Some people are like a walled-off garden. There is something beautiful inside them, but for some reason the beauty has been locked away….hidden behind a seemingly insurmountable wall. Let’s call these non-communicators “porcupines.”
Porcupines don’t want to interact with other animals. They just want to be left alone. If you watch a curious young dog attempting to play with a porcupine, everything will be okay as long as the dog and porcupine maintain a discreet distance. But when the playful dog gets too close, he pays a high price. Without warning, the porcupine will embed sharp quills into the tender tissues of the dog’s nose and face.
Many marriages are sabotaged by the porcupine factor—say Robert and Rosemary Barnes in the book We Need To Talk (Zondervan). They say that for whatever reasons, one spouse has learned to keep the other at a distance—away from deep personal conversation. If the more communicative spouse enters the porcupine spouse’s “personal space,” the quills come out. After getting jabbed enough times with these spear-like objects, the more communicative spouse might decide that it’s senseless to continue going through all that rejection and pain. He or she may then give up trying to communicate on a deeper level simply out of self-preservation.
The problem with planting thorny hedges around the walls of communication is that things can become emotional—or explosive—at the mere hint of conflict or disagreement. If we don’t talk about a problem, we need not admit that there are things in our lives that need work. The best way to avoid talking about a problem is to make discussing it so unpleasant that no one would dare broach the subject with us.
If one spouse says or does something that causes conflict, there are essentially just two ways to respond. One is to ask for information. “Obviously I have done something that upset you. What can I do to remedy this situation? Teach me to be a better spouse.” The other possible response is to build a wall.
Some people construct walls to avoid having to deal with their feelings of inadequacy. Rather than trying to work things through, some individuals decide that they would rather not admit they feel inadequate about anything.
A porcupine’s response may be to attack when threatened. When not dealt with properly, however, anger can become a raging bull that can gore the ones you love the most. Angry explosions can become more and more volatile…until they begin to occur without much provocation.
Learn to anticipate when your porcupine spouse is about to start aiming sarcastic barbs to derail a conversation, says Barnes. See them for what they are—not necessarily shots at you, but a method of avoiding in-depth communication. What are some of the more difficult topics of conversation for you and your mate? What do you do to escalate an argument when your porcupine begins to reveal his or her quills? Is there a good time or place to hold discussions that would make your porcupine spouse feel less threatened? Do you need to offer lots of reassurance during the discussion? Ask him/her these questions.
What’s at stake when working through communication problems with a porcupine spouse? The marriage.