“Communication”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
One of the ironic things about marriage troubles is that the couple that’s having the trouble almost always knows what the answer is. If they’re Christians, both of them will have no trouble relating what the Bible teaches about good marriages, and they will be able to identify where their marriage falls short. The problems come when they try to figure out how to apply God’s perfect solution to their imperfect situation.
Nowhere is this more true than with communication in marriage. All of us know that any good relationship, whether marriage or not, is founded on good communication. If two people aren’t communicating well, their relationship is going to suffer. In just about any bad marriage, the spouses will candidly acknowledge, “Yep; we don’t communicate very well!”
However, admiring the problem doesn’t do any of us much good. We have to look for godly solutions. We have to figure out how to clear away years or even decades of failed attempts at relationship-building to lay a foundation for a stronger relationship tomorrow. This morning, then, let’s examine three Biblical principles that we can use to be a light in our marriages through better communication.
First, we must learn to BE DEVOTED to our spouses. Consider the picture of marriage that appears in Ecclesiastes 9:9. One of the things that strikes me about this passage is how all-encompassing it is. It tells us that we’re supposed to enjoy being with our spouses all the days of our lives. There is simply no way to have a good marriage without spending lots of time with our spouses.
However, not all time spent together is created equal, and at least in my marriage, a lot of the problems here start with me. I don’t know about the other men here, but I have a single-track mind. I live my life in sequence. I start one thing, do it, and move on to the next thing.
This means, then, that if I am sitting on the couch in the evening, and I’m reading a book or looking at something on my laptop, that might look like a great opportunity to have meaningful conversation with my wife who’s sitting six feet away, but it’s not. My mind is on a single track, and she ain’t it. If she tries to talk to me, I will listen for about three seconds, then go back to the thing that I’m focusing on. It’s a disaster!
Instead, we have to know when meaningful conversations with our spouses happen. In my marriage, our best conversations when I’m doing something that involves my body but not my mind. We go for walks together and have great conversations. We run errands together, and it’s the same thing. Even if I’m just loading the dishwasher, I’ll engage for 10 minutes.
Because this kind of communication requires more thought and effort from men, it should be the husband who takes the initiative in having meaningful conversation. I thought Clay’s sermon on intimacy last week was great, and I’m going to co-opt some of his language to explain why this is so. There are exceptions, but I think it’s generally true that women need more preparation for physical intimacy, but men need more preparation for emotional intimacy. We’ve all heard about how men are like microwaves and women are like crock pots, but I think when it comes to engaging conversation, it’s the husband who is like the crock pot. He’s the one who is not going to be able to engage the other spouse in the way they want at the drop of a hat.
In practice, it’s usually the drop-of-the-hat spouse who seeks to have their needs fulfilled, but if you think about it, that’s backwards. Instead, it ought to be the spouse who needs prep time who makes the effort to prepare and then reaches out. The loving wife will get herself ready for physical intimacy with her husband, and the loving husband will set aside time for emotional intimacy with his wife. Men, whatever that time needs to look like in your marriage, I leave to you, but you need to figure it out and make it happen.
Second, we should BE COMPASSIONATE. Peter says as much in 1 Peter 3:8. Even though this verse doesn’t mention marriage, it comes right after a lengthy discussion of marriage, and even if it didn’t, all the Bible’s rules for relationships generally have application to marriage. The point here is simple. Be kind and sympathetic to others.
This is all the more important in our marriages because of the tremendous ability all of us have to wound our spouses. I guarantee that if you look deeply into any troubled marriage, what you will find is two hurting people who are terrified of being hurt again, and so they build up all this emotional armor and lash out at each other in an attempt to protect themselves. Take some mighty macho he-man who whips two alligators every day before breakfast. He’ll never admit it, but he is scared to death of his 100-pound wife’s razor-edged tongue. Every one of us who is married, is married to a fearful, fragile, insecure human being whom we can devastate with a word.
Go gently, brothers and sisters. Go gently.
This starts with listening. A lot of the time, when people complain about lack of communication in their marriages, they mean that their spouses don’t want to talk about what they want to talk about. Brethren, compassionate communication doesn’t start with talking about what we want to talk about. It starts with listening to our spouses talk about what they want to talk about. Demanding that they talk doesn’t work. Giving them our attention when they do want to talk does.
This also means that we will respond to them in a them-centered way, not an us-centered way. Sarcasm, for instance, is self-centered. When we’re looking to be sarcastic, we’re not really listening to our spouses. We’re listening for an opportunity to exalt ourselves at their expense. The problem is, though, that when we hurt our spouses every time they open up, we’re teaching them that we can’t be trusted and that they never should open up. By contrast, the more we reward openness with compassion, the more open they will be.
Finally, we should BE OPEN. Look at Paul’s appeal in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. Again, this isn’t a marriage-specific passage, but it reveals a truth about all relationships that is particularly significant in marriage. If we want to have good communication in our marriages, it’s not enough for us to listen compassionately to our spouses when they make themselves vulnerable. We have to be willing to be vulnerable too.
Just to be clear, though, “being vulnerable” is not code for “telling my spouse exactly what I think of their awful behavior”. That’s not vulnerability. It’s self-righteousness.
True vulnerability is hard, and it’s especially hard in difficult marriages. Being vulnerable is an act of trust, and how can you trust somebody who’s burned you so many times before? I think the answer is that if you want your marriage to get better, you have to pray a lot, gather your courage, and do it. Maybe you preface it with an appeal for compassion, but there is no way to open yourself up without. . . opening yourself up.
Additionally, I think that being open is especially hard for men. If there is any person on the planet a man wants to impress, it is his wife. We want our wives to see us as tough, competent, in control, and immovable, and the parts of our inward life that don’t fit with those things, we often edit out. I get that. In fact, I am that! However, at the risk of hypocrisy, I will say that I think it’s important for us to try.