So after my last post about open communication in marriage got such positive reviews, I thought I’d follow it up with a post inviting discussion on some of the finer points.

First, how open do you need to be? Some people really are more private about things than others. For example, early in our marriage my husband and I agreed that we need the bathroom to be off limits. In nearly six years together I’ve never seen my husband pee. Some people find this astounding, but I really don’t think it’s a detriment to our marriage. However, other things probably shouldn’t be secret. I know some couples who read each other’s journals and email conversations. Some don’t. What about monitoring internet activity? The problem that can arise from that is that one spouse can come to feel like the other is spying on them or policing their actions unnecessarily. How do you negotiate openness while still respecting the need for separateness in your relationship?

Another issue that we have is timing. With two small children we have a narrow window opportunity for real, adult conversation. And usually by that time of day we’re both exhausted. I know the problem doesn’t change as a marriage matures. But it’s interesting to remember the times during our engagement when we’d spend hours just hanging out and talking to each other. Also, sometimes one person is tired or hungry or just not ready to talk about things. How do you find the right time to talk? In several marriage classes I’ve attended they’ve suggested having a regular time set aside, but that always feels kind of corny to me.

Speaking of corny, what about communication strategies? Do you do things like “I statements” (I feel X when you do Y)? Also, what should we be talking about? On another blog I read, a woman confessed that she was experience intense feelings of attraction towards a man in her ward. She was wondering if she should share this with her husband. Most of the commenters said she should, because openness in marriage is good. Others were reluctant, because the knowledge might drive this woman and her husband further apart. I was one of the reluctant ones, but I changed my mind as I realized that how she discussed this issue with her husband, and how he responded was really more important than the content itself. If it was presented as a problem for them to solve together, with compassionate listening and understanding, then I could see it being an opportunity to grow together. If the issue becomes a threat to either of them, it could potentially become a wedge to divide them. What have you found to be effective ways to really communicate with others that have strengthened your relationships?

I guess I’m just looking for some specific examples of what works and what doesn’t. What does open communication look like in a relationship? What has happened as you have started to be more open with others?

Leave a Reply

6 comments

  1. avatar

    J

    I think this is a great topic. I think communication is key in a good relationship, and I think it is helpful to always look for ways to improve it. Since you first posted about ?don?t ask, don?t tell,? things have taken a dramatic turn for the better in my relationship with my wife, thanks to improved communication. First, I?d like to address what you said about privacy and what can be ?off limits.? I think that most people need some degree of privacy, to express their thoughts and feelings. I think that?s where journaling, etc. come into play. I have read parts of my wife?s journals, with her permission, but I would never go and read her journal without her knowing. So individually, I think that privacy is important, and I want my wife to feel that she has an outlet that can be private from me. However, when it comes to interactions with other people, I think openness is important between spouses. I think that if you are emailing or chatting with someone and you wouldn?t want your spouse to read or hear what you are saying, chances are you shouldn?t be doing it. Of course, we?re all put in situations where people tell us things in confidence, and I don?t think it?s necessarily appropriate to tell your spouse those things. But if you?re telling someone else something about yourself that you don?t want your spouse to know, sooner or later you should probably tell them.

    As far as specific tips?the only one I have is email. My wife and I have used email to say things that were too embarrassing/hurtful/difficult to say in person, and it has been really helpful in helping us communicate. It also lets you read, reread and truly try to understand what the other person is trying to convey, instead of immediately reacting like you would in a live conversation. It then opens the door for talking about things and being able to address things that you might not just be able to bring up. Anyway, that?s my two cents.

  2. avatar

    “…I?ve never seen my husband pee. Some people find this astounding, but I really don?t think it?s a detriment to our marriage.” -FoxyJ

    Detriment? Seeing him pee… is that something married couples do? Watch each other pee?

    Help me out here married folks: Why would you want to see pee?

  3. avatar

    -L-

    In regard to your first question, “How open do we have to be?”, I think we’ve tried to err on the side of excessive openness, and I think that has been a good thing for us. There is always a risk of feeling so entitled to access to the thoughts, feelings, and daily moments of the other person’s life that you trend toward codependency or personal feelings of being violated and disrespected. On the other hand, I think there was slightly excessive modesty and privacy within our family context growing up, and I’ve deliberately tried to make my current family environment one in which we don’t shy away from the facts of life, still respecting modesty and dignity. If that makes any sense?

    It has long been apparent that mohos can get into trouble with their online buddies. Those who give no credence to this notion are kidding themselves. But, at the same time, having friends is healthy and important and mohos make great friends. We’ve tried to strike the balance by keeping my online chats and e-mails to mohos in particular open to the possibility of my wife looking at them. That way, I keep that in mind if the conversation ever drifts toward the margins of inappropriate, and she can give me all the privacy in the world unless I start acting like a weirdo and she gets concerned about my online stuff. So, no “off the record” chats for me, no in-person moho meetings without her, etc. That’s just how it is, and it’s been good.

    I’ll have to comment more about timing and the other issues you mentioned some other time. Thanks for this interesting post!

  4. avatar

    -L-

    Ok, more time!

    As far as communication strategies and timing goes, I’ve noticed that we’ve been helped by realizing that I’m very much like our dog. When he does something he knows he shouldn’t have, he doesn’t run up to us and bring it to our attention. And when I discover it and call him to me, he is put in the awkward position of choosing whether to be obedient (by coming) only to be punished, or whether to hide and avoid it as long as possible.

    Basically, we’ve learned that in order to foster the kind of openness we want, we need to be sure that these difficult situations are framed within a loving context as much as possible. There has been hurt and disappointment when an unpleasant reality comes to light, and it doesn’t help to pretend the reality is not there or that the hurt is not there. But, there is a happy place in the middle where we must feel we won’t be punished if we come to the table for the discussion. So to speak.

    Now I’ve learned to how to “prime” the situation a little bit to make things more likely to be smooth. We don’t talk about hard issues right before sleep time, right before an appointment, or when we’re cranky or sick. We slide into the discussion without making it the awkward “companionship inventory” from my mission days. We listen and explain and reaffirm our love and commitment, and figure out together where to go next.

  5. avatar

    Ron Schow

    It seems to me that there needs to be a lot of allowance for individual differences and the personalities of the two in the relationship.

    Recently I was leading the discussion in our Branch home evening and the sister of a prominent couple (married about 50 years) in the Branch shared with us this insight. She said that one of the most healthy things she discovered in their relationship was that when she had long standing frustrations with him, she could vent with one of her lady friends and get it off her chest. If she chose to discuss some of his 50 year habits that continue to bug her, it only caused friction and weakened their relationship.

    This coincides with a book I once read on 100 couples who have stayed together in long term marriages of 20+ years. The couples who stayed together were the ones who decided they could live with the flaws in their spouse that they hoped early in the marriage could be changed. Virtually all 100 couples in the study said the marriage lasted because they gave up on their ideas of changing the spouse.

  6. avatar

    Lizette

    There is alot I have learned through personal experience about communication and boundaries. Open communication is a big thing in a marriage. In addition, you need to find your personal limits. How much of your spouse’s issues and incidents do you want to know? If there’s ever a porn problem for your spouse, when do you want them to confront you for help? If you as the spouse feels uncomfortable about a situation or individual, let your spouse know! Remember also, that we are “helpmates” not wardens! We are here to help each other obtain salvation! It’s hard, but I’ve learned that once your spouse knows you are there to help them and not punish or reprimand them it makes life all the better! They don’t feel like they have to hide things from you. My spouse likes to share things he’s encountered during the day. Things like a glare or comment from another guy. I have found that through that two good things happen…1 I realize that I am important in his life and he does love me. 2 He needs someone to recognize and praise him for not giving in and striving to be righteous.
    I think too that as time passes both spouses learn not to get hurt or take personal things the other spouse says. As Elder Bednar said, We choose to take offense. When I approach my spouse about some concern I have I approach him in a more concerned and want to help way than accusing him. He has learned to take it that way too and not get offended or hurt by it.
    Also, timing is important too. We have found that when you have a consistent nightly routine, it’s easier to find time to talk. After we put the children to sleep, we both take time to relax in our own ways. Then, if a concern arises it’s easier to deal with it.