It’s been said that God instituted marriage, and it was good. Yet, in modern times one might call matrimony a study in contrasts, for it has been proposed by J.O. Balswick and J.K. Balswick in their book, A Model for Marriage, that twenty-first century marriages can simultaneously be one of the most satisfying and perplexing things individuals will ever experience. One of the biggest challenges, and perhaps one of the most common downfalls within the marital relationship takes place within the realm of communication. Some couples begin their wedded life oblivious to the cooperative decision-making dynamics that must exist within the union from its inception; and, the ability to intimately interconnect must be present for a positive outcome to occur in the home. Without effective communicative actions, the partners can instead disagree about joint decisions and raise the temperature of conflict levels—so much so that the seeds of marital discontent can germinate rampantly.
The interworking roles of marriage have been changing over the last thirty years. Balswick and Balswick believe that in the more traditional state of the home in America—more commonplace in the mid-twentieth century—communicative dynamics from the male oftentimes took a harsher form of pronouncements, rather than meaningful dialogue, whereby a husband was more apt to decree than conscientiously connect with his spouse. By the same token, in recent years a new aspect of family life has taken shape, often called the dual-earner marriage, which brings with it a stretching and bending of those more traditional marital roles. For instance, the United States Bureau of Labor of Statistics states that 56 percent of all married couples with children under six, and 63 percent with children under the age of eighteen are dual earners. With this shift in society, a balancing act must come into play in respect to once well-defined home responsibilities; and, the once traditional husband and wife roles of the past are often shared, accommodated for, or balanced within the home setting. In such regards, for obvious practical reasons, the need for open and effective communicative skills has only increased with the last decades. That is to say, the challenge for communication continues. In the Economic Journal, Thompson wrote an article, entitled, Desperate Housewives, which stresses that there is now empirical evidence that demonstrates that prolonged communication struggles can be “a pervasive source of marital distress and failure.” This move away from healthy interactions, if left unresolved, can lead to further communicative difficulties, and further matrimonial displeasure and frustration, which could ultimately lead toward to temporary or long-term separation and/or marital collapse.
Another cultural jumbling against better communication in the marriage is that, in the last thirty to thirty-five years, second and third remarriages have become commonplace in America. According to the book, Covenant Marriage: The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America, authors, Nock, Sanchez, and Wright formulate that, even as late as the mid-twentieth century, separation and divorce was atypical; and, even if such a catastrophe did take place, it carried with it an oppressive humiliation factor. However, by the 1980s, the cultural national backdrop of absolutes loosened; infidelities, separations, and divorces become far more common than ever before. Divorce became so ordinary, in fact, that the authors quantified that more relationships were terminated in divorce court, rather than through death or widowhood, with such negative statistics continuing to flourish today. In such remarriages, marital satisfaction oftentimes slumps dramatically, since many of the same issues—communication breakdowns, difficulties over forgiveness, and poor decision-making actions—are imported into the new relationship from the earlier marriage. Also, children from the first marriage often suffer through the agonies associated with the relational split, and the succeeding blended home has its own brand of complexities. According to contemporary statistics, the divorce rate in America becomes 10% higher for second marriages than that of first nuptials; and even matrimonies that do not lead to divorce experience periods of acute turmoil that place them at risk, which includes the decline in healthy verbal interaction and a cascading descent toward relational resentment and partner isolation
Another element of the married population in America is senior citizens who may have long tolerated, at least to some degree, unsatisfactory marital unions. With such later life marriages, Harper and Sandberg (2009) explain in a feature entitle, Depression and Communication Processes in Later Life Marriages, which significant research suggests associations between marital miscommunication and “minor or subsyndromal depression,” which is often misdiagnosed or overlooked. Studies conclude that around 27 percent of seniors living in urban areas report having symptoms consistent with depression; and the commonness of major depressive disorders in metropolitan based elders range between three and 36 percent (Harper and Sandberg, 2009, para. 3). Both the National Institutes of Health and American Psychological Association have validated such conclusions.
It seems clear that the institution of marriage, the topic of healthy communication, and the element of right behavior have been central from the beginning. For example, even King Solomon gave wise counsel concerning the importance of using the right words and healthy actions between individuals from his writings: Timely advice is as lovely as gold apples in a silver basket. It is a badge of honor to accept valid criticism … [and] a soft tongue can break hard bones (Proverbs 25:11, 12, & 15).
Through Solomon’s well-crafted wordplay, he demonstrates the prominence on informative and transparent two-way conversation and critique, as he also accentuates appropriate behavior and sound instruction. Likewise, it is vital that—whether just newly married, older couples, or remarried partners—they should practice honesty and follow-through in the home. When there is a disparity between one’s words and deed, this can lead to higher levels of marital distrust. The research and data, from a wide variety of resources, leads to an important conclusion: a successful marriage blueprint must focus on healthy communication. It is through thoughtful words and deliberate actions that couples can focus their efforts upon each other’s needs and wishes. As Balswick and Balswick emphasize, couples should make an effort to respectfully express themselves to one another in an open and honest manner, where good communicative-skills are exhibited, and empathetic listening is applied. Day in and day out, marital partners should concentrate on putting the spouse first; and healthy communication includes a component of compliance and forgiveness, with a readiness to surrender one’s own requests or desires for the sake of the other. With dedication and effort, marriage partners can cultivate and renew a deeper and more meaningful existence that includes a growing depth of communication that leads to a lifelong state of gratification within the home.
* * *
For additional information somehow about today’s column, contact the new Logan Mingo Area Mental Health (LMAMH) at (304) 792-7130, where walk-ins are always welcome and intake assessments are available on-site. At LMAMH, counselors, doctors, caseworkers, and other professionals are on duty to help you. Listen for our radio show, Brighter Tomorrows, on WVOW-FM 101.9 at 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday every month. We want to be the First Choice in mental health services.