At times I receive mail or personal inquiries at our conferences to the effect: "We don't fit your description of husband and wife. She is the one who stonewalls, and he is the one who 'lets it all hang out.'”
My answer is that cultural and personal applications can vary. I use general examples that apply to the majority, but that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you if you fall into the minority. We are all uniquely different.
My parents were a good example. My father would come at my mother ranting and raving in anger - confronting her because he wanted to communicate. She simply shut down and withdrew. Then he would withdraw also, and there would be icy silence for many hours and sometimes days.
Both my parents wanted to connect with each other, but they could not out of ignorance or fear. Mom longed to connect with Dad (as every woman wants to connect with her husband), but she would pull back because she feared his anger. And Dad wanted to connect with Mom, but his feelings of being disrespected (she was the key breadwinner for many years) kept him in a state of frustration and anger. At the deepest core, however, my mother still was seeking love and my father was seeking respect.
We get other inquiries regarding "exceptions." For example, a woman wrote to tell me that in certain aspects of personality her husband was more "pink" than "blue" and she was more "blue" than "pink." She was reared in a home dominated by her father's values: education, intelligence, strength, pride, and lack of emotions. She wrote: "Subsequently, as I became a woman, I thought that to be loved (the kind of love that would touch the core of my being), I had to seek recognition for all the things that came naturally to 'blue' instead of to 'pink.'" On the other hand, her husband was raised in a very warm, nurturing environment, full of unconditional love. "So naturally," she continued, "[he] grew up with a HIGH regard for those very 'pink' tendencies that made him feel so complete and unconditionally loved."
In short, this wife focused on "respect" in order to get love. Her husband focused on "love" in order to get respect. Until I helped them unpack their puzzle, she thought respect was her deepest value and he thought love was his deepest value. In truth, he was doing "the pink thing" to get respect, and she was doing "the blue thing" to be loved.
The constants are this: during conflict, awoman’s deepest need is to feel loved and a husband’s deepest need is to feelrespected. The variables are how each individual reacts and responds to conflict, out of their temperament or their past learned behavior. The key to effective marital communication is to learn how to unpack your unique puzzle! More on that next time!