Healthy Communication: The Lifeblood of a Strong Marriage
Healthy communication is essential for any successful marriage. So, what is communication?
Oxford defines communication as “the imparting or exchanging of information or news.”
There are two primary forms of communication; They are verbal and non-verbal. Oftentimes we speak loudly with our body language without ever saying a word! It is quite fascinating that we have two ears, yet we have only one mouth suggesting that perhap we were designed to listen more than to speak!
Here’s a fun fact. Do you know the purpose of the nervous system in the body? The nervous system facilitates communication between all parts of the body. When disease affects the nervous system, the body begins to break down and lifespan is shortened - think Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, stroke, Lou Gehrig’s disease to name a few.
Similarly, when “disease” affects communication in marriage, the marriage begins to break down. What are the primary diseases that affect communication in marriage, you ask? Selfishness, anger, and unforgiveness.
Being self-centered is a marriage killer! One, it promotes the agenda and desires of one spouse over those of the other. Selfishness manifests in communication by simply not listening, cutting off your partner while he or she is talking or responding to texts during conversations, for example. This clearly communicates the fact that their thoughts and words are simply unimportant to the hearer. And guess what? That spouse will also begin to feel that way - insignificant!
[Phl 2:3-4 ESV] 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
To combat selfishness, choose to become a great listener! Maintain eye contact during conversations. Mirror or reflect what is being said to communicate that you heard and understood - which also says, “I value you.”
While the kids were growing up, Karen and I set regular agreed upon times for meetings to talk through issues whether it’s the children and school items, planning a vacation, business issues, etc. We also carved out time to honestly assess how we are doing as a couple and how each one of us could improve. To be clear, these weren’t always “rosy” discussions! There were many times, particularly in our early years, when we found ourselves arguing - (also known as an “intense moment of fellowship”) - as we were learning to root out selfishness while growing into a deeper level of intimacy and closeness one with another and with Christ.
After nearly 25 years of marriage, we have learned to listen to one another. We have also learned to give each other permission to speak one’s mind without concern for condemnation or retribution. This is key to creating a protected environment for a thriving, healthy, lifelong marriage.
[Eph 4:26-27 ESV] 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
Anger in and of itself is not the problem. The question is where did the anger come from and what does one do with that anger. Anger usually comes from several things: Unrealistic expectations, unrealized dreams/desires, being ignored, repeatedly breaking one’s word, and the list goes on!
If you are harboring anger towards your spouse, it is crucial that you identify the source. Commit to having an honest discussion with your spouse until the root is found, exposed, and eliminated. You may also need a third party depending on the gravity of the situation - (i.e., infidelity, abuse, dishonesty).
[Pro 19:20 ESV] 20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.
This is a top offense when it comes to disruptors of intimacy and communication! We are called to forgive our spouses only once, right? WRONG!
Matthew 18:21-22 says that we are to forgive someone “seventy-seven times” (or, in many translations, “seventy times seven,” which is 490 times). In Luke 17:4, Jesus says that you should forgive someone seven times in one day; that would work out to more than 2,500 acts of forgiveness each year, every year!
Unforgiveness is like a cancer that will fester inside of you. It is insidious! This means that cancer can be present and progress to a point of no return before you have any clue that it was there. Cancer represents normal cells that have gone rogue, hijacking the body’s normal functions slowly and gradually, ultimately leading to premature death if it is not only discovered but also eradicated. This is exactly what unforgiveness does to a marriage!
Forgiveness in a relationship is not even on the table for discussion…it is demanded of us repeatedly by Jesus Christ, himself!
[Eph 4:31-32 ESV] 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Karen and I are committed to maintaining healthy communication because we understand that, once the communication starts to go south, it’s not too long thereafter before intimacy falls and everything else meaningful to the marriage follows. We are intentional about how we speak to one another; always to maintain respect even though we may disagree about something.
By the way, healthy communication is not saying that you will never disagree. It is a conscious, ongoing decision to communicate in a way that says to your spouse, “I hear you; I care about your desires and thoughts.”
Being intentional means being mindful of what you say and how you’re saying it. Don’t get mewrong, it can be difficult at times as you fight emotions, and you may miss the mark sometimes - (praise God for forgiveness and Jesus’ sacrifice)! However, it is certainly desired by The Creator and more beneficial for all parties to speak kind words to one another in a kind way from the outset vs having to repair wounds inflicted by hurtful words and attitudes based upon the harmful way in which one communicated a thought.
[Pro 12:18 NIV] 18 The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise
Remember, we are in this life not only for what we can get out of it! We are also here to serve Jesus, The Christ, by serving one another!
As we wrap up, we challenge you to strengthen your marriage in three areas:
Don’t allow the sun to go down on your anger and rob you of your oneness.
Treat your spouse better than they deserve by forgiving him/her seven times seventy times daily if needed!
Recommit to improving your marriage by deciding to watch your words carefully while becoming a better listener and friend!
Dr. Ira & Karen Robinson Marriage Expectations: Taking the Time – Workshop Facilitators