Husbands seem more prone to lose the desire for conversation after marriage. Father Henry Siew discusses why this may be so, and how wives can ease the situation.
LATELY, CINDY HAS been asking herself why she had fallen in love with "such a man". The man who is now the object of her regret is her husband, Michael. It wasn't always so. Michael was an affectionate man during their years of courtship, and they had enjoyed many engaging conversations. But this changed after marriage and their verbal communication lessened.
Sometimes, just to get Michael to talk with her, Cindy would resort to finding fault with him. While such provocations do lead to an exchange of more words than usual, they obviously are not of the kind she desires and Cindy and Michael often end up quarrelling.
Man's silent mode
Some women say that before marriage, their men seemed to be perfect lovers with thousands of sweet words for their partners, but after marriage they change totally. Casual observation and informal surveys seem to point to some truth to this assertion. Why then does a husband become a "man of few words"?
Unlike most women, many men are uninterested in "nitty-gritty" and "lovey-dovey" matters. They often consider their wedding as the milestone marking the end of their romantic journey. Thereafter, they feel, they must focus on their career.
Michael is likely such a man. He is now more concerned with bringing bread to the dining table. Work however is often stressful. The more stress he encounters at work, the more he seeks domestic tranquility. As a result, he becomes less chatty and more engrossed in "relaxing" activities - watching TV, listening to music and reading the newspaper.
The husband usually becomes more reticent if his wife prattles on and on. So rather than talk incessantly to her husband, the wife should learn to appreciate the "art of silence" too. In fact by her keeping quiet, the husband may become uneasy and begin a conversation!
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Generally, women are more competent verbal communicators, are more sensitive and capable of reacting faster than men. If a man feels that his wife fits this profile then he may feel intimidated and fear that he would reveal his flaws and inadequacy to his wife during a conflict of words. To avoid "losing", the husband stays silent.
A wife should therefore avoid using tongue-lashing to depreciate and control her husband. Instead, she should try using kind and supportive words to express affection and support. Further, dignity is important to the husband.
A man finds it humiliating when his inadequacy in handling difficulties is revealed, especially to his wife. He prefers to appear strong and unaffected in front of her and staying silent under such circumstances could be the best strategy for him to avoid embarrassment.
A woman should give her husband personal space and time, let him have the quiet he needs in his self-erected shelter. Only when he is ready to come out of the shelter should she engage him and express her care and concern to him.
Most men use their achievements in career and task performances as yardsticks to measure their personal success and to boost their self-esteem. However, when a man parades his achievements, it may also be a way to conceal his lack of self-confidence. Such a man may actually harbour fears that others know his weaknesses. He feels ashamed if his wife gets to know his failures and weaknesses. For example, a man suffering from an illness may put up a strong front for his wife. He pretends that "I can cope with it by myself" when he actually longs to be taken care of.
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An understanding wife will accept her husband's psychological need to act tough while she quietly goes about helping him. By empathising with his struggles and fears, she can gently assure him that even if he encounters failures and inadequacies at work and in personal tasks, she would never despise him. On the contrary, she would always be there for him, sharing the taste of success while not shunning from bearing the burdens.
When facing troubles, many men prefer to take a step backwards and shun the crowds, seeking quiet moments of retrospection. They need substantial time for recuperation when they have been struck down and afflicted with problems. They need time to "think through the problems" and to attempt to solve them by their own effort.
On the other hand, women seldom hide their feelings of sadness and anxieties; they quickly look for people to hear them out, throw tantrums at their loved ones or seek ways to vent their emotions. Naturally, not all men would welcome this type of behaviour. In fact, some men escape by keeping quiet so that they do not have to "entertain" their wives.
A wise woman would therefore restrain herself and not be too quick to pour out her woes to her husband who has just returned home from work even if she is in great anguish. After he has a good bath, a hot meal and some rest, he would probably be in a more receptive mood to listen to her.
Of course, it is true that we cannot generalize for all men and women. Each has his or her own way of handling problems. A married person must therefore strive to understand the personality traits of the spouse and discern suitable ways to communicate with her or him.
Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.