Communication in Marriage (Session 4)
Session Four: Communication in Marriage
At the core of every healthy marriage is the ability of a couple to successfully communicate with one another. Communication can be difficult because each individual has a different background, experiences and sometimes even culture, which all affect communication. In addition, 60 to 90% of all communication consists of things outside of what has been said, such as body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and tone. Communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced in order to have a successful marriage.
The Bible teaches us a great deal about communication, since God, the author of the Bible, is a communicator. When he created the heavens and the earth, he did it by communicating. He said, “Let there be light.” In fact, through nature, he speaks to us every day. David said this,
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
God speaks to us through nature, telling us of his great glory and splendor. He also spoke to us through his Son, who came to the earth not only to die for our sins but also to give us the Father’s words. In fact, John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Word” (John 1:1); he was the very communication of God. Jesus said this about his teaching, “’My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me” (John 7:16). And, ultimately God speaks to us through the Scriptures, by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). God is a communicator, and man, who is made in the image of God, is a communicator as well.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
What do you think Solomon meant when he said that the power of life and death is in the tongue?
Solomon understood that as people made in the image of God, we similarly have power in our tongues. We have power to create and power to destroy. We can encourage people and lift them up by our words or destroy them by our words.
Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was very wrong. Many people carry great hurt and pain from words that were spoken over them years ago. They were too ugly, too skinny, too fat, not smart enough, not athletic enough, not social enough, etc., and that stigma has stayed with them for years. In the same token, people who have had encouraging friends, family, and community typically are very confident and hopeful. In fact, words spoken over people can even affect their destiny. James, the brother of Jesus, taught that even though the tongue is such a small member of the body, it controls the body. It guides the body like the bit in a horse’s mouth or the rudder of a ship (cf. James 3:1-6). There is tremendous power in our words to give life or bring death.
The power of communication is especially important in the context of marriage. By our words, we can develop a beautiful and prosperous marriage that glorifies God. And, by our words, we can destroy the very gift and mission God has given us in marriage.
In this session, we will consider principles that will enhance communication in marriage. We will consider the importance of growing in knowledge of your mate, honoring and accepting gender differences, always speaking edifying words, listening to your mate, and learning to remain in Christ.
Know Your Mate
The first principle that will enhance communication is simply getting to know your mate. Peter said this in 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” “Be considerate” can also be translated “dwell with them according to knowledge,” as seen in the KJV.
What type of knowledge must the husband develop in his relationship with his wife in order to respect or honor her? The husband must develop knowledge of his wife’s person. Each person is made different. Things that bother the wife might not bother the husband. Things that excite the husband might not excite the wife and vice versa. There is often miscommunication in marriage simply for not knowing one another well enough.
The husband must learn what makes the wife happy, what makes her sad, and what angers her and use this information to build her up and communicate with her well. Even though Peter speaks to husbands, this is certainly true for wives as well. In the Greek, the word “know” typically refers to not just an intellectual knowledge but also an experiential knowledge. The husband and wife must know each other intimately so that they can better communicate with one another.
How should they develop this knowledge? As Peter said, they develop it by spending time with one another (i.e. “dwell”). While dating, couples often spend as much time as possible with one another, but sadly, in marriage, quality time starts to fade. The husband has work; the wife is caring for the house and children. As the children get older, the husband and wife spend more time focusing on the children and less time with one another. As this rhythm continues, they eventually get to the point where they no longer know one another at all. These two individuals are changing every day and to continue to know one another intimately, they must make time for one another. This time could include yearly retreats, weekly date nights, and daily times of intimate communication. My wife and I try to spend the last hour of every day with one another, without the TV or computer on. By doing this, we aim to get to know one another more.
The more a person allows his or her spouse to become distant, the more there will be a struggle with communication. This is also true for pre-married couples. Courtship and engagement are very special seasons that help build a foundation for future building. Couples who communicate well know each other well. And those who don’t know each other well don’t communicate well.
How is God calling you to strategically grow in intimacy with your mate?
Honor and Accept Gender Differences
The next principle necessary in marital communication is not only knowing your mate but accepting and honoring your mate as the man or woman God made them to be. A common source of miscommunication in marriage is the simple fact that men and women are different. Not only does the opposite sex have many physical and emotional differences but communication differences as well, and these differences are often amplified in the marriage union. A great amount of fighting in marriage comes from not understanding and accepting these differences.
Many women grow up with a female best friend who they share all their feelings with, and in return, the best friend primarily gives affirmation. Men are typically more assertive communicators. Communication is meant to accomplish something. Often male communication is used to decide where one is going, how to get there, and then what to do after getting there. It has a goal in mind. Whereas for a woman many times the goal is different. The goal could be as simple as expression, feeling heard and accepted.
Often we hear women cry out, “Men!” And men cry out, “Women!” Both cry out in despair because they cannot figure one another out. The Bible teaches that God chose man and woman for one another. Eve was taken from Adam’s ribs and formed perfectly to match him. Though different, man and woman were made for one another, and, when unified in a godly marriage, there may be no greater way in which they demonstrate the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27).
In creating man and woman, we can be sure that God was aware of the immense differences that could cause conflict in their relationship. Therefore, he gave clear instructions in his Word about how to navigate the communication gap in order to have a successful marriage.
Again, the apostle Peter, a married man, said this in his epistle:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)
Peter called wives the weaker partner (or weaker vessel) and commanded husbands to be considerate of them and to treat them with respect (or honor). What did he mean by the woman being the weaker vessel? Certainly, it means weaker physically, but it probably means much more than that. One interpretation is that weaker vessel has the connotation of more precious or more delicate vessel. Because the woman is more delicate than the man, he is more prone to hurt her physically, emotionally, and of course through his words. For this reason, Paul commanded husbands to not be harsh with their wives (Col 3:19). Many times, the husband becomes harsh with his wife simple because of their differences—the different ways God made them. Therefore, Peter calls for the husbands to not only be considerate of these differences but to honor them (1 Peter 3:7). Though Peter speaks to the husband, the wife, certainly, must obey this as well. She must be considerate of her husband and the way God made him and honor those differences.
As stated before, many men and women instead of honoring the differences God created in the opposite sex, they dishonor them and set out to change them. The man wants the woman to be more direct, to stop being so lady-like, and so sensitive. The woman wants the man to be softer and to listen. Certainly, there is much we can and should learn from the opposite sex. With that said, we must always “honor/respect” the unique differences that are rooted in how God created them. God made males and females different.
Surely, Peter probably started out, as many married men do, trying to make his wife more like himself. But Peter learned that God had uniquely made his wife, as a woman, and those differences were to be honored. Therefore, this is an important principle to remember in marriage and one that God commends. Honor the unique characteristics of the vessel God created for you.
In my marriage, this has helped me tremendously. Where previously, I wanted my wife to change; I couldn’t understand or accept her thinking. I’ve learned to accept and honor her as the more delicate vessel. God made her different from me and praise God for those differences. Instead of trying to change her, I am learning to daily accept and honor her more. I want her to feel the acceptance and joy that God has for her uniqueness. In addition, I’m also learning how much I need each one of those unique differences.
Pre-married couples would do well to learn to accept the differences in their mate, honor them, and learn from them. Since God made the woman to help the man and the man to help the woman, there are things men and women need to learn from one another. Learn how to honor those differences, and make your spouse feel accepted and honored for being who God has uniquely made him or her to be. This mutual honor will enhance communication.
Always Speak Edifying Words
Along the same lines of honoring your spouse, I would say God makes it very clear that we should never dishonor them through our words. Watch any movie or TV show and you will see people disrespecting and dishonoring one another. Sadly, this often happens in marriages, in direct conflict with God’s commands.
Paul says this in Ephesians 4:29-30:
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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
God, through Paul, said to never let unwholesome talk come out of our mouths. This includes cursing, blaming, accusing, gossiping, lying, etc. All these are unfit for a Christian to speak, especially in the context of marriage.
Paul also gives the positive directive of speaking “only” words that build the other up according to their needs (v. 29). In marriage, if our words were spoken only to build up our spouse, instead of breaking him or her down, this would stop the majority of our fights.
Psychologists have affirmed a useful method to aid in this process called using “I statements” instead of “you statements.” When a wife says, “You never listen to me!” “You don’t care about me!” This automatically makes the husband feel attacked and go on the defensive.
Instead, it is suggested that we use “I statements” such as: “When you start talking before I have finished sharing, it feels like you’re not listening to me.” “When you watch TV all night, I feel like you don’t care about me.” This is simply giving information, instead of accusing one of personal wrong. And, it opens the door for evaluating these feelings instead of fighting. This is a great tool that will help one speak only words that edify, especially when dealing with a potentially offensive topic.
Practice the Art of Listening
In conjunction with speaking only things that edify, Scripture also gives us more teaching about healthy communication. James, the brother of Jesus, said, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
In order for a person to only speak words that are edifying, they must master the art of listening. Here are a few tips to help us become better listeners. One should:
1. Practice the discipline of listening to what your spouse is saying.
It has often been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would listen twice as much as we talk. This is a wise principle in communication. We must practice listening.
Something that will help with this is practicing “active listening”. We do this by repeating what our spouse has said in order to get confirmation. For instance, one could say, “This is what I hear you saying, you feel neglected when I watch TV all night. Is that correct?” By repeating, you get to clarify your spouse’s words and intentions, and you also show him or her that you are trying to understand, which is important in communication.
2. Practice the discipline of listening to what your spouse is not saying.
Many times, there is more communicated by what a person is not saying than what is actually said. Communication is between 60 to 90% nonverbal. Sometimes, just the fact, that a spouse is quiet may say great deal. It may say that he is not feeling well or even that he has more to talk about. This is something a good spouse will learn to discern. Study your spouse’s body language and tendencies in order to enhance communication.
3. Practice the discipline of listening to the Holy Spirit.
God wants to give us wisdom to minister to the uniqueness of our spouse (cf. Rom 8:14). He knows our spouse in a greater way than we do, and therefore, we should practice praying, even sometimes during conversations, so we can hear what God wants us to hear and say what he wants us to say (cf. Neh 2:4-5). James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
4. Practice the discipline of speaking less.
Of course, in order for a person to clearly listen to his spouse and God at the same time, he must learn how to talk less. Solomon said this in Proverbs, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking” (10:19). In many relationships, people talk way too much and, therefore, listen way too little, which leads to constant arguments. James said that we should be quick to listen and “SLOW TO SPEAK.”
Learn to Remain in Christ
As mentioned, Scripture gives us many principles about communication since our God is a communicator; however, with that said, one must know that understanding these principles is obviously easier than putting them consistently into practice. The Bible teaches that not only do we need God’s wisdom but also God’s power to communicate well, because of our propensity to sin. Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
These principles can only be successfully applied to a pre-marriage or marriage relationship if the people involved are walking closely with their Savior and abiding in his presence. When you remain in Christ, God will give you the fruits needed to be successful. These fruits include patience, self-control, love, forgiveness, and even the right words to say. Remaining in Christ is the secret to fruitful communication for both spouses.
How do we remain in Christ? Remaining in Christ includes, but is not limited to, disciplined prayer, Bible study, regular church attendance, serving, repentance of sin, and, simply put, drawing near to Christ daily. By remaining in Christ, we recognize our inability to communicate well and how, apart from his grace, we will destroy what God has given us. And for those who humble themselves daily before God, they will find great grace to communicate in marriage (cf. James 4:6, 10).
As we consider communication in marriage, we must remember that God is a communicator and that we are made in his image. Therefore, we were made to communicate. As we rely on God, through practicing principles in his Word, we can begin to use our communication to build our marriages instead of breaking them down. And, by his grace, we can start to realize his original plan for marriage, a union that brings glory to him and blessing to all.
Communication in Marriage Homework
Answer the questions, then discuss together.
What was new or stood out to you in the session about communication in marriage? What ways were you challenged or encouraged? Were there any things that you did not agree with?
Peter said to dwell with your spouse according to knowledge (1 Peter 3:7, KJV), what intimate knowledge about your mate have you found especially helpful in communicating? What intimate knowledge about yourself would help your mate better communicate with you? How will you continue to cultivate this intimate knowledge in the marriage relationship, especially when life is busy with work, kids, ministry, etc.? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
It is very common for couples to have communication problems in part because of gender differences and gender expectations. Are there any common miscommunication patterns in your relationship that may come in part from gender differences? How do they often begin or what are their triggers?
What changes can be made from your side to better navigate these miscommunications? What spiritual or practical techniques will be used to enhance communication?
In understanding how important abiding in Christ is to communication, how will you protect and cultivate an abiding relationship with Christ? How will you help protect and encourage this abiding relationship in your mate? What ways have you experienced the importance of abiding in Christ for communication?
Write your parents a letter (email) or call them and ask them questions. Ask what positive attributes you have that will help in marriage. Ask what negative attributes you have that might hurt your marriage and find out how you can fix them. Ask for any pointers that will aid in achieving successful communication in marriage and a successful marriage in general. Share.
Write your mate’s parents a letter (email) or call them and ask them questions. Ask what positive attributes your mate has that will help in marriage. Ask what negative attributes your mate has that might hurt your marriage and find out how you can fix them. Ask for any pointers that will aid in achieving successful communication in marriage and a successful marriage in general. Share.
After completing this session, what ways do you feel God is calling you to pray for your marriage? Spend some time praying.