When I do marriage counseling as a pastor I often hear the same lament. We just don’t know how to communicate.
Recently I heard it again. The couple described the tenor of the relationship as one of yelling at each other, and not just occasionally but fairly often.
I immediately thought of Titus 3:2. Paul exhorts Titus to instruct believers in the church at Crete on how to live out the gospel in a life of good works in the world. Among other things that includes speaking evil of no one, avoiding quarreling, being gentle, and showing perfect courtesy toward all people.
I made the secondary application to marriage for obvious reasons. Who more important to show perfect courtesy toward than your spouse?
That led to a list of principles of communication in marriage or any relationship for that matter rooted in a Titus 3:2 theology of peacemaking.
- Stay in the “I” and avoid the “you.” In other words, self-report, don’t accuse. Instead of saying, You are judging me when you say something like that, frame things something like this: I struggle with feeling judged when I hear something like that.
- Listen carefully. Don’t interrupt. I don’t know how many times in marital counseling I hear a spouse talk over their partner rather than hearing things out to the end.
- Do everything you can by the power of the gospel to stay composed. Once your conversation deteriorates to yelling you’ve lost the battle and maybe the war.
- Ask questions in order to draw out the heart. Instead of stating conclusions and making ultimatums, seek to get at what’s behind your spouse’s position or choices by asking things like, Can you help me understand why that matters so much to you?
- Give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible that the problem may be only a failure to communicate rather than a deliberate sin. One of my most often used proverbial expressions is Never underestimate the capacity for communication to break down. Work hard to communicate so as not to be misunderstood, not just to be understood.
- Practice the golden rule. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Ask yourself if your manner of communicating reflects how you would want someone else to engage you in a conflict or misunderstanding. If it doesn’t, repent.
- Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26). Few things hinder communication more than failing to deal decisively and constructively with your anger in a timely manner.
- If you haven’t already done so, read Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker or Peacemaking for Families. You’ll have to anyway if you come to me for marital counseling for further help on your communication. Might as well get a leg up on the homework.
Marital dynamics in one sense aren’t rocket science. Paul boiled it down to two things in Eph. 5:33. Wives need love from their husbands and husbands need respect from their wives. Men, does the way you communicate reflect love? Women, does the way you communicate reflect respect? If the banner of Titus 3:2 waves over the way you communicate with your spouse, the answer will be yes.