Our insecurity, as suggested in previous articles, is the greatest barrier to communication. But insecurity does not always come labeled as such. It may take the form of an argumentative spirit, a defensive attitude, an unwillingness to confront problems directly, a bullying attitude. Or it may look the opposite: a readiness to immediately compromise, to conciliate, or to minimize every problem. Insecurity is, after all, a result of a self-centered and fallen nature.
Some of the hindrances to effective communication in every sphere include
These can take the form of foreign languages, fighting languages, and false languages. The foreign language problem is not one of country but of gender and background. Words can carry a totally different connotation depending on the person speaking them and the one who is the recipient.
The “let’s talk” means two entirely different things to the majority of men and women. To a man, communication implies analytic reasoning and conclusion. Emotion, feelings, and intuitiveness have little to do with the process. Pilate had determined that political expediency required that he distance himself in some way from the verdict of the alleged criminal whom he faced. Yet it demanded as well that he conciliate the Jewish leaders. He analyzed the situation and knew the right course of action. His wife, on the other hand, knew the facts as well as Pilate, but she was emotionally distraught by it all and warned him to avoid the issue totally (Matt 27:19).
A couple needs to clarify the meaning of words so that expectations are not frustrated.
But listening problems are perhaps one of the biggest barriers we create. James reminds us of the need to listen (Ja 1:19). Solomon also offers his wisdom concerning the need for active listening. There is the danger of assuming you know what the person is saying and putting your mind on auto-pilot. At times, as well, we can listen intently to find a weakness or inconsistency in what another is saying so that when our time comes we have ammunition. Little wonder, that so often in the parables and then again in Revelation 2 and 3, the injunction appears, “He that hath ears to hear.”
In marriage, listening should not be a problem. Mutual respect, a desire to honor a spouse, a Biblically-inspired goal of blessing another, and the practical demands of moving together for the Lord should all combine to promote active, attentive listening.
There are, however, practical issues which can limit the effectiveness of communication. Important things, not the mundane and routine, need to be said at the right time. The Perfect Servant knew how to speak, what to say, and the “season” in which to say it (Isa 50:4). Solomon again reminds us that a word “fitly spoken” is of great value. Choosing the right time to discuss important matters is vital.
Knowing how to communicate is valuable as well. Thinking of the best way to say something may take time, but can avoid an instantaneous defensive response which may be difficult to overcome. James reminds us in his epistle of the power of the tongue.
Other obvious matters include when and where to take up matters of importance. Privacy, sensitivity to another’s emotional state, and a host of other parameters need to be considered.
How can a couple improve communication? Are there actually any Biblical guidelines for such a practical and day-to-day issue?
Learning Communication Skills
Perhaps one of the most insightful examples of skillful communication can be found in Luke 24. I use this with great hesitation as there is a fear that by becoming “clinical” in using the Emmaus road story, I am demeaning its rich and heart-warming spiritual value. Yet, if the premise of all these articles is valid, that there really is not a division between the principles which control the secular and spiritual activities of believers, then the fear is not justified.
On the road, the Lord drew near and went with them. He did not immediately begin talking but obviously must have listened for a short time (Luke 24:13-17). He then asked meaningful questions and drew them out. He allowed them to talk. Even though He did “know it all,” He did not give premature advice or counsel. He knew they needed to talk out their grief.
His questions probed deeper and allowed them to extend their conversation (vv 17, 19). He did not cut them short or belittle their concerns.
Once they had communicated all that was on their hearts, He then opened to them the Scriptures. Notice that He used: reflecting, clarifying, exploring, summarizing. All of this made them aware of His interest and understanding. Above all, He was willing to listen and take their concerns seriously.
One of the greatest barriers to effective communication within a marriage is anger. Solomon mentions anger 13 times in his proverbs. All are worthy of study. Anger can be a problem for both a man and a woman: “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.” (Prov 21:19). And, “An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.”
Anger is one of the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21). It is not something for which a person can excuse himself because it is part of his makeup. It is part of his sinful makeup and needs to be confessed and put in the place of death by the help of the Spirit of God. Anger is a desperate attempt to control a situation by intimidation. It denies the value of another and confidence in God to vindicate and to control. When anger has hindered spousal communication, there must be confession before God and the spouse, and dependence on God for change.