No one knows for sure of course, but probably as many marriages are wrecked by what someone does not do as by what someone does do. Anyone can see adultery assaults a marriage, but right up there, according to experts, is the failure to communicate. And very often, the failure to communicate happens passively — not by misunderstanding but by silence or inattention, a kind of erosion that undermines the couple without them even realizing it.
This erosion works insidiously. The couple, who once hung on each other’s every word, begin to take each other for granted. — a habit of mind that eats into the fundaments of the partnership. The acids of daily living together accumulate in the best of marriages, and somehow communicating and understanding, which are the alternating current that electrify a marriage and give it energy and vitality, stop happening.
After a while, couples who stop talking to each other also stop listening when they do. In time, the failure to communication — to talk about mundane and the sublime, the ordinary and the exceptional — leaves two people who cannot grasp each other’s point of view. In time, the marriage, which is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, devolves to the sum of its parts — two drifting strangers who have less and less in common. Thus, the failure to communicate it not an error of commission but omission.
Poor communication sometimes happens in ways more insidious than silence and inattention. Sometimes one spouse may think that he or she is communicating when the other spouse does not. Very often partners may have different narrative styles. For example, Rhonda begins a long and textured story about something important to her, and Rufus, tired after a long day of work, blurts out, “Brief me, Honey” or “Cut to the chase, will you?” It is a good bet that Rhonda will feel Rufus is not really listening to her, and worse, does not really care. “What’s the bottom line?” may be a good question in a business meeting, but it is one of the best ways to kill the rapport between spouses. Marriage is like a house. It needs maintenance. A couple who want to stay together talk together. They talk about things, anything and everything.
It is probably safe to say that a marriage cannot work without communication. Probably poor communication is an element in most failed marriages. That so often one spouse is blindsided when the other announces plans for a divorce demonstrates that two spouses can become strangers to one another under the same roof.
And it is a certainty that a marriage going on the rocks cannot be saved without communications, which means sincere talking and attentive listening.