So far in this study we have set forth the idea that sacred families (the ones that are truly set apart for God's service and glory) begin with biblical marriages. Most marriages have correctly understood the one man and one woman element of biblical marriage as well as the long term commitment necessity, but many have trouble with the "in love for life" requirement. I have suggested to you that among the many important practices in a marriage, none is more essential to cultivating and maintaining love than effective communication between the partners. When there is little to no communication this usually means that there is little to no love in that marriage. Communication is the currency of love.
In this chapter I want to examine some of the ways to improve communication skills within marriage.
Previously I have said that some people want love, need love and desire to give love, but fail in love because they cannot communicate it well. The answer for these individuals is not to start loving, they are already trying to do that; nor is the answer to love differently, since I do not think people can change their basic personality in order to accomplish this. For example, touchy-feely people cannot simply change the way they are because being touchy-feely is not a superficial thing, it is who they are. The answer, I believe, is to find more effective ways to communicate our love for the other, and hopefully, better receive the love we need for ourselves.
I am convinced that the way to do this is to make the communication you do have more effective and productive. Think of it as building a communication bridge between you and your beloved. The idea is that if you improve communication, you will automatically improve love. There are ways to improve the communication between you and your spouse. Here are three basic communication elements that will make you connect more effectively at every level:
Communication Must Be Totally Honest
but speaking the truth in love...
- Ephesians 4:15
For communication to be productive it needs to be honest, even if this is risky at times. A common mistake made by both men and women in a marriage relationship is that they often say what the other person wants to hear in order to get what they want. This works in the short term but is disastrous for long term relationships. The best example of this is when we compare the hierarchy of needs that men and women say that they need from each other. This survey shows what men and women acknowledge privately as their top five needs, but rarely acknowledge to each other for fear of ridicule or rejection.
- Sexual fulfillment: It is number one because that is the way God created them. The natural production of seminal fluid in a man causes the constant need for gratification. It is the greatest single struggle each man must deal with in order to mature emotionally, socially and spiritually.
- Playmate: Men want their wives to be their buddies and friends.
- Attractive: A wife's looks and demeanor either build up a man's pride or bring it down.
- Domestic support: A quiet, clean and welcoming home (he feels welcome when he comes home to his own house).
- Admiration: Respect and encouragement.
- Affection: Not necessarily sex. Romance, cuddling, holding, tender words and touch.
- Attention: The sharing of thoughts. Really listening with feedback.
- Trust: Her world, especially when there are children, is supported by him. She has to be confident that she is his priority.
- Financial security: Enough to live on and provide for the family. Enough to give the children advantages in education and social mobility.
- Involvement: Getting involved in home and family matters. Truly providing leadership.
What the survey showed were things we kind of knew from experience and observation. Men are generally immature and more self-centered. They want attention and gratification, and are not always willing to give in exchange for these.
Women are more high-minded and usually willing to make a greater personal investment in order to succeed in marriage. However, women tend to ask for conflicting things. They want security for their children which places a greater burden on the husband if he is the primary earner. At the same time they want him to be more involved at home which requires time, time that may be needed at work.
I've cited this brief survey simply to show that without honest communication, there is little chance for growth in the relationship or the deepening of mutual understanding and its natural byproduct, love.
Communication Must Be Clear
For communication to be productive it also needs to be clear. More arguments, divisions and hurt feelings come from communication that is unclear than from intended insults. Those who speak need to make sure that the hearer has indeed understood what was said and the meaning of it. Hearers need to reassure the speakers that they have truly been understood. Our words and actions need to convey what we mean. If what you are doing means, "I am truly sorry" and not just, "I'm tired of arguing" make sure the other person knows it.
Practice good feedback methods. Say or do what you will but always make sure, through feedback, that the other person is understanding your words and intentions ("tell me what I have just said").
Communication Must Be Complete
We must tell the truth, express is clearly and tell it all. Some do not agree on this point but when one area of discussion is taboo, or one of the partners declares a problem or discussion "off limits," this creates frustration, resentment and a gradual closing down of the communication network between people. There is no greater joy or protection than a loving partner with whom we can share all of our hearts.
I would like to remind you that as Christians, we rarely have an opportunity to make a dynamic or public witness for our faith (few are executed for the faith, few write famous books, etc.). Most of us live ordinary lives and it is with these ordinary lives that we make our statement of faith.
Faithful, Christ-centered and loving marriages are the single greatest witness that we will probably ever make for the Lord before this unbelieving world. To be in love for life with our marriage partner is a true and powerful service to God and reveals His glory to those who see it and are blessed by its warm glow. It is the brightest star in the crown of a sacred family and honest, clear, and complete communication will serve to first ignite and then maintain that married love for a lifetime.