THE BLOG
04/05/2016 05:51 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2017

Stonewalling Your Spouse

You may have heard the joke that, before getting married, a woman should go pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Why? To train herself to talk to a wall.

Why is this joke funny? All jokes carry a kernel of truth or they would not be funny. Jokes exaggerate reality and, in doing so, touch a nerve. They may embarrass us, or at least make us chuckle. What is the truth in this joke? Men stonewall their wives.

I wonder why. When have I asked men who have been married for over 50 years what is their secret to such a long marriage, the answer has always been, "I do not listen to everything she says."

Of course, this does not only apply to men. Women have told me the same: "I ignore him a lot of the time. I do not take him seriously."

What is going on?

A marriage is a complementary combination of styles. We have all heard the expression "opposites attract." Since we are different from each other, there is a tendency for both men and women to try to change, teach, correct, or improve their spouse. We try to make the other person live up to our expectations of how they should behave, speak, eat, dress, or whatever.

So we bug each other a lot.

If we take to heart these endless attempts by our spouse to make us change, it would lead to such a level of frustration that we might end up divorced. In order to survive, then, many couples just let this endless barrage of criticism pass in one ear and out the other, without pausing to listen to it. So being selectively "deaf," as a choice, functionally helps us remain married.

It sounds pretty defeatist that the way to remain married is to ignore each other -- if not all the time, at least enough to survive the attempts to ameliorate our differences in style by correcting each other.

Is there another way to achieve the same goal?

Yes, there is: Mutual Trust and Respect.

That means that we accept each other as we are. We give constructive feedback that can help the other person grow, but do it without criticism, without trying to control the behavior of the other person.

Live and let live. Let each person take responsibility for his or her behavior. Each person should do his best to improve himself, not the other.

This alternative is the tougher path. Changing ourselves is enormously difficult. It looks so much easier to change someone else.

Just thinking.