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Marriage in the Long Run
Non-verbal communication

Many columns dealing with marriage discuss the need for communication. Often, this aspect of a couple's life refers to ways we speak to one another, or the things we should say to get our point across. Although listening is an important part of communication, it often gets overlooked when we discuss our verbal interactions.

When you were in grade school, you probably learned about the "communication model," or the three parts of a conversation. The speaker, the listener and the message are the different aspects needed to communicate. Actually, it's not as simple as that, but it shows us that the listener is just as important as the speaker when you want to interact.

You've probably heard the question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?" Logic tells us that the crashing sound will occur whether there are ears in the area or not, but according to the model you learned in elementary school, the answer would be "no." Sure, that may be improbable, but it makes us think about how communication is incomplete without someone to hear what you are saying.

We all know that good communication is needed to keep a relationship strong. It would be pretty difficult to understand our partner and to feel connected without some kind of interaction. Of course, it is important to make our feelings and our needs known so that our spouse can respond, but it's also important to listen and understand what our partner needs too. If you are married to a truckdriver who doesn't feel comfortable sharing his or her thoughts regarding feelings and desires, then you will have to listen and observe the non-verbal cues more closely. You will have to be especially good at communicating.

You know how frustrating it is when you are trying to talk to someone and he or she isn't really listening. When you can hear your friend unloading the dishwasher or tapping out an e-mail message while you're talking on the phone, you know he or she isn't offering their undivided attention. What kind of message is the person giving you when you know the focus is on something other than what you're saying?

Those of us in long distance relationships are fortunate to have our loved ones all to ourselves when the nightly call comes in. Even if there's noise on the loading dock, he or she is trying to hear what you have to say. It may be only for a few minutes, but you know that the attention is on you for the duration of the call. Your spouse took the time to call you because he or she wants to hear your voice, and to find out if everything at home is okay. Maybe that's one of the ways we learn to cope with the nights alone, because our spouse cared enough to call and to listen. Although we don't have our truckdriver here with us physically, we know that we are being focused on, and that we are important.

Communicating involves more than just telling someone how we feel. It involves listening. You can talk all you want about how you're doing, but if your spouse doesn't want to listen, you might as well save your breath. To effectively communicate, someone needs to be listening, and that task should be considered important enough to make every effort to include it often. Remember the tree in the forest, if you're talking to someone and the words aren't being heard, is it really communication?