Tearing Down The Barriers To Good Communication In Marriage
Richard E. Powell, Senior Pastor
Fort Caroline Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL
Learning to communicate with your spouse is like learning a foreign language. I had one class of French in High School. I wasn’t a very good student. The only thing I learned to say in French was, “Je ne sais pas.” It means, “I don’t know.” That was usually the answer I gave to my French teacher when he asked me a question. Don’t laugh! Most of us are about as adept in communicating with our spouse as I am in speaking French. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort to develop the skill of communication. Most of us were never taught proper communication skills.
Poor communication can led to all kinds of misunderstandings. This is certainly true in marriage. Polls and surveys consistently demonstrate that the number one issue that can cripple a married couple’s relationship is poor communication. It doesn’t take long for the honeymoon to fade and the consequences of poor communication to appear. Couples wake up to the hard, cold reality: “We don’t talk as much as we used to. We fight more than ever, and I feel like we are growing apart. I don’t know who you are anymore.”
First, let me tell you what communication is not. Communication is not just talking. Too many people think that communication is just running their mouth! Real communication involves talking but it also involves much more. Neither is communication just listening. Some people never express how they feel or what they think. They just passively listen and never genuinely respond.
So what is communication? Communication is the sharing of meaning. A husband and wife have not communicated until meaning has been shared. One sends a certain message and the other understands that message. That is communication.
Communication experts point out that when you talk with another person there are actually six messages that can come through.
#1 . What you mean to say.
#2. What you actually say.
#3. What the other person hears.
#4. What the other person thinks he hears.
#5. What the other person says about what you said.
#6. What you think the other person said about what you said.
A placard frequently seen posted on office walls reads: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” (Communication: Key to your Marriage; H. Norman Wright)
Real, authentic communication between a husband and wife, or any two people for that matter, requires listening to understand and speaking to be understood. Today, I was thinking about the listening side of communication and noted three barriers that must be torn down if I am to understand my spouse.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19 (NKJV)
James is discussing how God communicates with us through His written Word, the Bible. The Bible is God’s message to us, God’s love letter to mankind. James, however, reminds us that communication is a two-way street. We must be willing to listen to God with a desire to understand what He is saying. James says we must be willing to tear down the barriers that block our ability to understand what God is saying to us through the Bible. The same principle applies to communication in marriage. You must take the initiative in tearing down any barriers on your side of the relationship that will keep you from understanding your spouse. James mentions three barriers that must be torn down if communication is going to happen.
Couples often come to me for marriage counseling. It is not unusual to find one of them apathetic about truly communicating. The person is defensive about the counseling session. Their body language says, “I don’t want to be here. This is a waste of time.” True communication, however, requires one to tear down the barrier of apathy. If we truly care about the other person and the health of our relationship, then we will be eager (swift) to hear how they feel.
Sometimes we are apathetic about listening because we have been hurt so many times before that we don’t believe things can change in the relationship. We have given up hope. We don’t want to be hurt, so we don’t get our hopes up. We feel like we have heard it all before; “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Things will be different this time.” Hopelessness leads to apathy. If this describes you, remind yourself that with Christ, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Yes, you will risk being hurt and disappointed again, but that is the risk we take when we love.
Sometimes we are apathetic because we are selfish. It is possible to get to the point where you only care about yourself, your plans, your pleasure, and your priorities. If this describes you, then repent of your sin and ask God and your spouse to forgive you. Then show you’re sincere by learning to eagerly listen to your spouse to learn how they feel.
We must tear down the barrier of apathy, and we must tear down the barrier of arrogance. We must stop talking once in a while and listen to what our spouse has to say. To insist on doing all the talking is arrogant and communicates to your spouse that as far as you are concerned, they have nothing worth listening to. It is arrogant to think that you have all the answers, that your spouse has nothing to contribute to the discussion, and that it is a waste of time to let him or her talk. Be slow to speak and eager to listen. Learn to control your tongue. There is a time to speak and a time to listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7). The Bible says, "A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels." Proverbs 1:5 (KJV)
Couples must learn to talk about their problems without fighting. Conflict will be inevitable, but we cannot allow anger to poison the well of communication. Kerby Anderson wrote, “1 Peter 3:9 says, ‘Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.’ But this is exactly what happens with escalation. Each negative comment increases the level of anger and frustration, and soon a small disagreement blows up into a major fight.”
Why do we get angry? Sometimes we don’t like what we hear. The truth may hurt. Sometimes we don’t like what we “think” we are hearing. We get defensive and angry because we misunderstood the other person. Sometimes we get angry because we have never learned self-control. Anger is a formidable barrier that must be torn down.
Healthy communication requires that we exercise patience and gentleness with our spouse’s feelings. If we jump to conclusions or “fly-off-the handle” then we will kill communication.
The Apostle Paul clearly describes how we must treat one another when he wrote, "Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful." Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)
Resolve to do your part, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to tear down the barriers to marital communication by learning to listen and listening to learn.