Part two of an excellent article on the importance and manner of communication in marriage.
Not to overburden spouses, but the wife with a silent husband (“My husband never talks to me”) would help her marriage if she were willing to share responsibility for the problem. Likewise, the puzzled husband (“My wife won’t tell me what’s wrong”) would help by shouldering responsibility for the problem. If my partner doesn’t trust me to be sensitive to the needs she expresses, we have a roadblock. A response that fails to support and accept our partner’s communication, hinders the flow of communication. Even a well-intended response may cause a roadblock. The standard for communications is “that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29), meaning that it meets their fundamental needs. Our objective, then, is to hear the needs being expressed, accept them, and address them.
To illustrate, here are the bare bones of some statements, the “helpful” responses, the actual translations, and “a more excellent way”:
- She says, “I’m afraid”; he says, “There’s nothing to fear”; she hears, “Don’t tell me how you feel, I don’t have time for such trivia”; more excellent way, “It’s all right to be afraid. Help me to understand what’s upsetting you most.” (validate the communication).
- He says, “I wish you wouldn’t do that”; she says, “I’m sorry”; he hears, “OK, let’s get this over with. Whatever your problem is, can we just forget it?”; more excellent way, “I didn’t realize that would bother you. Help me to understand how that makes you feel, so I won’t upset you again” (extend the communication)
- He says, “I don’t think that will work”; she says, “Sure it will. Be an optimist!”; he hears, “The way you think is dumb. Don’t give me your input; just go along with me”; a more excellent way, “I’ve thought it through pretty carefully, but I could have overlooked some important things. Tell me your misgivings” (explore the communication).
- She says, “I just feel like a failure around the home”; he says, “No, no, you’re great. You do such a good job that, if I could figure how to promote you, I would (answering in the male language)”; she hears, “Your performance (male language) is average to pretty good. Why do you keep saying that?”; a more excellent way, “I know you work hard, and I want you to know that I value that and thank the Lord for the way you make our house a home (answering in the female language)” (understand the communication).
Self-centered defensiveness (the “helpful” response) ignores our spouse’s needs and blocks communications; supportive perceptiveness (the more excellent way) addresses our spouse’s needs and expands communications. To understand our mate enables us to learn how to communicate and to know when our communication is successful. We don’t achieve success in communication by masterfully articulating our message. Communication is successful only when the listening heart has grasped the intended message.
Getting There from Here
The goal for each Christian marriage is to approach as nearly as possible the profound and meaningful intimacy God has purposed for marriage. Through attentiveness and unselfish love, a young couple can cultivate godly skills in communication and move toward that satisfying objective. After a couple is married a few years, some roadblocks may already litter the highway of communications. When both are willing to recognize the roadblocks and accept responsibility for removing them, they will move toward God’s intention. Love for the Lord and His Word will produce that willingness, even if love for our partner has been squelched. For all married couples at every stage of their relationship, maturing as communicators in the language of romance is essential for the relationship to move toward God’s desire for us.
Locating Repair Service
Some couples may need to sit down, look each other in the eye and face the fact that their vehicle is stalled or sputtering miserably. If only one partner thinks there is a problem (is he afraid to appear vulnerable?), it’s time to face reality: we are not moving toward intimacy. Blaming each other is not fair, accurate, or effective. Each needs to shoulder responsibility for his part of the relationship, because both have failed to apply these Biblical principles to their relationship. It doesn’t matter whether one has failed more than the other. Both have a responsibility they are to fulfill and neither has done so. Repentance is necessary, because underlying this failure is spiritual failure, some degree of departure from fellowship with the Lord. Contritely, both must devote themselves to understanding and practicing scriptural principles of communication. Submission to the Lord will unite them in a resolve to move toward the intimacy He in-tends for them. Spiritual restoration to a vibrant fellowship with the Lord Jesus gives spiritual strength to repair the damage and resume the journey together.
If a couple feels they are at an impasse, and cannot see how to recover or if they want help to prevent further damage, God has a care center for them. Each assembly should have shepherds with a caring, sensitive heart. The couple can discuss together which shepherd to approach. Who will best protect their privacy with total confidentiality? Who is perceptive enough to understand? Who is spiritually skilled enough to help? Who cares enough to devote the considerable time and emotional energy needed to bring the matter to a successful conclusion? If, for a variety of reasons, the couple cannot agree to approach some responsible brother in their assembly, surely there is some assembly leader whom they can trust to give them the needed help. The person who married the couple recognizes his responsibility to communicate help before marriage in order to prevent problems. He may well be their “safety net” when problems arise later. Whatever the case, it is a tragedy when a couple waits until the engine is on fire before getting emergency assistance. It would be better to get help too soon (that is not likely possible), rather than too late. At times, caring leaders should take the initiative to help.
The responsibility of the spiritual advisor is three fold. As a listener, he will devote adequate time to objectively evaluate the problem. As a teacher, he will kindly confront each marriage partner with biblical principles to restore and promote marital communication. Most important, as a shepherd, he will nurture spiritual enlargement, finding even the slightest flicker and carefully fanning it into flame. Recovering and developing marital intimacy requires spiritual growth. One other responsibility may fall on the shoulders of this spiritual advisor: when there are deep-seated emotional problems, it may be necessary to help the couple find professional help whose principles are consistent with the assembly’s and with all the Word of God.
Is it Possible?
Learning from God’s Word and cultivating communion with the Lord enable a couple to grow together in marriage. The primary objective is a deeper relationship with Christ, not merely a better marriage. If we define a good marriage in terms of God’s purpose for a deepening intimacy in marriage, and if we define spiritual growth as a deepening intimacy with the Lord Jesus, then a good marriage and spiritual growth are interrelated. Communication problems in marriage indicate the need for spiritual growth on the part of both partners (or the believer when married to an unbeliever). Each ought to contribute to the spiritual enrichment of the other, but ultimately each is responsible before the Lord for his own growth. Spiritual growth will promote a good marriage. The lack of a good marriage is not a reason for a lack of spiritual growth. Instead, it is the result. Accepting this personal responsibility and therefore depending more on the Lord is unsettling, but beneficial. A good marriage will encourage spiritual growth, because through it we gain meaningful insights into our relationship with Christ.
How wonderful to recognize that, by freely giving us His Spirit, our Father enables us to accomplish all that He desires for our marriage! He intends each married believer to enjoy this wonderful intimacy with our present marriage partner. We must not – and need not – settle for less. The journey may have difficulties, yet His Word encourages us. Even those who are “at their wit’s end,” when they “cry unto the Lord in their trouble” will still find that “He bringeth them unto their desired haven” (Psalm 107:27-30).