” By the end of the day, who knows how many times the person you promised to love and cherish has been worn down by repeated anything-but-love-and-cherish communications from other people?
But you have the power to override that. The “you’re noticed” communication you send is a balm to the bumps and bruises your spouse had to deal with today.
So please apply it liberally, and often. That’s helpful, not too much to ask, and more to the point, it’s your job description.