“People often ask me what the most common marital problem is today in the frum community.”
Dr. Meir Wikler, practicing therapist, author, and speaker, shared his expertise on Let’s Get Real With Coach Menachem on Sunday evening, November 21. Some people think that the most common problem is interfering in-laws, or not knowing how to handle money or the kids. “The problem that causes the most conflicts in marriage today in the frum community is ineffective communication.” Dr. Wikler explained how he defines effective communication. “It is when the husband and the wife both feel heard and understood by each other.” If a couple is experiencing ineffective communication, there is nothing more aggravating or distressful than to live with someone who doesn’t get you or who doesn’t understand what you’re trying to say.” Dr. Wikler added that there is nothing more frustrating or upsetting. When couples can learn to communicate more effectively, regardless of what their differences are, they can be resolved more effectively.
He taught that it is necessary for couples to learn a new way of communicating. There are four basic skills in marital communication for a successful marriage. If one of these skills is deficient, this can cause problems. First, you need to be able to experience negative feelings like hurt, disappointment, or criticism without attacking. Secondly, you need to be able to listen to your spouse’s negative feelings without being defensive. Thirdly, you need to be able to express positive feelings comfortably and freely. Lastly, you need to accept your spouse’s positive feelings without deflecting or disqualifying them.
He went on to explain that, to learn these skills, it is necessary to go through a process of taking turns. Most of us communicate like a tennis game, back and forth. We do it because it works. The exception to this rule is a husband and wife discussing a sensitive subject. In this case, there needs to be a system of taking turns. One speaker speaks per session and then they switch roles for the next session. There should be a break between the two speakers of a whole night. Without this type of system, you have no listening going on. When there is no listening, then you have arguments. If you use the system of taking turns, then there won’t be arguments. Dr. Wikler shared that if you feel your spouse doesn’t understand you, this can be painful, and it can eat away at a marriage.
Following this, Dr. Wikler fielded live questions. Someone asked why couples need communication skills. Dr. Wikler responded that most times with people, your communication is excellent and you understand each other. However, when dealing with a sensitive issue, which both you and your spouse have strong feelings about, then regular communication skills won’t work. You will need these skills to be an effective speaker. You need to learn how to express your negative feelings without insulting or attacking and without raising your voice. These are what Dr. Wikler calls nuclear weapons. Also, the being silent and shutting down is a nuclear weapon. They are hurtful and they cause a lot of damage. They don’t accomplish anything productive.
When people feel that they are backed against a wall and are not understood, then they lash out. If spouses can learn to communicate effectively, then they will be heard much better than before.
So, he reiterated that it is important to set up a structure of having sessions, taking turns speaking.
He added that couples also need to learn to be good listeners. Good listening is not just about nodding your head. A listener has to demonstrate two things. He has to reflect or repeat what he heard; he can paraphrase it in his own words. Also, more importantly, the listener has to ask good questions.
Next, someone asked what they should do if they want to go for help and their spouse doesn’t want to go. Dr. Wikler said that this is not an uncommon situation. You have two choices. You cannot come and if you don’t come you will empower your spouse. The other choice is to come alone. Then, working with Dr. Wikler, you may be able to develop strategies that will bring your spouse to the help, or at least you will learn strategies that will empower you.
Another caller shared that she feels her spouse is always on the phone distracted and doesn’t listen to her. Dr. Wikler said the rule is not to speak unless you have a listener. It is useless to talk to a spouse if he is not paying attention to you. First ask him or her to please put down the phone or newspaper or whatever the distraction is. You need to address the problem that your spouse isn’t paying attention.
Dr. Wikler shared that everyone’s emotional needs are different in marriage. “To have a successful marriage, each spouse has to feel that his or her needs are being met.” He explained that when you want to please people, you give them a gift that they want to receive. You have to satisfy their needs. So, you need to explain to your spouse that your needs aren’t being met, and what you need for him or her to do. Spell it out and teach your spouse what he or she needs to do to please you.
Another caller shared that, on date night with his spouse, they spend most of the time talking about the children. Dr. Wikler said that it’s great that you have a date night. You need to focus on pleasurable topics. Try not to focus on business or family. You can carve out a part of the time for that, but make sure to designate a part for peasant topics.
Dr. Wikler shared that sometimes couples need to make a concerted effort to work on sharing positive feelings with each other. It’s a wonderful thing to do, even five minutes a day. Also, don’t use statements like “You always” or “You never.” Instead, make “I” statements like “It makes me feel…”
Thank you, Coach Menachem, and thank you, Dr. Wikler, for the information on how to have more effective communication with one’s spouse.
By Susie Garber