Communication or Mind-reading?
QUESTION: My second husband and I have been married four months and I have a seven and a half year old daughter from my first marriage. We are having a difficult time blending our lives together. My husband really hurts my feelings at times because I will overhear phone conversations in which he is making plans to do things with friends. He knows I am within hearing range but offers no explanation of why he doesn't include me in the planning. I've never given him the impression that I would force myself into activities with his friends so why is he acting this way? I always let him know when I will be doing something with a friend so that he doesn't plan any family things for that time. Can you help us?
ANSWER: Marriage is the blending of two different family cultures. Differences in styles of relating and expectations inevitably brings up conflict that must be resolved through communication. It is up to you and your husband to create the kind of family that you want to have together. But do not expect him to read your mind, or even to automatically agree with your perspective!
Part of the joy of any marriage lies in developing a shared vision of family. It is likely that you are assuming things about your husband's behavior that exacerbate your sense of hurt and alienation. For example, do you believe that his autonomous decision to make plans with his friends is a sign that he does not love you, or does not want to include you? If so, you may be putting the horse before cart. He may have come from a family in which his parents acted more independently than yours or he may simply be used to "being on his own" as a bachelor. Either way, it is time to learn more about one another instead of jumping to conclusions that may not be accurate.
Express your feelings to your husband using "I" statements that do not accuse or attack him, but simply relay your internal experience. For example, "I feel hurt when you make plans with your friends without including me, and I imagine that I am not important to you". He may not be aware of the impact of his actions on you. It is your job to communicate your feelings in the marriage.
By letting your spouse know how you feel in a non-blaming manner, you set the stage for discussions about what will work in your marriage. He may want to change to accommodate your experience, and/ or he may share ideas and feelings of his own. It is also possible that a stimulating discussion will develop between you. Consider yourself fortunate if you are able to develop a discussion which offers the opportunity to truly understand rather than "guess at" what he is thinking.
Assumptions truncate discussions that might otherwise serve to deepen your relationship. Do not condemn your husband before talking to him and do not assume he is condemning you for any "impressions" you may or may not have given him!
Conflict is at the heart of establishing intimacy because it is through discussion of differences that we come to truly understand ourselves and our partners. Feeling "understood" is a crucial part of a successful marriage. Problems that are resolved through empathy create greater connection between family members. It is sometimes easier to "make up a story" to match our feelings about things than it is to check out why our partners are doing what they are doing!
Let your husband know about your beliefs, desires and feelings about checking with you before making plans. Be specific about what you want and ask for it. Establish agreements, but do not expect that all will go smoothly. You both need to learn about the other's needs and create a framework for addressing them. Your bond will deepen as you struggle together towards your shared goal.
Perhaps your husband will be delighted to adopt some
of your beliefs and family style. But you will never know unless the
two of you open up and develop discussions. Trust is established through
communication, not mind-reading!
Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.
Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..
Copyright 1996-2003. Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.