The Power of Communication in Marriage

Communi ation

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Sister Okasaki

Let me tell you a story related by Thomas W. Ladanye, a therapist and institute director, about the power of communication in marriage.

He said:

In one of our Institute faculty meetings at the University of Michigan some years ago, I was asked to conduct a husband-and-wife communication session.  Prior to our meeting, I asked two colleagues to try a little experiment with their wives and children and report their experience at the meeting. Both agreed; one even said he would record the dialogue between him and his wife. The assignment I gave them was quite simple--they thought!  Each was to sit down with his wife in a private situation where they wouldn't be interrupted and ask a simple question, "What can I do to improve our relationship?"

One couple had been married for thirty years, the other for eighteen; and both of the marriages were happy ones.  Each husband agreed cheerfully to carry out the assignment and seemed confident that it would be relatively easy.

At the faculty meeting a week later, I called on the younger man first.  He was a jovial, outgoing guy, fun to be with and always kidding around.  As he stood up to respond, however, he was unusually subdued. Quietly he said, "You know, when Tom gave me this assignment, I thought it would be easy. Millie and I have a great marriage and a great relationship.  I was even taping it; I was so sure of her response.  But when I asked, 'What can I do to improve our relationship?' I was shocked at her answer.

"She began by saying, 'Hal, you're a wonderful person and a good father and husband, but--'and then she proceeded to bombard me with a lot of pent-up feelings she had been holding within her for years.  I never knew she felt that way, and she had never told me because she didn't want to hurt my feelings or the time never  seemed right."

They had talked well into the night; and perhaps for the first time in their entire eighteen years of marriage, they had discussed some very meaningful issues in depth.  He concluded by turning to me and saying, "Thank you, Tom, for helping open my eyes."

The second man, also a close personal friend, reported a similar experience. "I assumed after thirty years of marriage that I knew my wife," he said simply. "But I was wrong." He had taken her to a nice restaurant for dinner and asked the question during a leisurely moment.

"Helen stopped eating," he said, "grabbed my hand, and burst into tears." He was flabbergasted and embarrassed but even more concerned and shocked about her response.  She also told him she loved him very much, but--and then followed some deep and emotional feelings about the "incompleteness" of their relationship.  Their conversation lasted through dinner, all the way home, and late into the night. He was surprised and enlightened by his wife's response.

Both of these fine men and their wives indicated that they learned a great deal from this experience and vowed they would ask that simple question more often--and listen hard to the response.  The second couple, based on this experience, later asked each of their children this very same question; and in one case, the father and one son healed a long-painful relationship by getting to the root of the problem.

This therapist was obviously recommending that husbands ask this question of their wives, but wives can ask their husbands how they can be better wives and start the discussion that way. I don't see any reason why the same question will not work with colleagues, among presidencies, and between visiting teachers and sisters being visited.  Just ask, "What can I do to improve our relationship?" The sincere desire to serve--to minister to another's needs--opens doors in a powerful way.

       (Shared by Sister Okasaki in her book:  Cat's Cradle, p. 16-17)