Want to know how to ruin a good novel? I can tell you: read the end first. I suppose any reader is free to do this, but knowing the ending removes one of the great joys and one of the essential experiences of reading: how we get there. The joy, the significance in the task of reading, is in the process of getting from the first page to the last. The process is the thing.
This principle is an oft-forgotten perspective for marital communication. If we could just look at the end to see if we are going to agree or not—if we think similarly or differently in the end—it could take all of the tension out of the conversation. But God is not primarily concerned with the end point of most of our conversations. He’s concerned with how we get there. It’s about the journey because that is where he most often meets us and changes us. For God, many times, the process of communication is the thing.
In the process of communicating with your spouse, I offer you three don’ts and three dos. When applied consistently, you’ll find they help you and your spouse honor God and each other throughout the process.
Three Communication Don’ts
- Don’t Speak in Extremes (“You always” /
“You never”): Measured and accurate speech is most useful when we are
communicating, and it is even more significant in conversation with those we
love, particularly spouses. When we use extremes such as “always” and “never,”
we caricature a weakness or flaw we perceive. This makes our spouse feel
judged, misrepresented, and misunderstood. It doesn’t help you either.
It is better to aim for accuracy and specificity. Rather than say, “You never listen to me,” you could say, “When you don’t listen to me.” Rather than complain, “You never take out the trash,” you could say, “You struggle to remember to take out the trash.” Extreme language inevitably leads to tension because it rarely is accurate. So, when speaking with your spouse, don’t speak in extremes.
- Don’t Compare Your Spouse to Others:
When we work alongside our coworkers, we often only see certain elements of the
character and their lives. We don’t often get to see them as parent, spouse,
son/daughter, sibling, neighbor. Our relationships with them are often, in this
Marriage isn’t like that. Marriage is perhaps the most three-dimensional relationship we have. We see our spouse as spouse, parent, son/daughter, neighbor, home owner, etc. We see all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses. We see the beauty and the ugliness of their character. This can often make us think that our spouse is the only one with these weaknesses and that others in our church or workplace have only strengths.
This is why comparison is so unhelpful. We take the reality of what our spouse is like, add on all of our sinful judgment as we enlarge their weaknesses, and then compare him/her to others we don’t know nearly as well. No three-dimensional husband can compete with a two-dimensional positive impression you’ve assumed true about a man. No three-dimensional wife can compete with a two-dimensional positive impression you’ve assumed about a woman.
Rather than compare, commit to receiving your spouse as God’s specific and carefully chosen gift for you. When you start comparing his gift to you with his gift to others, you bring judgment on the gift giver. It is far better to see your spouse as God’s gift to you and ask for his sufficient grace to take your eyes off the gifts he’s given to others.
- Don’t Import History into a Current Issue:
Most often, when conversations get tense, there is plenty of temptation to go
around. Perhaps there’s been an offense. Perhaps it was negligence or some
harsh word that started the tension. It never helps the situation when you go
back into history and bring out all of the other things your spouse has done
that have upset you.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of this tactic, you know it’s neither helpful nor fair. The actual situation you’re dealing with is immediately enlarged to include anything and everything from the past. This only leads to division and will not lead to unity.
Rather, keep your conversations focused on what is actually on the table at the time. If items from the past need to be discussed, there will be a time to do that. Settle what is happening and re-establish unity in your marriage. That is a far better foundation upon which to have historical conversations anyway.
Three Communication Dos
- Do Guard Your Tone and Your Language:
Most often, calm and purposeful speech is that which is most helpful. Raised
voices actually distract from content and create offense all by themselves. If
your tone becomes snarky, salty, or sarcastic, it’s just not reasonable to
expect your spouse to respond calmly, listening carefully to your words rather
than the demeaning tone you’re using.
So, guard your tone and your language. Speak in a manner you would prefer to have used toward you. Remain respectful and calm and trust God to work through purposefully godly speech.
- Do Go Out of Your Way to Express a Desire
for Unity: When you create a list of the most helpful things for a
godly and enjoyable marriage, unity must be on that list. When a husband and a
wife, with their assorted strengths and ideas, are aiming at the same goal and
living by the same rules, there is little that can divide or separate them.
However, if a husband is playing by a different set of rules he’s holding his
wife to, unity cannot long hold.
The Scriptures are saying a lot when they say God made Adam and Eve one flesh. Beyond the sexual union of marriage, he is indicating that the husband cannot go one direction and the wife another; one flesh cannot go in two directions. There must be agreement. There must be harmony. There must be unity.
So, when a conversation seems to indicate a difference of perspective or opinion, reinforce the idea of unity. Remind your spouse that you want to keep in step with each other. Pause the conversation so you can pray for unity. If you see unity in serious danger, redouble your efforts. If a marital conflict has a winner and a loser, then it truly has two losers. No one wins in marriage when there is a loser.
- Do Pray: Remember that God has
much invested in your marriage. He is committed to help you to honor him so
that your relationship reflects his with the church. You will do well to
practice the reality that God is with you, consciously with you, when you are
working through a conflict or a difficult conversation. You are not left alone
to figure it out by yourself; he’s there with you.
Because of that glorious and helpful truth, pray. Pray as you listen that you would hear through tone to heart. Pray as you listen that God would help you love your spouse each moment. And, when it is your turn to speak, pray twice as hard. You’re far more likely to create more trouble with your tongue and lips than you are with your ears. Ask God to give you words that will edify, words that will communicate truth in love.
One Overarching “Do” for Everyone
Do Cultivate a Forgiving Posture toward Each Other:
Even as you try to employ these “dos” and “don’ts,” you will inevitably fall
short. We all do at one point or another. This means your spouse will, too. So,
cultivate a forgiving posture toward your spouse. Remember, though you are both
dearly loved by God, you remain imperfect.
As followers of Christ, we are called to love as we are loved, to serve as we are served, and to forgive as we are forgiven. Christ loves us completely, serves us sacrificially, and forgives us unconditionally. Husband, love your wife in an understanding way. Wife, honor and respect your husband. In so doing, we prevent the enemy from getting any footholds and we show the world just how wonderful, just how honoring, just how God-glorifying marriage can truly be.
With These Words: Five Communication Tools for Marriage and Life
This practical marriage resource by pastor and author Rob Flood not only explores why couples should grow in communication but addresses the “how” of communication.