It is my belief that the #1 reason marriages—or all types of close personal relationships—fail, is because the two people in that relationship fundamentally don’t understand how to accurately interpret the words and actions of one another.
Like, a person says words. Or a person performs an action. And then the other person listening to or observing those words and actions has an involuntary emotional reaction consistent with literally hearing or seeing something entirely different.
Right? You’ve been in that fight, yes? Where you say something that seems totally sane and logical to you, but the other person looks at you like you’re from another planet?
Doesn’t it make sense that two people who can never explain or understand what the eff the other is doing would struggle to maintain a trusting, secure relationship that lasts forever? Crazy scares us. So when we think the people we love are crazy, bad things tend to happen.
I believe that if we could—with 100% accuracy—interpret others’ words and actions as THEY intend them, or simply understand WHY someone is doing something a certain way (is that guy driving like a maniac because he’s an inconsiderate asshole, or is he driving like a maniac because he’s rushing his critically ill child to the hospital?) that our relationships can thrive because misunderstandings would no longer cause the buildup of pain and injury commonly found in marriages or long-term romantic relationships.
That’s not a small thing.
[NOTE: If you’re sort of doing the lazy skim-reading thing, please just scroll to the bottom of this article and take the free personality test from 16Personalities, and then have your partner do the same. Read about your respective personality types, because by having context and understanding for why you both do the things you do, healing can take place, and love can blossom.]
I think people—generally—are terrible at having uncomfortable conversations. I think people typically avoid them, and frequently lack the courage to tell the whole truth once they find themselves in the middle of one.
And in the absence of the whole truth, our brains are left to GUESS what the words and actions of another person actually mean.
Often, when we are responding emotionally to things other people do and say (or don’t do or say), we’re getting sad, angry, anxious, or afraid over things entirely made up in our own heads. But it seems real enough to us as it’s happening, and our bodies respond emotionally on auto-pilot, and then we get all mixed-up inside, and the other person gets all mixed-up inside, and then—even though we really want to help one another feel better, and we genuinely care about them—we sort of fumble around in the dark breaking more stuff and causing even more damage.
There’s the school of thought that Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and I bought into it for a long time, because it was a story that made sense to me. Men do things The Man Way, and Women do things The Woman Way, and it’s the inability to accurately translate those two languages that causes men and women to have the common relationship breakdowns all of us are familiar with.
But I think I see it more clearly now.
And I think for many people struggling to connect with their partners (or anyone, really)—seeing it more clearly can change everything for the better within their relationships and homes.
When You Accurately Interpret the Words and Actions of Your Spouse, They Start to Make Sense, and Then Everyone Hurts Less
When our wife isn’t showing interest in us physically, it hurts our feelings, and we wonder whether she thinks we’re ugly, or bad at sex, or wishes she was sleeping with some other guy—or actually doing it. Maybe our insecurities are triggered because of it. And since we’re starting to see that our sexual advances aren’t wanted, we learn that Trying to Have Sex with Wife = Unsuccessful.
I hate failure. Sometimes, when things are really hard, and I fail every time I try, I simply stop trying. Maybe other people are that way, too.
So now, a marriage with infrequent sexual intimacy just got worse, because the husband withdrew even further, believing sincerely that’s what his wife actually wants.
When husbands aren’t showing interest in their wives sexually, wives sometimes feel hurt feelings, and they report feeling concerned that their husbands think they’re ugly, or bad at sex, or that they wish they were sleeping with some other woman—or are actually doing it.
But in reality, the husbands withdrew out of respect for what they honestly interpreted their wives’ behavior to indicate.
And in reality, ALL the wife wants is to be reconnected with her husband again the way they were early in their dating relationship and early parts of their marriage. She WANTS him. A lot.
But maybe there are fears and trust issues and insecurities today that didn’t exist back when they were dating. Maybe there is mental and physical exhaustion from working 40+ hour weeks and/or chasing children around, or managing the family and social calendars of three or four or five people.
The bottom line is that both the husbands and wives who love one another WANT to connect in the bedroom. But both want to feel wanted by the other, and often do NOT feel that way—but often for reasons totally different than what their brains incorrectly guess might be the reasons.
We cannot connect with people, we cannot solve problems, we cannot do anything well in this world when we don’t understand the context for why it matters, the rules of the game, the appropriate boundaries, the potential hazards, etc.
And the scary truth is that most of us go through life finding ourselves in and out of relationships—romantic or otherwise—where we never really had all of the information we needed to navigate the relationship effectively or successfully.
Terrifyingly, millions of people enter and try to live within marriages under those same nearly impossible conditions.
This is why 7 out of 10 marriages end or involve two people who truly wish they weren’t married anymore, according to psychologist and author Ty Tashiro.
But, What if You COULD Understand Them?
Personality profiles are not precise, indisputable gospel truths.
While there are 16 “categories” of personality types according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator based on the psychology work of famed psychiatrist and father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, even people within the same personality type can exhibit clear differences.
For example, someone with a certain personality type raised as a strict Baptist in the southern United States is likely to showcase obvious differences from someone with that same personality type, but raised as a Buddhist in the Himalayan mountains in northern Bhutan.
It’s foolish to say “An INTJ ALWAYS does THIS” or “An ESTP ALWAYS does THAT” much like it’s foolish to pigeon-hole all men and all women into the same buckets.
If our spouse prefers to do things a certain way—and it’s annoyed us for years—but then we learn that there’s this super-rational and important reason why they do it that way…
Might it help us better understand them? And when we get onboard with their way of doing things because we finally understand the WHY behind their methods, and what that might mean for their mental and emotional health? Might that foster connection? Might that bring us closer together?
I think it’s a CERTAINTY that it would. If both people bought in.
That doesn’t mean people in bad marriages will suddenly have good marriages. It means that two people who can accurately interpret the words and actions of their partner (rather than thinking that they’re bat-shit crazy and/or out to hurt them intentionally) are infinitely more likely to have successful, peaceful romantic relationships than people who do not.
Which Type of Person Are You?
Last week, I officially launched a relationship coaching and divorce recovery support business. I want to help people who ask for it, have the same experiences I’ve had—figuring out how to make sense of my broken and failed marriage, and recovering from an emotionally excruciating divorce with hope and confidence.
And for clients who are in active romantic (but potentially struggling) relationships, we’re going to introduce personality testing to our conversations and coaching work—because these tests help us get to know ourselves more deeply, but even more importantly, they can be effective translators between two people who struggle to understand one another.
What if that was the difference between a peaceful marriage or a painful divorce? The simple ability to KNOW what the other person means or is trying to do.
Maybe learning about yourself and learning about your partner can help bridge the communication-and-understanding gap between you.
I certainly hope you’ll try.
They’re worth it. And so are you.
(And then ask your partner to do the same. Let’s call it a holiday gift to yourself and each other.)
The entire world changes when we understand things we had never even thought to ask.
‘Tis the season for such things.