The past couple of years have reinforced my belief that communication is critical to a Christ-centered marriage. My husband’s hearing loss has made clear communication increasingly illusive. Take this example:
“Well, I didn’t see that coming!” I said, as we were watching a detective show together on TV.
“What? I couldn’t understand you.”
I say, louder, “I said I didn’t see that coming. Never mind.”
“No, you said something. What did you say?” he asked, getting a little testy.
“It’s not important. Let’s just watch the rest of the show.”
“No! I want to know what you said,” getting a bit louder now.
I pause the TV and roll my eyes.
“I said I didn’t see that coming,” I yell to him.
“You didn’t see what coming?” he asked, increasingly frustrated.
“See? It doesn’t matter. Do you want me to rewind and show you what I was talking about?” I asked, also getting increasingly frustrated.
“No. Let’s just watch the show.”
Rolling my eyes again and trying hard to bridle my tongue, I answered, “Okay, let’s just do that.”
(And that’s with him wearing his hearing aids.)
Oh, my goodness, communication can be hard work sometimes. Even when you have perfect hearing, many obstacles to good communication get in the way—things like not paying attention, thinking about what you’re going to say next so you miss what your spouse is saying, not being clear enough to be understood, or not even listening!
My husband and I are good communicators. We’re both careful with language. We’ve been taught what not to do. We’ve taught classes on communications in marriage. We’ve counseling couples on how to improve their communication. Yet we are not exempt from problems with communication—especially now that hearing is becoming a bigger problem.
Think of two people who speak different languages trying to communicate. You speak French. He speaks English. Neither understands the other’s words, so you have to pantomime to be understood. It’s hard work. It leaves you exhausted.
So, let’s establish some basic rules to improve communication with your spouse. What kinds of things are helpful? What kinds of things block good communication?
Most of us can follow these simple rules on a daily basis. But in the face of conflict, these principles can be difficult to remember. Therefore, I’ll deal with issues related to communication in dealing with conflict. That’s where most couples need this the most.
- Follow godly principles.
What does that have to do with communication? Everything. We are told to treat each other with respect. We are to honor others above ourselves. We are to seek to fulfill each other’s needs before we meet our own. Here are just a couple of principles I believe are helpful:
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” Romans 12:10.
- “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4.
If we apply these principles in communication with each other, we will treat one another with respect, which leads us to follow the next few principles.
- Use Positive Listening Techniques
What are positive listening techniques? Here are a few:
- Pay attention. Don’t let what you’re doing at the moment distract you from what your partner is trying to convey. Put down the phone. Turn off the TV. Make eye contact.
- Listen carefully to what the other person is saying without defending, interrupting or correcting. Let them get out everything they want to say, then, if necessary, you might say, “Let me see if I’ve understood you clearly. What you were saying was . . .” If they say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I was saying,” then congrats! Message received. Then and only then, when you have proven you’ve listened and heard the message correctly, are you to address whatever was said.
Too many times, it seems there’s a weird filter between us. What one says into one end of the filter comes out all garbled and not at all what the other person hears on the other side of it. That’s why it’s important to make sure we understand the viewpoint our spouse actually expresses. True comprehension is worth the additional effort it takes to clarify what you’ve heard.
- Remain self-controlled.
This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. You’re in the heat of a conversation with each other, maybe even starting to raise voices or flail with arms to emphasize your points. The phone rings and suddenly you’re capable of answering it, “Hello?” in a calm, controlled, friendly voice. Guess what. If you can do that to someone on the phone or someone at the door, you can use that same self-control with your spouse.
When we lose our cool, our ability to clearly listen and respond flies out the door. So, use that spiritual gift of self-control and respect your spouse enough to do the following:
- Use a quiet, calm tone of voice. Remember Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.”
- Use your words. Instead of flying off the handle and having a hissy-fit (that’s what we call it in the South) to communicate displeasure, use your words. My husband has no trouble understanding me if I say to him, “Wow! That really upsets me.” I don’t have to “act the fool” to express displeasure. Words communicate feelings.
- Never say anything you wish you could “take back” later. That requires actually thinking before you say what you’re thinking. Words can destroy. Once they’re out, you can’t truly take them back. Without using self-control, “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity.” James 3:6. If you realize what damage words can do, you don’t want to put anything out there that is going to hurt that other person.
- No name calling. Names are another thing that will be remembered long after the conflict is over.
- Don’t use absolute language: always, never, every time, etc. That only elicits a defensive posture in the other person.
- Don’t bring up past wrongs in present difficulties.
You can’t fight fair if you do this. A past wrong should have been forgiven. It fans a spark into a flame when you haul out something from the past and use it to negatively impact the one you’re supposed to treat with respect, putting his/her needs above your own.
- Attack the issues—not each other.
You and your spouse are a team. You’ve been joined together in a union that is different from every other relationship in your lives. When disagreements erupt (and they do even in the best of marriages), remember that you’re never to be at odds with each other. Together, define the issue you’re struggling with. Then, as a team, problem-solve, discuss the issue and how best to resolve it.
- Don’t be afraid to call in a third party.
If you’ve recognized an issue that you’re having trouble resolving as a team, you may need some outside assistance, another set of ears. Emotions can limit or block solutions. Invite someone to speak with you about the matter and see if they can listen to both sides of the argument and come up with a solution you haven’t identified yet.
No, don’t call your parents. Don’t involve your children. Call someone you both view as more spiritually mature than you are and ask them for their input.
My husband and I are not perfect. But God has blessed us in that we both want to obey Him and we care enough about our relationship to protect it from Satan’s onslaught.
Do you want to use your communication to improve your relationship? The tips in this little guide will help you do that. Try it. See what a difference it can make. It might be tough at first, but it gets easier with practice. Be intentional about both the listening aspect of communication and the speaking aspect.
Bottom line: Be kind to each other. Be polite and respectful.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” John 15:11-13. Let this be the principle that motivates your desire to more clearly communication with the one you love.