Why Communication is Difficult: Challenges for Marriage
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:22b
“See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently”
This command of Peter is addressed to the Christian community. Even in the midst of persecution Christians were to love one another and not allow the flames of their love to be extinguished by the winds of adversity.
Further, their love was to be fervent, an athletic term meaning “striving with all of one’s energy.” In other words, we must work at this continually, just as an Olympic contestant has to work at developing and maintaining particular skills.
It is sad that this type of love seems lacking among many professed followers of Christ who are not only willing to believe negative criticism about other believers but feel no hesitation in sharing it with others.
Perhaps they don’t really understand the nature of Christian love. According to Paul, Christian love, described in 1 Corinthians 3:4-7, demonstrates itself by patiently enduring unpleasant circumstances and people.
It is gracious and kind to all and is never jealous of the natural abilities, spiritual gifts, or successes of others. It does not parade one’s own abilities, successes, or sacrifices; it is not boastful, trying to impress others, nor is it conceited or arrogant.
Christian love is never rude or unmannerly. It does not insist on having its own way, and it is not self-seeking. Christian love does not pursue selfish aims. It keeps no score of wrongs. Love bears no malice, nor is it resentful.
It takes no pleasure in bad news, is never glad when others have problems, and finds no pleasure in anything that is wrong. Christian love knows no limit to its endurance.
Peter’s command to “love one another with a pure heart fervently,” demonstrating the characteristics of that love as portrayed in 1 Corinthians 13, applies to all Christians, but especially to husbands and wives.
They must work hard at developing and maintaining their love for one another in spite of all the challenges the world, the flesh, and the devil may use to discourage them and divide them (see Ephesians 5:25-27).
One of the chief impediments to such love is the problem of miscommunication.
After working with couples in both premarital and postmarital counseling, after teaching for many years in a Christian college, and after evaluating my own experiences in marriage, I have concluded that much unhappiness occurs because people, for various reasons, fail to express wisely what they think, feel, and want to do.
How shocked a person feels when a spouse reacts negatively to what was intended as an innocent statement. Have you ever accidentally triggered a “time-bomb” and got emotionally wounded by the verbal and emotional shrapnel of the explosion?
One of the key factors we must consider when thinking about wise communication with our spouses is the fact that no two people live in the identical world of reality.
Let me illustrate with the chart below.
The yellow box represents reality from God’s point of view. Anything outside the box is not authentic reality. The two figures represent a man and wife in marriage. Their corresponding circular sets represent each person’s reality.
Notice that only where the circles overlap are the two persons experiencing identical reality. Where the circles do not overlap, these two people will have different perspectives and different viewpoints.
Ideally, it is easiest to communicate effectively with a person with whom you share the greatest degree of reality overlap.
Here are some questions to diagnose the shape of your reality. What is polite? What is rude or inconsiderate speech or behavior? What is devious? What is honest? How much of what a person knows must he or she reveal in order to be honest? What is generous?
How you answer these common questions reveals your perception of reality. Someone can say, “You were very rude,” and you can be shocked at the accusation!
What factors create a person’s reality? Let me suggest that some of the more obvious influences are family background, home and school environment, birth order and place in the family, and role models in our lives.
Factor in one’s education, one’s temperament, and how we process information, and we have some of the many factors that shape a person’s reality. Each person is unique. Have you noticed that people can experience the same event and yet have very different opinions and memories of it?
Part of the reason for this is because many of us are not as keen observers as are some other people. Further, all of us experience sensory overload daily. We are inundated with all kinds of sounds, smells, and visual data.
Part of our coping mechanism is to “tune out” some things, to ignore other things, and to simply not see or hear other details.
Consequently, when we talk about an experience, we are sharing our own perceptions and memories. When another person who shared that event contradicts us, we react with a variety of responses, ranging from unconcern to shock that the other person is contradicting our personal memory or experience.
The truth is that no one’s reality is identical to another person’s. Nor are all memories created equal. Marriage partners need to understand
this, then seek to work with each other’s reality in a harmonious manner.
For example, to tell your spouse, “That is not what I said” does not convince the other person you did not say what he or she believes you
said. To tell your spouse, “That is not the way it happened,” is a “put down” and unhelpful comment.
Here is the challenging question: How can I politely disagree with my marriage partner without hurting that person, denying his or her reality, or ending up fighting?
Perhaps statements like “What I remember is… or “I thought I heard (or saw)…,” or “It seems to me…” would be more acceptable than statements that sound like accusations.
Let me suggest some techniques for having a meaningful conversation concerning issues about which you disagree. The goal ought to be to seek not only to have the other person understand your point-of-view, but also to try sincerely to understand that person’s point-of-view.
- Pick a time to communicate that is mutually agreeable to each of you.
- Choose a place that will be conducive to keeping your voice soft. Usually a public place is best if one partner tends to raise his or her voice.
- Each person should come prepared to demonstrate that he or she is really listening to the other person. The use of paper and writing instruments can convey each person’s commitment to listen to and attempt to understand what the other person says and feels.
- Choose the person who will share thoughts and feelings first. The other person must not interrupt or in any way show disagreement while the first person is speaking. When the first person feels he unburdened his heart, he must say, “Okay, it’s your turn.”
- It is now the opportunity for the second person to respond, disagree, refute, explain, correct, or seek to clarify what the first person said and to express fully his own opinion and feelings on the subject matter.
- It is crucial that neither person accuse, berate, or belittle the other person. Expressions such as “you never” or “you always” are inappropriate. Do not ridicule the other person or in any way be sarcastic or
scornful. Love is always kind and well-mannered (1 Cor. 13:4, 5).
- When the second person is finished talking, he or she must say, “Okay, it’s your turn.”
- After both persons have expressed themselves and still will not change their minds, then each one must seek to place himself or herself in the other person’s reality. Ask yourself, “If I believed or felt the way my spouse does about this issue, what would I want the other person to do or change?”
- Each person is to choose only one item for the other person to work on for the following week.
- Schedule weekly check-up meetings for further communication and follow carefully the above techniques for having a meaningful conversation with your spouse.
- Close your conversation with a short prayer. In the prayer, each spouse should thank God for the other person, asking God to bless, encourage, and comfort them. In the prayer, each should ask God for His help and grace to know how to be willing to make the requested changes.
- Pray privately each day for your spouse that God would help you both to be kind to each other and that God would help you both to learn how to solve problems without attacking or hurting each other.
In closing, let me suggest five questions you need to answer before you seek to communicate with your spouse.
- Will what I say draw us closer or drive us apart?
- Will it build our relationship or tear it down?
- Will it bring about a positive response or a negative response?
- Would I want her or him to say this to me?
- Does it express my love and loyalty to my partner or does it reveal my self-centered individualism?
One of the ways to love your spouse more effectively is to understand the challenges of communication and determine not to allow miscommunication to hinder you in your attempt by God’s grace to love your spouse with a pure heart fervently.
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.