The Bible has much to say about the importance of healthy communication and the results of bad communication. James said the tongue can be “set on fire by hell.” So, how can couples grow and become more intentional when it comes to healthy communication?
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Marriage: Made in Heaven? Part 13 “Healthy Communication”
We’re in a series on God’s design for marriage. If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, you can read them here. In today’s post we’ll talk about the importance of regular, healthy communication to a thriving marriage.
The authors of Family Life’s book Preparing for Marriage have this to say about communication:
Communication is to a relationship what blood is to the human body. Communication nourishes and sustains a relationship. Remove it, and you no longer have a relationship.
No wonder marriage counselors everywhere, constantly, hear the lament, “We just don’t communicate!” Even when there are other serious issues, lack of communication worsens them. Few people learn to communicate, solve problems and resolve conflict well, unless they are purposeful and determined to do so.
Even couples with great marriages will, often, tell you, they didn’t start out knowing how to communicate. Many will admit to years of struggle and heartache in this area. Couples who thought they could talk about anything during their dating time can find themselves hurt, angry, and frustrated as they move into the early years of marriage.
But sadly, if we don’t learn to communicate well, those feelings can grow and last for years. Those couples may resort to living separate lives or they may simply divorce.
Healthy Communication or Evil Communication
The Bible talks about all kinds of communication, not all of it healthy!
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise (Prov. 10.19).
An angry man stirs up strife,
And a furious man abounds in transgression (Prov. 29.22).
Whoever hides hatred has lying lips,
And whoever spreads slander is a fool (Prov. 10.18).
Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop,
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman (Prov. 21.9).
James said this in chapter 3 of his epistle:
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. 4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
So while communication is vital, it’s important how we communicate. We can allow our tongues to be used for good or for evil. How many marriages have been burned to the ground by tongues loaded with the fire of hell?!
Healthy Communication: More Than Words
Good communication involves both speaking and listening well.
We have all seen instances where someone (never us!) said one thing, but their body language or tone of voice said something else. And when a spouse fails to listen well, they are communicating something: lack of interest, selfishness, or an unwillingness to understand, among other things.
4 Basic Ground Rules for Healthy Communication
Whether conducting business, interacting on a social level, or playing a game, it’s difficult to do it well, if you don’t know the rules. God has given us some clear rules for good communication. They are spread throughout the Bible, but one of the most concise passages is in Ephesians 4.14-32. We can sum it up with 4 basic rules. I wrote about them in detail in an earlier post, but I’ll summarize them here.
4 Rules of Communication
- Be honest.
- Keep current.
- Attack the problem, not the person.
- Act, don’t react.
Ephesians 4.25 says:
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.
Sounds simple enough, but being honest is more that just not telling a lie. It’s, also, more than blurting out the unadulterated truth. It involves being open and transparent in a loving way.
The first part of being honest is to communicate. “Let each of you speak …”
The second part is to speak truth. It’s not enough to just “not lie.” We must also speak truth.
For example: If, after you and your husband agreed not to make any unnecessary purchases, you put those shoes you wanted on your credit card, slipped them into the house when you’re husband wasn’t home, and simply never brought it up, you may not have lied, but your weren’t being honest either.
So we are to speak and to speak truth, but we must also learn to speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4.15 says:
[B]ut, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.
So rule #1 is: “Be honest.” Speak. Speak the truth. Speak the truth in love.
26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.
We live in a sin-cursed world. We’re sinners living with other sinners. Sometimes we’ll offend others. When we do, we need to be good repenters and quick to ask for forgiveness. It’s, also, true that others will sin against us. Sometimes in grievous ways, ways that tempt us to anger. In some cases, the initial feelings of anger are not sinful, but we need to deal with those feelings in biblical ways or they can quickly become sinful.
There are two sinful ways of responding to anger. The first is to explode, which we’ll talk more about in a minute. But the other, is to clam up. Clamming up might seem more godly, but it’s an illusion.
Remember God is looking at the heart. We can keep quiet on the outside, but be seething on the inside. Sooner or later that kind of anger will erupt somewhere. Either we’ll turn it inward on ourselves or eventually we’ll explode on someone else because we’ve given the devil a foothold.
Instead, we need to deal with the issue quickly, either by choosing to forgive, not just brushing it under the rug, but truly forgiving and letting it go. Or we need to go to the other person and seek reconciliation using these 4 rules of communication as our guidelines.
So rule #2 is “Keep current.” Don’t stuff things or pretend problems don’t exist. Deal with them in biblical ways.
Attack the Problem, Not the Person.
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Verse 29 says we’re to put off that kind of corrupt communication. Instead we need to attack the problem by putting on speech that is edifying and gives grace to the hearer.
Edifying speech is speech that builds up rather than tears down. Even when we need to discuss a problem, criticism can be constructive instead of destructive.
When God gives us grace, He gives us what we need, not necessarily, what we want, but not what we deserve either. Grace-filled speech is the same. It’s not speech that puffs another up and tells them only what they want to hear, but we aren’t to unload on them by giving them what we think they deserve either.
So rule #3 is “Attack the problem, not the person.”
Act, don’t react.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Our sin nature says, “You push me, I push you back!” It says, “You cross me, I’m going to give you a piece of my mind” or “I don’t get mad, I get even.” These are your exploders.
We excuse our sinful reactions by saying, “She knows how to push my buttons.” Or, “That’s just the way I am, I have a quick temper.” We minimize, justify, or blame-shift, instead of taking responsibility and calling it what it is … sin.
We need to put off bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, slander, and all kinds of evil behavior. If you study out those words you’ll find it covers all kinds of anger: explosive outbursts, slamming and throwing things, yelling, inner bitterness, slander and more. In their place we’re to put on kindness, tenderheartedness (compassion), and forgiveness.
With the very person and in the very circumstance where we’re being tempted to anger, we’re to choose to act with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. That often means doing so in spite of our feelings to the contrary and requires asking God for His help.
So rule #4 is “Act, don’t react.”
Commit, Commit, Commit
If couples are going to communicate biblically, it must start with a commitment to God and each other to do so.
Study the 4 rules of communication with a desire to really understand the principles involved. When you have a difficult subject to discuss, pray together and review the 4 rules before beginning. Make it your desire to please God and not win an argument or have your own way (2 Cor. 5.9).
Jay Adams in his book Christian Living in the Home says:
There are usually at least two problems involved in any human conflict. There is the issue over which the parties differ, and there is also the problem of their attitudes toward one another.
Pray that God would help you have a right attitude.
Commit to communicating when you want to clam up by refusing to discuss an issue or giving the silent treatment.
Pray and ask God to put a guard on your tongue if you’re tempted to explode or raise your voice. Take a short break from a discussion, if necessary, but only to pray and ask for God’s help to communicate biblically. Don’t sweep it under the rug and just move on.
It may seem easier, at the moment, to just “get over it,” which is what many couples do … over and over. Usually, one or both of them simply don’t want another argument or they’re too prideful to admit they’re wrong. But if you don’t truly forgive and release it to God or do the hard work of resolving the conflict, it’s like throwing it into a gunny sack and carrying it around with you. You’re trying to live life, parent, even climb into bed, with a sack full of unresolved conflicts that keeps getting heavier and heavier. Sooner or later it will burst and it won’t be pretty!
It’s also important to commit to be a good listener. Solving problems is not a war to be won. Really listen to your spouse. Listen with a heart to understand. Because men and women process issues differently, husbands may need to work at understanding why their wives feel the way they do. While, wives may need to seek to understand their husbands thoughts about a problem.
Ask good questions (remember tone of voice and body language matter):
Are you telling me that _________?
What did you mean when you said _________?
In All Things … Love
Finally … let love be the controlling factor in all of your communication. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 13:
¹ Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
Healthy communication requires work and effort, but the results are deeper intimacy and a marriage that really thrives. Let’s make a commitment (or renew it) to do all we can to communicate well.
I hope you’ll share your thoughts about communication or marriage, in general. How have you and your spouse grown in this area? What have you learned along the way?
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