Tuesday, January 13, 2009


At the meeting last night a lady shared about how little communication there is with her husband. She said that since he got sober, he didn't talk. She said that talking about their children, their finances, and his sobriety were off limits.

Probably the saddest part that she related was that in going out for dinner at a restaurant, they would sit in silence with the only words spoken being those of the server. They've been married 42 years.

Sadly, I've watched people in restaurants where there was no communication. They sit and eat their meal without even glancing at each other. Or worse, they exchange a look of boredom or anger.

I know that scenario well. During the early days of my wife's sobriety, there wasn't much to say. We were both so angry that communication had a hard edge to it, if there was much to say at all.

My way of communicating with the alcoholic was a pattern that lingered on past its usefulness. Before I learned how to take care of myself, I would either keep quiet, or agree to something just to avoid conflict. And sometimes I would actually try to pick a fight when the resentment boiled over.

What I've since come to understand is that communication depends not so much by what I say but how I say it. The tone of my voice and my facial expression can either open up or slam the door. It's easy to communicate anger without taking responsibility for it. What's hard is to say how I feel with courtesy.

It's helpful that I have a program in which I've learned better ways to communicate what I need. I've learned to not force communication with someone but to listen and appreciate silence. The question of "when will she open up?" has been replaced with
"Why do I so desperately need her to?" My happiness isn't based on another so I've learned that not every silence means lack of love or unhappiness.

In order to have communication, I have to allow those that I love to take their time. Maybe all I need to do is reach out my hand or say a simple "I love you." And sometimes I can just be still.


  1. What an awesome post! I want to be understood so badly, I'm "in your Face", talking, talking, talking. If I would learn to shut up, people might feel understood and then, so would I. Thanks Syd. jeNN

  2. Took me a lot of hours in Al-Anon, to be able to grasp the idea, that when I'm communicating my feelings with heat and resentment, I'm the one who has reached out and slammed the door shut!

  3. Great post. Good communication is key in every part of my life. I find a lot of problems can be avoided if I've communicated things properly. Unfortunately most of us have to learn to communicate properly. Part of that is "saying what you mean, and meaning what you say."

  4. I love what you said about thinking about our non-verbals - and then taking responsibility for it.

  5. I believe agreeing to something, and then acting mad about it is passive agressive. I did that a lot, still catch myself doing it. Every time I choose not to act that way now I reinforce better

  6. I always play what I call THE GAME when I go to restaurants. I ask my 'date' to tell me the stories of the other couples dining out.

    You could tell just by the way the dress about some things. But mainly the BODY LANGUAGE of who they are to each other; about how long they might be married; and how they felt at ease with each other or NOT. (awkward; content; slightly embarrassed about who they are with; affectionate; kind to each other ) lol.

    Actually whatever the date is saying I'm already feeling the same way about the people we are studying. (sociology study)...some really look like they enjoy each other even if dining silently; just a nature serenity flowing between them. (other look like they just are stuck with each other and resigned to it with their quietness).

    I love asking the men I date to Play this Game... they all agree to it.. and really it is interesting. (and I learn how sensitive they are to picking up other people facial expressions and body language.).

    I never participate ... I just listen..

    I wonder how I look when I'm out dining; what other people are saying about me and whoever I'm dating at the moment.

    Some dates are really CREATIVE.. they tell me what the 'man' does for a living; his income; etc.. how he feels about himself at whatever stage of life he is in.

    Once a 'date' told me the story about a 'waiter'.. and then he converse with the 'waiter' and he had about 99% of it accurate. (how long to the the EXACT year he's been in America; that he was still single; no children; exactly what country he came from and region of that country.. ..

    People watching is fun; because it makes you realize that you yourself really are an OPEN BOOK by the way you carry yourself too. (you just don't have a mirror of yourself).

    I looked at pictures of my face at different times of my life.. could tell when I was happy and when I was not. (the smile did not reach the eyes). :)

    You are right it is SAD when couples don't talk.. and their body language too. I want to wind up with a man that I'll be content with when I'm 56; 66; 76.. :)

  7. This post really hit home for me. My husband and I can drive for a couple hours in the car together and only say a couple of things to each other. I try to start a conversation, about anything at all, and it's slammed shut. I get anygry and think I can play that game too so we continue driving with no words. It's lonely. Maybe I do base my happiness on him and our relationship yet I think I'd just like to talk about the day with someone. He knows it bothers me - he threw it in my face during his last binge...said he doesn't talk to me about things because I really don't care. But I do. I don't know how to explain that...
    Like you conveyed in your post, it's lonely and it hurts.

  8. amazing! you are lovely. and ouch! that hit home!! thanks I love knowing what it was really like... change grow change grow.. i still find talking hard!

  9. My life these days keeps my husband and I away from one another much of the time. I am sometimes grateful about that and then sometimes not...

    His program is 5-6 nights of AA a week - most start at 7 PM and run an hour him getting home around 9 PM - I sleep at 9 PM - wake at 4:50 AM - so there is not much spare time for disagreeing and honestly lately - just taking care of business seems like enough.

  10. Hi Syd,

    Glad you are feeling better. This post reminds me of something I heard early in my recovery - - - 'communication is the first thing that goes, and the last thing that returns.' And, this was sadly true for me; I was the typical Al-Anon wife (the screamer and controller) - - - while my poor hubby just drank too much and went to bed. After about 2 years of sobriety with him in AA, my sponsor suggested I need to start the communication. I was told to hold his hand for once thing. And then, at night, before sleep, I was told I needed to thank him for choosing not to take a drink this day. I knew he would be furious, so I timidly made this statement to him. He looked at me quietly for a few seconds, then cried, saying that he did not think I cared! This was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with my now sober husband! It was wonderful.

    I, too, find hand-holding very special and intimate!

    Hugs to you,
    Anonymous #1

  11. Bravo Syd, good post. I have followed your blog for awhile while also reading Joe's blog.

    During the early days of my husband's sobriety we couldn't talk at all. It was very lonely. I just tried hard to be grateful for his sobriety. Slowly he has started to come around to being more conversational, but some topics are still too delicate to discuss. And sometimes he just doesn't feel like talking, and that is okay with me. But you hit the nail on the head about tone of voice, facial expression, and courtesy. Once we stopped dancing our dance pattern of drinking, anger, provoking more drinking, provoking more anger... we needed to replace all that with more appropriate behavior. But old habits do not go away without conscious effort to develop new and better habits. Tone of voice, facial expressions and courtesy are the ones we are currently working on. So thank you for the timely reminder.


  12. Great post! Nicely put.
    It hit upon the subtleties Of the spoken word, and the even more powerful resonance of saying nothing. There is so much communicated in between words and around words. People place too much emphasis on the words themselves. It is the space around them that gives them the weight.

    One thing that I've noticed listening to monks and nuns, is that they use the same words and sentences that I've heard 100 times before. But the WAY they say them, hits home and carries a uniquely powerful message because of the people they ? ARE, and the things they have learned about themselves and about life. So yes the person communicates themselves very forcefully behind the words. So it was nice to be reminded of this in your post.

  13. Thought I "communicated" here earlier, but in case not: My wife might have a different story to tell, but I believe we talk quite freely with each other. We DO observe when 'out' how some people look like they would rather be in hell than sirring next to "you-know-who".

    Often I feel so sorry for the wife, because certain movements, even of the eyes, lead me to believe she is the one left out of the whole business of life.

  14. Syd...You have NO idea how much I needed this post today. Thank you! It's especially helpful for us to realize that silence does not necessarily mean there's a problem and for some, just having someone there even in silence is a true blessing! And..to know that just a touch of the hand, or a simple "I love you!" can mean so much! Bless you my friend! Lisa

  15. Great post Syd! I love the last couple paragraphs in particular. My husband and I have always had a Mars/Venus kind of relationship. Since Alanon I have learned to accept what he is able to offer and let that be enough. Just learning to "be" is pretty freeing for the both of us.

    We just celebrated 24 years yesterday and we had dinner out. I wonder what we looked like....there was no silence until the food came. :o)

  16. Wow, that is so true. For my ex and myself it is too late. The communication was so horrible that we never made it, and he still drinks. But now I am in a new relationship and I am learning to take him as he is, to be patient, and to listen. It's hard to let old ghosts fade, but I am working on it every day. Thanks for your thoughts.

  17. I never knew how to communicate before I came into the program. I have a lot of friends in recovery whose relationships are like what you described. I am grateful for the honest communication between Wes and I and I don't yell at him either, I used to yell all the time, I thought that was what was meant by communicating that's all we did growing up. I didn't know you weren't supposed to yell, funny the things our family teach us?

  18. yes, like johno..ouch...it did hit home but I must say it is better now..better than when I was drinking and better than early sobriety. I think the key for me has been listening.


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