ColumnFamily & Gender
Effective Communication, Bedrock Of Every Marriage – Catechist Enoh
Catechist Tony Enoh is a marriage coordinator of St. Joseph Catholic Church at Afaha Oku in Ikpa Road, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. With his wealth of experience, he has counselled hundreds of couples in his marriage classes and has helped in sustaining homes in the process. Mr Enoh is a former students union government (SUG) president and distinctive lecturer in Communication Arts Department, Uyo City Polytechnic, Akwa Ibom State. He is a versatile journalist and publisher of Apt Newspaper.
In an interview session with Crystal Express, he speaks on how couples can use effective communication tools to sustain their marriage as it is seen as the bedrock of every home. Excerpts
As a catechist and marriage counsellor, could you explain the meaning of communication in marriage in a way that could be understood by people from all stations of life?
Communication in marriage entails sharing meaning between couples and this has to do with letting the other person know the feelings, the thoughts and the aspirations of life. Communication to a lay man in marriage is simply a way of letting someone know what you desire and what you think should be, so in a nutshell, it is the ability of the couple coming together to adopt a format, a measure of disseminating information that will help build their relationship in whatever means. It might be in spoken words, body language. Of course, your partner should be able to understand when you have a mood swing, he or she should be able to understand that something is going on and you are sending a signal. It is also an avenue of letting your partner know what you think, what you about to do and perhaps how to do it.
What does communication in marriage entail?
Sometimes when you see yourself in the midst of strangers and you ask them what sustains marriage; a lot of them will tell you love while others will say prayers, understanding, neatness and all that, but all these things they mention anchor on communication because trust, unity, prayer themslves are all products of communication. So we look at communication as the bedrock of a sustainable marriage. We also see communication as a cornerstone, without the effective use of communication, marriage as a whole cannot operate and function.
Even if a couple is deaf and dumb, they have a means of communicating because without communication, there is no marriage to start with. Communication can also be seen as indispensable in marriage, if you minus communication in marriage, that marriage is dead. So it is a live-wire of every marriage. As a church and a secular society, we use communication to declare our consent, we use communication to make promises and vows to each other and without this consent declaration and vows making, marriage cannot take place. So communication in its entirety is the bedrock of every marriage. Therefore, communication in marriage entails unity, trust, obedience, faithfulness and prayer.
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As a catechist, it is most likely that issues arising from marriage have come to your table time and again, so how does communication function in marriage and how does lack of communication lead to crash in marriages?
There are so many possible causes of crisis in marriage and one of it in the midst of hundred, 80 per cent is as a result of ineffective use of communication tools. I would love to start from the advantages of communication: when you see couples you desire making them your mentors in marriage. Naturally they have issues but through effective of communication tools the issues are brought to bear. You discover that advantages of communication in marriage are so enormous that we cannot enumerate all.
We talk about rest of mind, through effective use of communication your spouse’s mind can equally be at rest because when people seem to gossip and they tell your spouse more about you, your spouse had already believed that whatever you want to do, you may have already communicated to him before that act is being carried out. Communication helps to groom a relationship. Imagine a situation where you return from work and your spouse equally returns from work and two of you in the same bed trying to evaluate the day. Effective communication brings a strong bond between the husband and the wife. Another point is whenever there is crisis; use of effective communication can avert any form of crisis.
The effective use of communication tools can bring down a high-tempered partner. For example, “I am sorry” and being silent when you don’t have what to say; this communicates respect to your partner. It also brings a lot of succour to marriage. The next one is the use of “I” statement in marriage, so many couple feel attacked when they are communicating. For instance, you over-stayed in the office and I want to let you know that I felt bad that you over-stayed in the office and I said “why didn’t you call me when you knew you will be over-staying in the office today? “And our respond, “why are you pushing the blame on me? You would have also called.” The effective use of “I” statement would have been- “I desire you called me if you knew you would be coming home late.” This will help me to know that you are just communicating the way you feel. So, using “I” statement in a communication is of better advantage to both parties. At that point your partner does not feel attacked or that you are putting blame on her or him, your partner only understands that this is how you feel. Effective communication in marriage also brings a change of habit. For instance, a man that has never been romantic is as a result of lack of effective communication. So being romantic means you must upgrade your communication skills and strategies. Therefore, one of the functions of effective communication is habit formation, if a man is gentle in communication, he appears to be diligent in what he does but when a man does not have a good communication strategy, of course you can never be a gentleman.
Disadvantages of ineffective communication in marriage.
Lack of effective use of communication can be seen in a couple when there is an argument; they turn to argue as if they are business partners. A couple should be able to understand when to call a time out in a communication, especially when both parties are angry, there is a need to shut the door and relax. Lack of communication causes so many crises in terms of distrust. Like if you did not tell your partner where you went to, he/she is at liberty to believe what the spouse thinks. Even though you are doing what is good, it may appear to be bad because you did not apply effective use of communication.
Another instance is when you are in the office and you decide to go to the market after work because there was no food at home, and you did not communicate your whereabouts to your husband, this breach of communication can bring distrust in marriage. Lack of effective use of communication can be like preparing your way to the grave because when there is no effective use of communication that family can never be at peace. There might be problems every day, a man maybe tempted to lay hands on a woman because when anger becomes spontaneous, it turns into crisis, this can also be as a result of ineffective communication.
Another disadvantage of ineffective communication in marriage is the spiritual aspect. A situation where a woman jumps from one prayer house to another; we look at it as a very bad omen even to God Himself. It is imperative for couples to be consistent and focused in wherever they worship. By the time a partner jumps from one pillar to another, this affects the home negatively. As a result of attending different prayer houses, one can be afraid to let his/her spouse to be aware of their whereabouts knowing fully that their spouse will not give consent and this causes them to sneak out. This kind of attitude results to spiritual incompatibility in marriage because of lack of communication. When this lack of spiritual incompatibility sets in (in a home), this becomes a problem to the family.
Another way lack of communication can truncate marriages is male syndrome: a situation you feel you are the head of the house, a situation you feel that the salary belongs to you and you get to buy whatever you want and the leftover is brought home and this becomes a want and no longer a need; do you think your spouse will be happy? Your spouse will see that as wastage. However, if you had come home and informed your spouse about the payment of your monthly salary, most needs at home would have been met. It is important to consult and consolidate before you confront. Whether it is your own money or your spouse’s money, the two are now one on scriptural base. That ego of personalizing things in marriage is not only the male syndrome, women also do this.
Lack of effective communication does not bring in peace, faithfulness and fidelity. It gives room for presumptions and it triggers a lot of problems in marriages. It is important for married couples to ask anything that they don’t understand than assuming.
Bringing what has passed to the present: it is very destructive and a very bad communication habit. Face the matter at hand squarely; for every saint, there is a past and to every sinner, there is a future.
From the African culture perspective, is there anything in our culture enhancing or inhibiting effective communication in marriage?
Before the Western education, there was what we called indigenous education where a male child followed his father to the workshop while the female child followed her mum to the farm or be with the mum in the kitchen to learn some values. In African setting, we discover that a woman is advised to talk less in every occasion because Africans believe that when a woman talks less it gives respect to her spouse. Silence in African culture is interpreted as respect from the woman to the husband. So African culture is so imbedded with valuable morals that if adopted can enhance effective communication skills. For instance, in African culture, a woman goes to the husband and seeks permission to carry out any activities in the family, perhaps the activity that will spread her wings outside.
When effective communication is involved in an African setting, a woman cannot aspire politically without the consent of her husband and a woman cannot get her hair cut without her husband’s approval. These traits are all effective ways of communicating because a woman is telling a man “I belong to you” or “you own me” – this is like Sarah who referred to Abraham as her Lord. African culture, although gives a woman less opportunity to function, it has a unique feature that has to do with respect. It is also in our culture that a man seeks a woman’s hand in marriage and by so doing, it gives a woman some feathers on. In our modern world, things have changed, our culture is gradually dying. Before a woman is presented in the traditional ceremony, we notice that a lot of things are involved like drinks, money, and all that.
African culture also teaches a woman effective communication through good meals. Our people believe that when a woman cooks a special delicacy for her husband, it is communicating a depth of love to the husband. Our culture also encourages pet names to our spouses, especially in our local dialect, this is an act of respect and obedience. But if your spouse that addresses you with pet name suddenly calls you by your name, just know something is wrong somewhere. An African culture also teaches a couple to be bonded through sex. African culture has deep value for sexual intercourse. Other cultures may see sex as fun but we Africans don’t see sex as fun and this influences our mode of dressing. So basically the African culture influences effective communication in marriage.
Moral formation belongs to Africans. Our culture if put in place enhances all communication strategies in every marriage. It is also part of our culture that a man should adorn a woman. Biblically it is stated that a man should present his wife as spotless and blameless without wrinkle as Christ does to the church. The Bible admonishes men to treat their wives the same way Christ treats the church. Of course, men are also instructed to love their wives as Christ loves the church.
Unfortunately modernization, sophisticated dressing and all that have taken the centre stage that so many of our rich cultures have been pushed aside such that they don’t make meaning anymore. It takes a certain level of maturity to appreciate the salient moral of African culture. Though this same culture played down on women’s education but we still believe in modernization that has made us to understand that women have equal right to enjoy nature by going to school, exploring the environment and contributing to life. African culture is very rich and we believe that if we can go back to the basics, the disrespect and the rate of divorce in marriages can be brought to the barest minimum.
Could you suggest ways of improving effective communication in marriage?
Couples must learn to listen, not interrupt. When your partner is talking, you have to learn to listen. The difference between dialogue and argument is that dialogue don’t find fault, it gives you an opportunity for you to explain why you took a certain decision whether the decision was good or bad. Argument is quite different; unfortunately a lot of people don’t pay attention without interrupting. Usually when an argument arises between couples, the biggest problem is that nobody listens to each other; which is a very bad communication in marriage.
Giving prompt attention means effective communication has taken place. Avoid engaging in another activity like chatting, fiddling with your phone, making nails, etc while your partner is talking, it can constitute some level of distraction. You must suspend whatever you are doing and pay attention. It calms down the nerves of your partner when he/she is aware that you are listening.
The next one is you do not need to be psychic – this means presuming what your partner is saying without prompt attention to what he/ she is trying to say. For instance – “when you started it, I already knew where you were going to.” This response is not good at all; you don’t need to be psychic with your spouse. Your spouse is not your girlfriend or boyfriend or your worker, your spouse is part of you. When communicating with your spouse, if you have any doubt, ask, don’t presume, don’t think you know where he/she is going to land, this can destroy your marriage.
Another hint is learning to acknowledge first and explaining later. Two can never go except they agree. You must accept first for the sake of peace. This means if you are not ready to shift grounds, don’t prepare for marriage. You must learn to shift grounds for the sake of peace. She said you were the one that broke the glass, for peace to reign, reply with “Ima, please don’t be angry, I did it. “ When everything is okay, you can explain to your partner that you were not the person that broke the glass and that you accepted the allegation for peace to reign. At this point in time your partner will give you a listening ear because that anger in him/her is off. You must learn to accept first and explain later.
Another way of improving effective communication is learning to empathize with your partner. We lack this attribute in today’s society. Your spouse is talking to you and you cannot put yourself in his/her shoes, you want it to be your own way. When you put yourself in your spouse’s shoes, then you will know what to say. You must have some level of empathy for your partner so you can be able to make an impactful decision. If we build our homes with these effective uses of communication, definitely the sky will be our limit. Going to church or court to solve problems in marriage will be brought to the barest minimum.
In your partner’s family matters, do not intrude unless you are directly asked to. Do not give advice or jump in to solve the problem. Your spouse has a misunderstanding with the siblings or the family, avoid jumping in or the whole ball will be on your head whether you like it or not. They have known themselves for years; they know how they normally resolve their problems so do not intrude except you are directly asked to. Don’t rush to give him/her advice, that your goodwill may be interpreted in a very wrong way. This entails that you should learn to be at your service lane, allow your spouse to also be at his/her service lane, when need arises, they will send for you.
Watch your tone when in an argument. Sometimes it is not what you say but it is how you say it which can mend or break the communication. Keep a peaceful tone, you can tell someone: “get out” and you can tell someone “go and rest”. The tones of these phrases are not the same. The way you speak can escalate a problem; avoid using a commanding tone with your spouse. Your partner is not a slave, both a man and a woman, they are human beings. So when you are communicating, watch your tone.
The next one is knowing your limit. When arguing with your spouse, know that he/she is not your business partner. This is the person you love, so you have to consider his/her feelings as well. If you do not watch your limit, what you say lives and after the argument your partner will always remind you of the abuses you said to him/her and these words may permanently be in your partner’s mind. Therefore, watch your limit before you start apologizing. Before you shout, quit before your argument start making you say things that you would regret, call for a time out.
We believe when couples start applying these few tools of effective communication in their marriages, of course such families will be at peace. Whatever you do with your partner, your children will emulate. If there is effective way of communication in marriage, the children will also learn how to effectively communicate outside.
Effective use of communication enhances good marital formation, any marriage that is vested with good communication strategies will always have a hope of success.