Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist who has been in private practice since 1981. He is the creator of multiple books, live presentations, and television and radio shows about marriage and family life. He is the happily married father of 10 adopted children. Here, he gives Catholic Digest his take on love languages and communication skills for dating, engaged, and married couples.
How do the five love languages — words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch — work for better or worse in a relationship?
A love language is nice as long as I attempt to speak in the other person’s language. I get into a rut when I say: “You’re not speaking in my love language.” It leaves behind Christian tolerance and mercy.
Is it possible to speak a foreign love language effectively?
It is. People in marriage counseling hide behind: “That’s not me; that’s not who I am.” That’s an excuse. It’s a way of saying: “I’m not going to change.” What are you saying? Are you saying that you are so selfish that you can’t move beyond your own comfort/desire level? We can all change to some degree. Our Christianity calls us to get beyond what we want for ourselves and at least try to be a little more communicative, affectionate — whatever — to make the other person feel better about the relationship. You are not locked into a particular temperamental style. You may be inclined that way, but you’re not locked into it. It’s not determinate.
Let’s talk about dating or engaged couples. If they see potential problems, how effective is it to talk things out ahead of time? Does it really work?
I always tell couples if they are having trouble during the courting period, the smartest thing to do is delay the marriage. Famous last words: “It’ll change after we’re married.”
But doesn’t every married couple have problems they have to work through anyway?
They do. The question is not: Do you have problems? The question is: What is your willingness to compromise, to tolerate, to show mercy, to yield, to give, to listen? What is your inclination? If somebody comes to me during the engagement period and says, “These are the problems, but she doesn’t want to work on them,” or “He doesn’t want to work on them.” Or: “I’m the only one that my partner thinks is wrong,” you got troubles.
Is it ever all right to have a fight?
It depends on what kind of fight. Really loving, healthy couples — their fights are few and far between and they are quickly over with because the other person strives to see his or her spouse’s point of view. If a fight gets ugly, it typically is no longer about what the issue was. It has now become personal: I’m defending me. You’re attacking me. I’ll attack you back. Who do you think you are? Oh yeah, well, what about you?
What’s the right way to fight?
Be a good counselor. Try to understand what your spouse is saying to you. So the No. 1 thing to do is to really make sure you can say almost as well as your spouse can say it: “This is why he or she is thinking that way. This is why he or she feels the way he or she does.” Now, in your mind you may think it’s all nonsense. But you’ve got to at least be able to say to the other person: “Is this what you think?” I’m amazed at how many people do not try to find out what their spouse thinks.
Probably because the spouse has mentioned it a million times!
Yes and no. The spouse doesn’t get very far because it quickly becomes defensive or deteriorates into an argument or a fight. To be able to truly understand how your spouse thinks, you’ve got to shut up and listen and ask questions and keep probing. That does not happen commonly. In a marriage where it does happen — it’s a pretty good marriage. You don’t have these kind of battles.
Would you say that communication is the most common problem in relationships?
Believe it or not, communication is not the most common problem. Many people are much more able to communicate than they are willing to change. There’s the problem: “I’m not willing to change.”
Even if there’s a lot at stake?
Most marriages fail not because there’s pathology, but because “I don’t like you anymore.”
What happens if you’re up against a brick wall with your spouse? What’s the difference between a healthy acceptance of that situation and enabling or feeling defeated?
People fear that. They think: “If I stop badgering, if I stop nagging, if I stop letting my spouse know over and over how unhappy I am, my spouse will just run with it. He’ll think everything’s fine and that he can do whatever he wants.” It’s exactly the opposite, though. When certain areas of marriage are a source of constant conflict — I mean, we’re talking years here — at some point, one of the spouses has to say: “I’m not going to battle about this anymore. I’m going to realize that’s just the way it is.” In and of itself, eliminating some of the conflict over it will bring a little more peace to the marriage. It will not enable the person. It will not give the person permission to be a jerk. I haven’t seen that happen.
What’s a deal breaker in the courtship stage of the game?
If one person, even in the courtship stage, wants his or her own way, and you notice there are more and more things he or she wants his or her way — that’s only going to get worse if you get married because there are more areas that have to be worked out.
What’s a reasonable expectation to have when you are finding a spouse?
It’s important to know a person’s willingness to give and take. If you’ve got someone who is easy to get along with, willing to give more than take, you’ve got a winner there.
What’s an example of an unreasonable expectation?
I know a lot of females who are very insecure. They expect that whatever the guy does is going to make them feel secure. He doesn’t know half the time what he’s doing wrong. Now, if you say: I expect my spouse to make me feel loved and cared for — OK, that’s fine. But the question always has to be: Am I willing to look at myself and say that my expectations are a bit selfish?
Can you predict if a couple is going to make it?
The biggest single predictor is shared religious beliefs.
Right, because the Catholic faith is not an instant salvation thing. It’s a constant process of change and conversion.
The better Catholic I am, the better spouse I am. But I will tell you that I get people in my office who pride themselves on being very Catholic, and they’re miserable to live with.
Oh, I know. Because everything’s got to be done …
So what’s the No. 1 must-do with your partner — engaged, married, whatever?
I think you must see the world at least somewhat through the same faith eyes. Once you are married and that doesn’t happen, or you have an awakening of your faith and the other person doesn’t, OK that brings separate issues. But prior to that you should ask: How does this person handle the faith? Is it genuine or is he or she play-acting because of me? What’s the other person’s view? What’s his or her history? I get these calls all the time. Somebody says faith is the most important thing in his or her life. “OK, how about your fiancé?” “Ah, it doesn’t mean that much to him.” Or “No, she’s not Catholic.” Well, what do they think is going to happen?
What’s an indicator that things are not going as they should?
The problem is that people get married for many of the wrong reasons: They’re emotionally desperate; they have sex first so they form that physical bond; they think their biological clock is running out; they think they can change the person. So they tolerate all kinds of stuff that makes them uneasy. Don’t settle. You think: Well, this is not what I hoped for in a relationship, but not much else is going to come along. If you’re going to settle, then you better be prepared to settle throughout your marriage.
How can communication help you know if you’ve found a good person or not?
What do other people say about your potential spouse? The No. 1 predictor of whether you’re dating the right person is what your friends think of the person. That’s huge. Friends and parents can see stuff while you’re blinded by emotion. If people are short on compliments about him or her, that would make me nervous. How does the person treat other people? His or her mother? The waitress? Dave Barry has a great line: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.”
It may seem foreign to talk about parenting in a dating article, but it’s good to remember that a romantic relationship isn’t just a kiss and a fade out. It typically leads to a family. Are there any indicators that a date would make a good parent?
If the person you are dating is a good person, the odds are good that he or she will be a good parent. It all comes down to the quality of the human being that you are dating.