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She sat in my office, tears running down her face. "I wish my husband would talk to me. But most of the time, he says nothing. I don't know how much longer I can take the silence."
This wife was expressing a deep longing for intimacy. But without communication, there can be no marital intimacy. True intimacy requires more than just two people living in the same house.
Communication isn't like an event—we attend, and then it's over. Communication is more like breathing, a continual process necessary to sustain us.
But even communication isn't enough. We require healthy communication. Just as breathing toxic fumes can lead to death, so unhealthy communication patterns can kill marital intimacy.
Here are four negative communication patterns I'll call the dove, the hawk, the owl, and the ostrich.
Dove: "Peace at any price"
In this pattern, one partner placates the other to avoid his or her wrath. Typical dove statements: "That's fine with me" or "Whatever makes you happy makes me happy." The dove is always trying to please, never disagreeing and often apologizing even for little things that provoke the spouse's anger.
In an effort to avoid conflict, the dove relinquishes all possibility of intimacy. When you don't share your thoughts, feelings, and desires, your relationship may appear peaceful, but it's a shallow peace. No relationship will thrive without open, honest communication.
Hawk: "It's your fault"
The hawk never accepts blame, instead pushing it onto his spouse. Typical hawk statements: "You never do anything right" or "If it weren't for you, everything would be fine."
Hawks appear strong and belligerent. In reality, they cover their emotional weakness by finding fault. The hawk isn't interested in what his spouse thinks. He's pictured in Proverbs 18:2: "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions."
Owl: "Let's be reasonable"
The owl will give logical answers to every question. He sounds so reasonable that you wonder how anyone could have thought otherwise. The owl prides himself on his stoicism. When his mate shows emotion, he sits calmly until the storm passes and then proceeds with his reasoning.
One wife said, "My husband takes hours explaining things to me as though I'm a two-year-old. Though he lets me speak, he hears nothing I say. So most of the time, I don't say anything." It's almost impossible to win an argument with an owl. That's why many spouses simply stop talking—and the potential for an authentic relationship dies.
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