Estimated reading time 7 mins.
I talk a lot. Ask anyone who knows me. I just now asked my wife, and she almost choked laughing and said, “Yeeees. In the all-time stupidest questions, that one is second.” (I didn’t inquire as to the first.) During a recent discussion of a hypothetical son and some aspects of how we would raise him, she at one point stared ahead into space and said, “Oh, god. I’d have two Boulton boys talking at me all day.”
But she has also added very recently, kidding aside, that she is actually very grateful for my disposition, no matter how tedious it may get. Reading some posts on social media of some women complaining of their husbands, she was bewildered at what she considered the impossibility of such impasses in her own life (not to mention her incredulity that anyone would share these grievances publicly). And these types of posts are typical, as we’ve seen over the years, and these issues are the themes of talk shows, TV dramas, and countless conversations among women in coffee shops and pubs across Korea and the world.
Now, this article is not about bashing Korean men, men in general, or to admonish anyone in any way. Nor is it about boasting of my happy marriage and portraying myself as a model husband or relationship expert. As with everything, it’s about grasping something important which, if I can understand clearly, hold onto, and apply deliberately in my life, can lead to a better, happier life.
A rambling step toward a clearer conception of what I’ve been trying to get hold of was made talking to a friend recently: “I just constantly talk about what I like, what I don’t like, what I’m excited about, why I’m excited about it, what I’ve been stressing over, what I fear, what I’m looking forward to, the things I’m working on, the progress I’m making…I just share everything with her…and then I get what I want.” And while I laughed a bit at how I put that last, I realize that implicit in that expression was the whole thing I’d been trying to make explicit.
Don’t wait for a crisis
In my experience over years of acquaintances talking to my wife or me of their relationships, or with the women who post grievances on social media, there is a common frustration at their partners’ lack of understanding of them or their insensitivity to their needs. The obvious answer—and advice dispensed from gossip columnists to therapists alike—is to “communicate more.” I recently saw an elderly man in a documentary, in discussing his second marriage, refer passingly to his first marriage in terms he seemed to think were sufficiently explanatory: “You know, the communication just died out.”
And I do think, properly understood, it is sufficient. I agree with the columnists and the experts. Communication is key to any successful relationship among people. But while many people do understand this is true and rightfully advise “better communication,” they are often unclear about the nature and quality of the communication to which they refer.
And even in this, I’m not making any revelation. This is why counselors exist, to help people communicate more effectively. What I’m making sure I isolate and highlight in my own mind, and what I offer to anyone who cares to take it, is that communication must be constant and—speaking for intimate relationships—nearly all-inclusive in terms of values.
A good counselor can help a couple talk through a difficult problem or communicate more clearly what each wants—after the fact. But the key is to make sharing your values a part of your life, unprompted by a crisis or dispute. Indeed, it is this policy which—insofar as I’ve enacted it consciously or otherwise—has resulted in very few impasses or prolonged arguments or fights for my wife and me, and fewer as we grow older.
Merging of values
We both realize more glaringly that it is this sharing of our thoughts on most things which has led to a merging of our values, and which subsequently has us on an ever more aligned life path. And where our specific interests differ, there is nonetheless no clash, as each’s are understood clearly and respected accordingly. For instance, I talk all about my baseball team and games (and soccer when I played that for years), describing what I did well, where I want to be better, the guy I hated on the other team, why I love the game and am so happy to be playing. I talk about hockey—my greatest love in sports, of my playing days, my favorite teams, the players, specific games, everything.
And while she even watches games sometimes and likes hockey generally, it is not a passion with her. Nor are many other things I’m passionate about. But she understands my passion, and when it’s time to pay up for my baseball, buy some new gear, pay for viewing packages, focus my attention on a game, consume most of a Sunday to go play which might have been ours, and countless other things which might easily earn a man grief ranging from nagging to malice, I instead receive enthusiastic support and even a sense that my wife is happy for me.
Compare this now a man who never talks of why he loves certain activities. He goes out to play ball on Sunday with defiant reserve while she sees him out the door with resentment. And when he sits down to watch a football game, his wife thinks with some bitterness, “Why does he spend so much time watching this stuff?” while he grumbles irritably in his own mind, “Why does she want to make me feel guilty about watching the game?” Her need to be visible and appreciated is frustrated, and his need to assert himself in friendly competition and to experience the heroic in pro sports is frustrated (or at least to peaceably do so).
This is a recognizable scenario, and with identical instances building up on both sides over time, it is an unbearable state, and with many wives complaining to sympathetic friends as their only outlet, others take to social media. In good cases, the couples will seek a counselor to help them communicate their respective frustrations.
Of course, the examples extend way beyond enjoying activities which might exclude one’s partner. But whether this, or something more serious, none of anyone’s needs and desires need ever be frustrated, and none of these breakdowns need ever occur. By constantly sharing almost everything I think about almost everything with my wife, she understands the depths of what I’m all about. There is no “Why does he…? Why doesn’t he…?” She knows what makes me tick—and she approves. And where she doesn’t approve, I don’t always have to learn it the hard way. By talking extensively about everything that goes on around us and in our lives, I learn all about her as well.
Never let it die out
And as we discuss our ideas about almost everything (there can be as much to learn in discussing the mundane as there is in discussing deep issues), we discard and adopt common values, aligning us ever more. We are a team now in pursuing these values, and rather than being frustrated, we are each even more empowered to achieve them. Indeed, by having a life partner who knows what I like and dislike, what I think is funny and not, what kind of home I like to live in, what I think of this or that person we met or saw on TV, what makes a good holiday, what I’m working on, what I’m excited about, what I’m good at and not, what goals I have and who then shares those goals–nearly everything about me, I much more easily get what I want.
I can check myself on when it’s time to shut up. But I will never curb sharing myself with the one closest to me. To the extent one wants to achieve a common goal with any person or group, one ought to communicate the goal clearly and constantly communicate the ways one thinks is best to achieve it. But close friendships, and then more, a meaningful romantic relationship, such as would last your lifetime, is an exclusive affair. To love someone means that you care about what they value and want to help them satisfy their deepest needs.
And while my wife can make fun of me freely and express annoyance about my effusiveness, she no less gets that it’s this extensive sharing—exclusive to her—which keeps us growing closer and happier as we go along. It is evident to me that communicating my values often and in depth has been the key to their fulfillment, as it is reciprocally true. I am here noting this lesson with great cognizance as to be sure to never let the communication die out.