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Marriage Communication — A Tennis Match

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“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . .” — James 1:19

“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/or question, and perhaps asks another question. And so the game continues.”

This is an important paragraph from the HomeBuilders Bible study entitled Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready (p. 39), meant to help couples in their communication skills before they are geographically separated. But the truth is that communication skills are vital to the life of a marriage relationship—deployment or not.

Using the tennis analogy, a conversation can continue easily as one partner “volleys” the ball to the other. If the ball is “slammed” (perhaps insult or accusation), making it impossible for the tennis partner to return the exchange. . . or if the ball is hit out of bounds (not listening or paying attention), the conversation is over for the moment and has to begin again with a new statement or question.

Dennis and Mary Trexler of Cru Military have taken the analogy of tennis to explain some of the fundamentals of good communication in a talk they call, “Tennis Anyone?” As you read these “Tennis Rules of Serving” think about how they could correspond to a conversation between a husband and wife:

  • The server stands behind the baseline, in between the center mark and the sideline (Do you have your spouse’s attention?);
  • The ball has to go over the top of the net on a serve (Have you made yourself clear, perhaps dealing with just one issue and not many issues?);
  • Your serve must reach the service box on the other side of the court (Are you focusing on the specific and not making generalizations?);
  • If the serve drops outside of the service box, you get a second chance to serve (Does your spouse understand what you said?);
  • You get two chances to serve. When you miss a serve, it is called a “fault” (Did you judge their motives without giving them a chance to explain?);
  • You cannot serve the ball before your receiver is ready (Are you prepared to use “I” statements and not “You” statements, giving them the chance to respond without defensiveness?).

When you initiate a conversation, there is the responsibility to be able to continue the conversation to a worthwhile end. Viewing this responsibility as being similar to one who serves the tennis ball with the intention of continuing the match may help.

But the Trexlers would be just as quick to tell us that there is responsibility on the part of the receiver. Here are their “Tennis Rules of Receiving”:

  • You can stand wherever you want when receiving a serve, but the tennis ball cannot be allowed to bounce into the service box (Did you listen intently to your spouse or ignore them?);
  • If the serve is good, you must hit the ball back to the server (Did you receive what they said to you and answer them appropriately?);
  • The serve receiver has to let the ball bounce one time before hitting it back (Are you answering your spouse before they have even finished speaking?);
  • If you hit the ball before it bounces, the server gets the point (Have you been too quick to focus on “fixing the problem” instead of hearing what your spouse is feeling?).

These are just a few pointers which can help when a couple is trying—and trying hard—to communicate well. Just like tennis, it takes practice. Just like tennis, it takes desire to learn. Just like tennis, it takes rules for it to go smoothly. And just like tennis, it takes two! It takes both of you being intentional about “serving the ball” and “receiving the ball” for good communication in marriage to take place.

And what about communication during deployment? This does not mean that “all rules are off!” Quite the contrary—all rules still apply! You both have to make sure that you are listening well to the others’ needs and feelings, that you are asking good questions which get to their heart, and that you “make contact” as often as possible to keep the relationship moving.

And remember—this is not a game! Communication in marriage is work, and it is serious business. But, in the end, you will both be winners!

Work Cited: Making Your Marriage Deployment Ready is available at Shop.FamilyLife.com and CruMilitary.org.

Questions to Share:

1. During deployment, do you communicate best by email, phone, or letter? What about your spouse? Discuss this between the two of you.

2. Has the difference in time zones been a barrier to your communication? What other difficulties have you had to overcome in order to communicate well with each other?

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