Communication is the Key!
I am a Speech-language Pathologist. I have a Bachelor’s of Science and a Master’s of Science in Communication Science Disorders. I graduated at the top of my class. I was honored with local and national awards. I have spent my career in rehab hospitals and in private practice assisting patients, who have had a stroke or a brain injury, relearn how to talk. I'm good at my job. So by all accounts, I am a communication specialist. So I'm sure it came as a big surprise to my sweet husband that when we first married, I was really bad at communicating with him. Considering this early time in our marriage, you could compare Jody’s situation with someone who had just married a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America only to find out their new spouse couldn’t cook at home – their spouse could make delicious meals for strangers, but could hardly boil water in their own kitchen. You would want your money back, right?! Now to the outsider, I'm sure it looked very different. I am, was and will always be more talkative than my husband. He is the quiet and more reserved engineer type. He doesn't stare at his shoes while he speaks, or anything else like that, but he doesn’t seek the limelight and doesn’t easily start conversations in social situations. He is a man of few words and is more concerned with having a few good friends than a gaggle! I, on the other hand, have never met a stranger. I have always loved talking with people – all people! And, I truly love people! I walk through life with the basic assumption that everyone wants to be my friend and that they are interested in what I have to say. So it would look to most people outside our family that I am the better communicator, right? Wrong. Now grant it, still to this day, I do a majority of the talking in our marriage. I am the one in our family designated to make the day-to-day phone calls to set up appointments, question bills and place orders over the scary drive-thru speaker 😊. Why this is scary, I can’t fathom, but the drive-thru experience turns my wonderful and smart husband into a tongue-tied man who is happy to eat whatever the Chick-fil-a gal thought he ordered rather than correct her. But I digress. And, I am the ice breaker when we meet people for the first time at a social event. But when it came to our private conversations, the meat and potatoes communication in our marriage, Jody has patiently schooled me.
In today’s blog, I’m going to highlight some of the communication killers my husband and I struggled with early in our marriage. There are many faulty practices that may exist in your own marriage communication, but in the interest of your time, I’ll only highlight four of the most common. I hope this is helpful to you and your spouse. Keep reading, friend!
1) Criticism. Who wants to live with a critic? As a therapist and a mom, I have honed my observation skills. I have been praised in both of these roles for staying on top of deviant behaviors and setting up a plan to correct them. But as a spouse, not so much. The mom who can spot an acting-out child from across the playground and correct the attitude before mayhem breaks out is heralded as a SUPER HERO. But if you point out your spouse’s flaw from across the room at his office Christmas party, you get a totally different reaction. Huh? Yes, this is a dramatic example, and most of us would never do this, but it is equally hurtful if when in the privacy of your own home you relentlessly point out your spouse’s flaws. And if you do, you can very quickly change a conversation into an argument! So, how do you squelch critical comments? Answer: through prayer and meditation on God’s Word – “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 (Ephesians 4:29).” This is the quiet test I run through my head before I approach Jody about a behavior of his that is bothering me. I am often the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to encourage growth in Jody, and God often uses him in my life in the same way! But if I nag and critique him continuously, he can soon turn a deaf ear. And, I will have limited the power of our marriage. I must allow my communication to reflect my desire, which is to see Jody become more like Jesus every day and celebrate each step he takes! I can’t do this if I sound more like a dripping faucet and less like a loving wife (Proverbs 27:15)!
2) Exaggeration. Stick to the facts, or leave the drama for your Momma! As you have probably already noticed, I have a flare for the dramatic. This is a definite “preaching-to-the-choir” moment! But it doesn’t have to be my dramatic retelling of an event that angers my husband, it can just be a poorly-chosen word or two that changes the temperature of our conversation. Words like, “never,” or “always,” can with lightning speed turn a conversation into an argument and stop the flow of love! These words can quickly magnify an issue to a catastrophic level and turn the conversation into a historical battle, with either or both spouses recounting stories to prove or disprove their “never” or “always” point. These words can put your spouse on the defensive. And once feet are planted, it is tricky to get them moving again. Matthew 5:37 teaches us that we need to be simple in our communications – often, a simple, “yes,” or “no,” is all that is needed. When we try to elaborate, we can get ourselves into trouble. When you let a bad word like, “never,” slip out of your mouth, immediately stop, apologize and table the conversation for a later time. Give your spouse time to forgive you, and then in the spirit of love, and if a tough conversation is still needed, try again … but carefully! And as for the dramatic side of some of us, read Proverbs 15:2 and keep the gushing to a minimum! I’m working on it 😊.
3) Judging your spouse’s motives. When we judge another’s motives, we are guilty of the arrogance of assuming we know someone else’s heart. How many times have you jumped the gun in assuming your spouse’s motives in a situation or conversation? I have done this more than my fair share of times, and that was before the emotionally-ambiguous e-mailing and texting were invented. I believe that this kind of judging might come from our issues regarding our own self-worth. If I consider myself too much, everything is about me. If I consider myself too little, everything is because I deserve no better. I think the best perspective is in what Tim Keller (The Meaning of Marriage) says, “We should not think less of ourselves but instead think of ourselves less.” There is a subtle difference in what Keller writes, but it is yet a precious truth – it is all about vantage points and the way you view the world. If I view the world from the vantage point of the cross, my speech and my reactions reflects it. In John 8, when the religious leaders are trying to trick Jesus by asking what to do with a woman who has committed adultery, the leaders want to cast stones. But Jesus, looking at the woman from his vantage point, redemption, is moved to forgiveness. He said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” And in John 8: 14-16, Jesus challenges us to not judge others because we are not God. The “others” include our spouses! Even though we think we know them, we must hear their statement, and without taking offence or reading more into it, ask for clarification. In love, we must fully listen to what our spouse says. And if necessary, we must ask for more clarification and listen again. We must be slow to anger and slow to speak (James 1:19)! This is the model for Gospel-centered and loving communication.
4) Dredging up the past. Let the past stay there, in the past! There is no room for historians in marriage. We must actually practice the truth of the Gospel and not just give it lip service. When our spouse has offended us, we must be faithful to forgive and forget! The offense need not re-enter each and every conversation or disagreement. When we do this, we cheapen our marriage and make it out to be the type of marriage the world portrays. In the world, you must keep a log of any and all offenses, name calling, slights, etc., so that one day you can correctly portray each and every hurt in front of a judge to ensure you get your “fair share” when the marriage dissolves. I know this grieves the heart of God. God’s plan is for Godly marriages to reflect the Gospel to a dark world. The Gospel is clear in that we are all sinners, but sinners who have been forgiven and washed clean by the precious blood of Jesus! And what the blood covers, is gone; never to be seen or heard from again. This is what forgiveness should and can look like in your marriage. One way to test your heart to see if you have allowed God’s Spirit to redeem the hurt is to listen to your own words during tense times with your spouse. Are you just talking about the issue de jour, or about a long litany of issues you have not truly forgiven? Ouch, huh? And if recounting history is your “go to” move, memorize Proverbs 17:9. This truth says that love covers over the offense, and when we dredge it back up, we risk ruining our friendship with that person. At the end of the day, my friendship with my spouse is the most priceless earthly realtionship I have; I don’t want to ruin that!
So enough with the, “Don’t list.” Consider now for a minute or two some important “Do’s!”
1) Be Filled with Grace. Your speech should be filled with grace and seasoned with the Gospel (Colossians 4:6). In this Scripture, Paul was specifically talking to the Colossians about how they should communicate with outsiders. But this instruction is also true for how we treat members of our family, our church, our community, and most importantly, our spouse. Our speech should attract people to the Gospel and should leave them desiring more. It should also leave our spouse in this same condition. If you have gotten to a spot in your marriage where the conversational environment has become toxic, sprinkle a little grace and sit back and watch the change that will take place. Consider this, instead of complaining that your spouse doesn’t do the dishes, smile as you wash the dishes and find something positive to say about your spouse. You married your spouse! Dig way back in your memory and pull out a positive trait and praise it. Then mention how you are praying for your spouse. Say to your spouse that you are thankful that God created him or her just for you!
2) Be kind. A gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Don’t jump to your own defense. Expect that you misheard your spouse and give him or her a genuinely kind reply. Loving the unlovable is the truest sign that the Gospel is alive and well in your heart and marriage. It is easy to love the good, the clean and the self-sufficient. But it takes a steady dose of the Holy Spirit, gathered in the consuming the Word of God, to love the short-tempered, complaining and hot-headed person that we may be married to. And, this works in all communication. In my job at my hospital, I often field complaints. An angry person, who is usually scared and grieving for some loss in their life, fires away complaints against employees that I cherish. It would be easy for me to get my back out of joint and defend my tired employees. But instead, I quietly listen and apologize for any and all perceived offenses. When I do this, it takes the wind right out of their sails and puts us all back together on the same team fighting the stroke or cancer, and arm-in-arm, instead of at odds. Kind words need to be a staple in your verbal diet!
3) Bridle your tongue. There are many verses in Scripture that tell us that controlling the tongue is tricky, so it is not a surprise that this is a problem that is common to many. In reading the 3rd chapter of James (James 3:1-18), it is obvious to that the tongue is a powerful member of our body. Professionally, I know this to be true. To move the tongue after a brain injury requires many muscles and cranial nerves to fire, and in just the right sequence. But this pales in comparison to the real challenge and truth that Scripture drives home to us: to filter what comes out of our mouths is the most challenging of all things we do, and that it takes the Holy Spirit to be successful. Every time we open our mouth, our objective should be that our words are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, and impartial and sincere (James 3:17-18). Wow, what a list! Imagine what your marriage would be like if your speech was filled with God’s love, and if you actually submitted to the Holy Spirit, 24/7. Your life and marriage would be a haven for the world and the light that would shine through to attract the nations for Christ! This should be our goal! Now I remain a work in progress, like you, but I desire my every communication to be everything James 3 suggests. I believe we are on the right path. Keep reading, friend!
Keep bathing yourself in the Word of God, friends! Read back over the scriptures I have offered in today’s post. Meditate on them and allow God to change your heart. Love your spouse well. Make it a point to communicate in a way that glorifies God. God bless you and your marriages!
I look forward to our time together next Wednesday!
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.