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We Don’t Communicate!

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” —James 1:19b

Do you feel that you and your spouse communicate well? Do you feel that the ability to communicate well can make or break your marriage?

Good questions, right? And if you are like most couples, you believe that communication is something that you need to work on. But how do you do that? There are books written on such topics! But just for today, we have some ideas to get you started. . . .

A chaplain called us a few months ago, asking for recommendations on resources for Bible studies on marriage—specifically on communication. He felt that his unit’s deployment time would be opportune for small group discipleship, and wanted to be prepared with good material. One thing he had in mind was helping his unit’s couples hone their skills in learning to ask good questions—“conversation starters.” Our best teacher at learning to ask questions of others is Jesus. Jesus was so good at asking just the right question at just the right time, because he knew peoples’ hearts and their needs. It’s fascinating to study the gospels just with that in mind—studying the questions that Jesus asked. For example, Peter’s great confession of faith came in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15b) I believe Jesus shows us that the better we are at asking good questions, the better we can communicate at the “heart” level.

So, if we are going to get deeper in our relationship with our spouse, we need to learn to start sharing more than just information. We need to share what we think, what we feel—even who we are! It’s so easy with email, or over the phone, to just cover what is happening and not get to how we feel about what is happening. Let your spouse know that you care what they think and feel by asking questions!

For example, which of the following statements will get a conversation started: “Hope you had a good day” “I suppose you had a good day” or “How was your day?” The first two statements are based on assumptions and are sure conversation stoppers, while the straightforward question should prompt a thoughtful answer. By taking time to listen to the response, and then perhaps offering yet another question to help clarify what was said, you have demonstrated genuine interest in your spouse. And in answering a question, try not to give one-word answers, like “fine.” That is yet another way to leave the conversation at just the surface level, keeping it from going deeper. Easier said than done? These things take practice.

Communication is a lot like tennis. One person begins the conversation by making a statement, and then perhaps asking a question—like serving the ball. The other person “returns the ball” by responding to the statement and perhaps asking another question. And so the game continues. Volleying back and forth in a gentle sharing would be a metaphor for how each player would be participating. Perhaps you can picture what would happen in a tennis game if one of the players failed to return the ball, or always went to the net to slam it back at the other. Isn’t this a picture of what happens to trust in a relationship?

At the end of each “Excellent or Praiseworthy” devotional, you will find two questions to share. This is intentional. We hope that you can talk about what you read and specifically discuss these two questions. Taking the time in email, letter, or phone conversation to cover things beyond the weather, bank balance (which is important!), kids grades (also important) will increase intimacy in your marriage as you build trust with what you can share with each other—even while separated by deployment!

One of our favorite collections of “conversation starters” is by Dr. Gary Chapman, the author of Five Love Languages. It’s a handy flip chart with 101 questions called “Love Talks for Couples.” The introduction states, “These questions celebrate the depth and wonderful mystery of your mate. Questions invite disclosure, and disclosure launches discovery. Discovery enriches a marriage and builds intimacy.” Here are some examples of questions from Dr. Chapman which couples can ask each other in order to stimulate a conversation:

“In retrospect, what is something that your parents were wise in doing in raising you?”
“What was your most/least favorite subject in school?”
“What is a song or piece of music that moves or inspires you?”
“If you could win any competition in the world, what would it be?”
“What is something you thoroughly enjoyed doing as a child and have not done in years?”
“What do you remember about learning to drive?”

Long-distance communication is not easy. Communication is not easy! But the better we can get at understanding our spouse, appreciating what is important to them, and seeking to meet their needs the further we will go toward creating oneness in our marriages.

We recently spent time with a Marine wife at Camp Pendleton who shared with us how she and her husband (deployed four times) had grown in their communication skills. She wrote him and asked, “What does it feel like to you to be loved?” This Marine wrote back, “To know that one is loved at all produces a special type of resilience to whatever obstacles one faces, lifts the spirit, and gives one a sense of self worth. No matter what happens in this life of mine, I know that I am loved by God, and that knowledge alone helps me through all the negative things that I may encounter whether they are from outside influences, or from within my own self. At the same time, this type of love magnifies the joy that life brings as well, giving love this awesome ability to protect, discipline, and bring happiness to ones self and to others as well.” Perhaps this type of interchange is what the psalmist meant when he wrote, “Deep calls to deep.” (Psalm 42:7)

This level of transparency in a relationship is one that develops over time, but is worth aiming towards. This wife is secure, knowing that she is valued by her husband who holds her in the highest esteem. Her question drew out of his soul an answer that she treasures. We learn to teach by teaching, to write by writing, to speak by speaking, etc. Learning to communicate well means being vulnerable—and might begin by learning to ask some good questions. One of my favorite questions to ask, and to receive, is “How can I pray for you today?” Another is, “How do you see God working in your life right now?” Then please take the time to listen to the answers! It’ll make for a good “tennis match”!

Questions to share:

1. Do we, as a couple, really listen to each other when we speak?

2. Do we value what the other person is going through enough to ask them how they are doing?

Resource:

Gary Chapman and Ramon Presson, Love Talks for Couples, Northfield Publishing, 2002.

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