Paul Tournier points out that many couples who are married for a few years no longer „really talk to each other.“ And he means REAL talk, not only secondary matters, but „matters that are really essential, intimate, personal. After a few years the „thirst for discovery and for understanding has been dried. The problem is when the wife stops to express herself. And „the less she expresses herself, the less she will be understood; the less she feels understood, the more she will withdraw into herself.“
He says, if you think that you „know your wife or your husband, it is because you have given up the real attempt to discover him.“
What is important is: 1. The will to understand and 2. expressing oneself.
We express ourselves of course not only in marriage, but „it is toward his wife that his need to express himself is the greatest.“ It is easy to avoid talking and find „duties in order to escape face-to-face relationships. The fact is that many married people flee from it; they are afraid of opening up in depth. They do not take the time which is necessary for it. Even when on vacation they run about seeking every kind of distraction, invite home very charming friends, friends who enable them to avoid calm and peaceful talk together. A great deal of time must be taken in order to build a true marriage (…). A deep encounter rarely takes place in a few moments. It must be prepared for by hours careful drawing together.“
Tournier points out that a „complete unveiling of one’s inner thoughts, an absolute necessity for real and deep understanding, demands a great deal of courage.“
Some people have fear of real conversation. Tournier thinks that there might be two reasons: the fear of being judged, the fear of criticism and second the fear of receiving advice.
He says that we fear critical judgement most from the people we love most and that „few people really accept the fact that their marital partner behaves in a profoundly different way from themselves.“
„The „I cannot understand“ really means „I cannot understand that my husband is different from me, that he thinks, feels, and acts in a quite different manner than I.““
And then „the husband feels judged, condemned, criticized. All of us fear this, for no one is satisfied with himself. We are especially sensitive to blame for shortcomings which we ourselves find stupid, and which we have never been able to correct in spite of our sincerest efforts. „
How do we really understand? In order to understand, „we need to listen, not to reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart, we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible, in order to help him better explain his experience. Above all we must not give the impression that we know better than he does what he must do. Otherwise we force him to withdraw. Too much criticism will also achieve the same result, so fragile are his inner sensitivities.“
Some husbands say, that they don’t want to burden their wife with worry and they keep their problems to themselves. These men maybe sincere in thinking this, „but they are deluding themselves. There are always deeper reasons for such inner blockage of confidences. In any case it is a sign that the marital sharing has failed. A woman can bear any anxiety when she feels supported by her husband (…).“
Paul Tournier goes on and writes that the worst worry for a woman is „perhaps that of feeling that her husband is weighed down with problems which he does not share with her.“
There are many people who are misunderstood, but it’s also because they are partly responsible for it. But, if „they are not understood, it is because they have not opened up.“
Tournier writes, that many people who come to his office say to him that with him they can open up, because he understands them. But he says, that the „truth is rather the reverse; I understand them because they open up. Sometimes I understand them much better than their partners, because they tell me everything they hold back from them.“
He says, when „we have a client too long in therapy, the time comes when our opinion of him dries up, unknown to us, his readiness to share confidences. He will no longer tell us anything but what he believes we can understand. Once again the fear of being misunderstood has made its appearance in him.“
??? A question for couples which are married for a long time: what is your experience? Can you relate to what is written in the post???
Book: „To understand each other. Classic wisdom on marriage“, Paul Tournier