Dealing with a Bad Communicator

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In the early stages of our marriage, there was one day where my husband and I were at the Orange County Fair. We had taken the bus that morning and made it our own little adventure. We were laughing and having a great time until suddenly, my husband’s behavior changed on a dime and he became incredibly upset. I was perplexed at the sudden switch in mood and asked, “What’s wrong?” He refused to say and replied, “You should know already!” I was completely dumbfounded. There was no way I could possibly know what was on his mind, and as for why he was upset, it could be anything under the blue sky.

He was mad for a long time which was a pretty stressful experience. But after much coaxing (he really couldn’t believe I had no idea) I finally got it out of him. He revealed that he felt I wasn’t contributing enough to doing things at home. This revelation came as a shock because it was the very first time he had ever mentioned it and prior to that, I had absolutely no idea. It was a big topic, and surely one enough to cause discontentment. But as someone who’s open to working through problems and considers themselves pretty accommodating, I wish he had mentioned something earlier. I would’ve been more than happy to discuss things and find a solution, especially since I thought I was the one being considerate to his needs this whole time.

Through the years after, I would come to learn that my husband often has trouble translating how he feels on the inside to others in a productive way. His default mechanism is to explode first, assume that everyone should know, then begrudgingly explain why later if prompted. Unfortunately, he misses the first step of discussing problems at their onset. This type of exploding and unknowing is very difficult to live with, especially for a sensitive person like me.

Before I proceed, I’d like to point out here that my husband is advanced in many ways that I am not. He is the problem solver in our family and has a lot of worldly smarts that I learn from. His experience as upper management has also given him many gifts in handling difficult situations. He manages everything in our house; he’s just so capable. All in all, I am usually the one taking pointers from him. But communication is one of those rare areas where he was not able to fully develop his abilities.

And if you ask me, I’m not at all surprised because from my observation, men in our society are not groomed to be good communicators. They’re not shown that it’s okay to share their emotions, or to talk through things that bother them; feelings in general are eluded to them. They rarely partake in deep conversations about life and personal problems to one another, whereas girls are trained and given every environment to do so. Women are accepted as chatty creatures and thrive on talking about any and all situations that arise in life. The difference is stark.

For my husband’s particular case, he was never given much opportunity to exercise his “communication muscle.” Each person has a certain percentage of how well they’ve learned to communicate. If we’re talking about education levels, the range goes between preschool and grad school. Anyone can fall anywhere in between that spectrum. My husband’s upbringing and environment placed him at a beginners-level and we would have to start almost from scratch.

 

Now when someone is a bad communicator, they don’t know how to articulate how they feel. It’s all just stuck. It’s difficult for the person who is trying to communicate, as well as the person receiving the communication. In the beginning, when I didn’t realize there was a communication problem yet, I would see my husband in the form of a full-grown adult. In terms of maturity and size, he looked just like me and I mistakenly felt that he should know better. “We’re all adults right?” But I learned to put on my “look-past-his-exterior-glasses” into his inner being and it’s apparent that his communication training was equivalent to that of a child (not in a mocking way). And that’s how children are. They have trouble putting words to feelings. Oftentimes, they’re not even aware of what they’re feeling, just that they’re upset. So they lash out in anger or act in difficult ways.

 

There would be many times in the future where the past would repeat itself and my husband would erupt out of nowhere just like that day at the fair. He would get furious, but fail to communicate what the problem was, leaving me completely in the dark. Or he would tell me what the problem was but it was already too late and he had spiraled far into his anger. It can be exhausting to live with a bad communicator because it can make them seem unstable and unpredictable. They don’t have a normal response system that can take care of miniscule problems as they arise. The moments are collected until they build steam, become more than they can handle, then detonate; all while the other person hasn’t been given a proper or fair chance to understand.

 

This is one of those instances where marriage requires nun-like diligence; having the patience to see them through on things, sometimes things you feel they should have mastered already. Everyone has different flaws and traits they need to work on. What’s easy for one may not be easy for the other. Being part of a marriage means helping the other person with the areas that are hard for them and having the generosity of spirit to guide them, step by step. Showing grace where need be. My husband has actually done the same thing with me on many occasions in the different areas that I struggle with. It’s a constant exchange between two people.

Whenever my husband has outbursts, I have to remind him of how his actions appear from my point of view. Like that day at the fair, I had to tell him, “Imagine we’re having a great time and suddenly I get mad at you and don’t tell you why. How would you feel?” He brings up once again that I should already know what he’s feeling because it’s obvious. But I tell him that it’s not obvious and one can never assume the other person knows because no one else is in your head but you. He seemed to accept things after that and understand the confusion his actions brought on.

I also reminded him that I am always up for talking about the things that bother him. But we can’t discuss things that I’m not aware of.  He would always think I’m doing things on purpose. As if I know exactly what’s bothering him, but don’t care and continue to hurt him. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s simply a case of me not knowing.

 

I’d like to add that poor communicators were never given the socially-accepted safe space to share their feelings. So it’s important that when they do end up sharing truthfully, to encourage that as you would an insecure and unsure child. If you do, you’ll get more honest sharing in the future. It becomes easier each time, like exercising a muscle. These steps are all part of a compassionate journey to unravelling the damage done from your partner’s previous stunted and stifling environment. It’s absolutely necessary and is not only beneficial for them, but also makes life so much easier for you too in the long run.

 

Lastly, encourage them to talk about things at the very start, as soon as they happen, rather than at the end when it’s too late. Convey the idea that little problems quickly escalate into big problems so it’s good to tackle them when they’re manageable. Tell them you’d rather be notified now, even if it’s uncomfortable, than deal with a huge argument later on. It’s always easier when the problem hasn’t had time to stew and fester, becoming larger than it needs be.

More often than not, both sides are coming from a good place and want the other person to be happy. And despite common beliefs, communicating well is not hard. It’s simply expressing how things appear from each person’s point of view so both can come to a mutual understanding, compromise or solution. Each person grew up in a different world and experienced different realities, making them see all things in a vastly different way. It’s easy to think that everyone grew up the same and sees things just as we do, but it’s not true. There are a million different perspectives. That’s why communicating well bridges the gap and sees the innocence embedded in others’ thinking.

Communicating well also entails being clear with what you mean. Not saying one thing but meaning another or giving mixed signals. It’s saying exactly what you feel in the most accurate manner which sometimes takes practice. As long as both people are willing to try, put in effort and discuss things, then a good result is almost always likely.

My husband has come a long way, but it’s still a process. A skill like that takes decades to develop. Be gentle, tread gently, exhibit loving patience, and I guarantee you, things will improve drastically. You will have freed him from his own prison of being trapped in his own feelings. Communication is one of those crucial blocks that supports a marriage and makes the whole thing thrive. Master it and you are well on your way to a blissful and smooth journey ahead.

Do you have a question that you would like to ask

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