Communication is Wonderful if it Ever Takes Place, "Communication in Marriage". Part 1
By Norman & Ann Bales Of All About Families
A friend of ours likes to say, "Communication is wonderful if it ever takes place." The way he says it, we get the impression he thinks it rarely ever does. Anyone who has been married for any length of time can tell humorous stories about communication failure, yet the fact remains that we must learn how to communicate effectively if we expect to have satisfactory marriage relationships.
It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of communication. Every time we present classes on marriage, or we present a seminar, our own marriage communication improves. The discipline of preparing these weekly newsletters probably benefits our own marriage more than it does our readers. There's a very simple explanation. We cannot jointly produce this material without communicating.
When we had marriage problems of our own, we went to a counselor who liked to use object lessons. One day he gave us "the parable of the drinking straw." He said, "I want you to imagine this drinking straw is a huge sewer pipe and it's clogged up. Things are never going to be right until you attack it with an auger. Your marriage is messed up because communication is not flowing through your pipe. He gave each of us a drinking straw and asked us to tape it to the mirror in our bathroom as a reminder to keep communication open.
SOME REASONS FOR COMMUNICATION DIFFICULTY
At its core, communication requires a sender, a message and a receiver. It sounds like a simple process. I want to tell you something. I say it. You hear it and that's all there is to it. The communication task has been completed. We all know that it doesn't work that way. Many factors prevent communication from taking place. Some of these include:
- Inability to receive the message (the sender mumbles; the receiver has trouble hearing, etc.)
- Failure to understand the message.
- Different perceptions concerning the meaning of the message.
- Poor timing.
- Competing messages.
- Cultural differences between the sender and the receiver.
- Confused verbalization of the message.
- Emotional mind reading.
- One partner assumes, "if you really cared you would know how I feel without asking."
- Non-verbal signals that conflict with verbal messages.
- Threats and ultimatums.
- Actions that betray words.
ONLY GOOD LISTENERS CAN EXPECT COMMUNICATION TO TAKE PLACE
How many of us like to talk? How many of us like to listen? We both like to talk, but listening? W-e-l-l-l, that's another thing. Williams James once said that "There is no greater lie than a truth misunderstood." How can we tell if we are listening to each other? By being able to repeat what the other person said in a way that says we really know and understand what you said to me. If you can do that, then you are really listening.
In Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts Doctors Les and Leslie Parrott tell us that "Communication is the lifeblood of marriage." If this is true, then one of the most important skills we should learn is " how to talk so our partners will listen and how to listen so our partners will talk.
Scripture underscores the need for listen in James 1:19. "My dear brothers take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." Many years ago, some wise older person handed down this advice to us. "God gave you one mouth and two ears. You ought to devote twice as much time to listening as you do to talking." We still haven't learned the lesson, but we're working on it.
WHAT WE SAY IS ALSO IMPORTANT
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul wrote, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." We work hard at being tactful with the public, but it's easy to let your guard down when you're talking with your spouse. Have you ever found yourself in the midst of an angry dialogue with your spouse when you're not being very careful about the way you choose your words? You make all sorts of charges and accusations. You over generalize. You accuse your spouse of sinister motives. You call your partner some uncomplimentary names and then the telephone rings. You pick up the receiver and when you hear the voice on the other end of the line you say something like, "Well, how in the world are you? It's so nice to hear your voice. How are we doing? Oh things couldn't be better?" Of course your spouse is doing a slow burn while all this takes place. Have you been there and done that? So have many of the rest of us.
Real communication takes place when we value the person to whom we are speaking and when we articulate our message in respectful tones. Here are some suggestions that will help you implement Ephesians 4:29.
- Find reasons to praise your spouse before giving your well thought out suggestions for improvement.
- Practice the golden rule with your partner. It really does apply to husbands and wives.
- Invest in some good books on marriage communication like The Language of Love by Smalley and Trent or The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
- Find one new thing to praise your spouse for every day.
- Make a list of the things you like about one another and exchange lists.
- Refuse to get in a shouting match when you disagree. According to Proverbs 15:1 "A gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger."
If you express anger, couch it in terms of confession. Say something like, "I've got to confess I'm having problems dealing with this situation." It goes down a lot better than an accusation and besides you're admitting the possibility that you could be part of the problem. After all James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
During the early years of our marriage, Norman always bought carnations for Ann on those occasions when flowers seemed to be an appropriate gift. Ann always thanked him, because he was thoughtful enough to bring flowers. However, she dislikes carnations. She associates them with death. Many times she tried to say how much she likes yellow roses and orchids. Norman didn't hear those statements. (Actually he heard them, but yellow roses and orchids were more expensive than carnations). Two communication mistakes were made. Ann didn't clearly verbalize her dislike of carnations, but Norman didn't receive her communication about her preferences. We wish we could say that we have mastered the art of communication. We haven't, but Ann sometimes gets yellow roses and orchids these days. She never gets carnations.
For the next article in the series click here