The success and happiness of a marriage depends on the couple's cooperation in building relationship and good communication, writes Father Henry Siew.

BUILDING MARITAL RELATIONSHIP is a lifetime commitment between two individuals. With a firm foundation based on this commitment and mutual love, the next level is development of good communication skill, which is essential to sustain an intimate relationship. However such skills take time and effort to develop.

With enhanced communication, a couple would learn to express acceptance and mutual adoration, to resolve conflicts in amiable ways and to grow in intimacy. It is impossible to not communicate. Even if a person does not verbalise, he is still saying something. He may be communicating "I am not bothered with it", or "you should know what I want even if I don't talk," or "I can deal with this myself, don't you meddle with it".

The problem with this kind of communication is that it may not be clear. The person to whom this is communicated has to make do with guesswork, which is often inaccurate unless the other person really knows the spouse thoroughly or is very intuitive. That is why the refusal to communicate is often the worst form of communication.

When a person has happy and uplifting news, it is natural for him to want to share it with others. So if he is unwilling to share positive experiences with his closest partner - the spouse - then it would appear that there are issues between them that need to be resolved.

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Bad news, such as sad, hurting experiences and unpleasant incidents should all the more be shared between intimate partners so that burdens can be borne together. When negative feelings and thoughts are not expressed verbally to a spouse, they are likely to lead to speculation and misunderstanding. This is because even if the mouth refuses to speak, the other parts of the body will - facial expression, temper, listlessness, lethargy... How can one's spouse see such negative signals and not be concerned?

This will then lead her to guess his thoughts and emotions and the reasons why, but that may be be correct or totally wrong. Why cause unnecessary misunderstanding? A spouse should not impose on the other the notion that "if you love me, you should know what my thoughts, needs, and wishes are." Someone who loves you will wish to understand you, but she does not necessarily know what is going through your mind and heart and it is unfair to judge her to be uncaring because she reads wrongly.

Many married persons (especially women) wish that the spouse will remember her birthday, her children's birthday, or even her mother's birthday. How wonderful it would be if your spouse not only remembers these days but also buys gifts, organises celebrations, or springs a surprise like in the movies. But in reality, we know that there are lots of "blur" people around, and we really do not need to argue over whether being blur about spouse's birthday is okay or not.

The point is, if you really want a candlelight dinner with your spouse on your birthday, why don't you just tell him?

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Do not be upset if your spouse does not take a hint. Tell him exactly what you want; unless he is totally disinterested with you, it is likely that you will be able to enjoy what you want with him.

Likewise, state clearly your other needs, thoughts and feelings. While it is desirable that a spouse who does not like to speak his thoughts and feelings should be encouraged to do so, this does not mean that the other spouse should force it. There are times where someone just wants to be silent.

Someone who is troubled often prefers to stay alone for a time before he allows others to enter his world. In aloneness he finds a sense of security and a time for recuperation. He needs that space to lick his wounds, to calm his emotions, to organise his thoughts, and he dislikes being interrupted.

If a spouse tries to engage him by repeatedly asking, "What's the matter with you?", he will see that as an intrusion and nagging and he will be annoyed. If the spouse does not stop, an argument may be provoked. In his disturbed mood, his displeasure may increase and then in an angry or frustrated moment, he may say harsh and hurting words.

For the talkative spouse, it is important to allow periods of silence to your spouse - space and time for him to think through his problem and compose his emotions. Allow that for a few days, if necessary. Then share with him your love and concern for him.

As for the quiet man, he must try to get out of his self-imposed prison as soon as possible. He should not wait too long to disclose his inner feelings and thoughts to his spouse. Otherwise his spouse will feel rejected and unloved. To her, the unwillingness to share is a sure sign of unloving.

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, has received profession training in social work. He is the spiritual director spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend, and to Morning Star Community Services.

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