By Gary Moore
Communication and intimacy are dynamic processes that are closely related. Think of communication being more like the process of breathing. Without it, we die. And intimacy isn’t something that we one-time gain and retain forever. It is fluid and directly related to the quality of communication between the couple.
Communication, in and of itself, is not enough. It must be healthy communication if we are going to experience intimacy. You can breathe toxic fumes and die. Likewise, unhealthy communication patterns can destroy intimacy. Each partner comes to the marriage with communication and language patterns they learned from their families of origin or from previous relationships. From these differing communication and language patterns, we establish our own unique communication language and patterns. After a while, we are not even aware of our communication patterns and whether or not they are healthy. We are simply doing what comes natural to us.
Some of our communication patterns are positive, leading us to intimacy in marriage. But many times, our communication patterns are unhealthy – leading couples apart rather than together. Many couples genuinely desire intimacy, but unknown to them, their communication patterns lead them further and further apart. As with anything that is unhealthy, if we are to correct it, we must first identify it. Over the years researchers have identified common communication patterns that are detrimental to marital intimacy. And, they’ve found that these patterns are passed from parent to child. It is not uncommon to see these unhealthy patterns repeated generation after generation. The good news is that they can be broken.
Dr. Gary Chapman, author and couples counselor, identifies four unhealthy patterns of communication for us. Almost all of these unhealthy patterns develop from a need to maintain emotional stability, to feel good about ourselves. But when these patterns are negative, they are detrimental to marital intimacy. These unhealthy patterns can be remembered when compared to four fowl: the dove, the hawk, the owl, and the ostrich.
Dove: “I Want Peace at Any Price.” In this pattern, one partner placates the other in order to avoid his/her wrath. Typical dove statements are, “That’s fine with me,” or “Whatever makes you happy makes me happy.” The dove is always trying to please the other person, often apologizing, even for little things that may have stimulated the anger of the spouse. The dove will almost never disagree with his/her spouse, no matter how they feel.
These peacemakers often marry someone with a fiery personality. To avoid explosions, they simply do things to stay away from them. That may include working longer hours. Or, when at home, spending more time on their computer instead of with their spouse. Each gets involved in their own worlds and grows further and further apart. They don’t have arguments. But after a while, they don’t have a relationship either. In their efforts to avoid conflict and maintain their own sense of emotional stability and safety, they relinquish all possibility of intimacy. This “peace at any price” pattern carries a high price tag.
Hawk: “It’s Your Fault.” The hawk blames his/her spouse for everything. The blamer is the boss, the dictator, the one in charge who never does wrong. Typical hawk statements are: “You never do anything right. You always botch it up. I don’t understand how you could be so stupid. If it weren’t for you, everything would be fine.”
Hawks appear to be strong and belligerent people. In reality, they are weak emotionally. Their pattern of fault-finding has been developed to meet their own emotional weakness. How the other spouse responds to the hawk’s fault-finding depends upon their own emotional pattern. If they happen to struggle with their own self-esteem, they may simply believe what the hawk says and accept it as truth. If they feel good about themselves and have a positive self-image, they may fight, and the relationship may be characterized by periodic verbal battles.
We all know that no one can be wrong all the time while the other is always right. However, in this pattern of communication, the facts are unimportant. Hawks seldom wait for an answer to their accusations. The important thing to them is not what the other person thinks but their own judgment.
Owl: “Let’s Be Reasonable.” The owl is Mr. or Mrs. Calm, Cool, and Collected. This person shows no feelings; he says the right words; he reveals no emotional reaction when his spouse disagrees with him. He is more like a computer than a person. Owls give you logical answers to every question. An owl usually thinks of himself as being a reasonable and intelligent person. He prides himself on not showing emotion. When the other person shows emotion, he calmly sits until the storm is over and then proceeds with his reasoning.
What is going on inside the owl will vary from person to person, but commonly this individual feels vulnerable inside. Thus, the pattern serves an emotional function for him, but it is an unhealthy function in the marriage relationship.
Ostrich: “Ignore It and It Will Go Away.” The ostrich’s pattern of communicating basically ignores the other person’s actions and comments, especially if he finds them disagreeable. The ostrich seldom responds directly to what the other person says. He doesn’t respond negatively; he simply doesn’t respond. He changes the subject and moves on to something totally unrelated to what the spouse just said. The ostrich is an activist. If he is a talker, he will rattle on and on about nothing related to anything.
For the most part, those who follow the communication pattern of the ostrich think of themselves as “not fitting in.” There is no place for them in the world. Arguments are extremely unsettling to this person. At all costs, they wish to avoid them. They really believe that if you simply ignore it, it will go away. What they do not realize is that the problem never goes away. It simply sits as a barrier to marital intimacy.
Reflect on your communication style. Which fowl are you? Which fowl is your spouse? Which fowl does your spouse think you are? We can’t work on ourselves if we don’t recognize and own who we are. Get off your “perch” and improve your communication.
Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He has a weekly radio program – Life Point Plus – on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. His website at www.mutualunderstanding.net has video teachings and other resources for couples. He may be contacted at [email protected].