E-Mom at Chrysalis hosts an occasional Marriage Monday, inviting bloggers to write on a certain topic related to marriage. When she announced the topic this month was communication, I didn’t think I’d have anything to say besides, “Yes, do it.” But throughout the morning thoughts have been coming to mind about communication, so I thought I’d share a few gleaned from 30+ years of marriage. Forgive me for not having this as carefully crafted and polished as it would have been if I’d started when the topic was first announced.
1. Do communicate. Sometimes life gets so busy it seems you just pass each other on the way to getting other things done, but make time to talk. I wouldn’t necessarily schedule a set weekly time to talk: that might work for some, but for us that would be awkward and stifling. But lingering to chat a bit after dinner instead of dashing off to clean up the kitchen, etc., allows some time to touch base.
2. It’s okay to be comfortable with silence sometimes. Women in general tend to talk more than men. One statistic I saw said women use approximately three times more words a day than men. And I heard one speaker say that many men have used up all their words by the time they get home from work. A wise husband will reserve some for his wife, but a wise wife will understand that when a husband sits quietly it may not mean anything is wrong. He may just be resting his brain. Over time as you get to know each other’s personalities more, you’ll probably be able to sense when silence might indicate something is wrong.
3. Try not to communicate in anger. That’s usually when harsher and more hurtful words are used. If possible, wait until emotions are under control. On the other hand, if it is really important, don’t let it fester: try to find a time to talk about it calmly (pray beforehand for wisdom and self-control. “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer” Proverbs 15:28).
4. Avoid “never” and “always.” “You never pick up your socks!” “You always interrupt me!” Statements like that are probably not completely true, and they engender defensiveness. Just calmly state whatever the problem is and request the change you want.
5. Don’t try to talk to him when he is distracted. Whether he is paying the bills or watching a football game, those are probably not the times to ask him a question or tell him something important. My husband doesn’t watch football, but when he is involved in a project he is very focused until it’s done or at least until he gets to a stopping place. I’ve spoken to him during those times and even gotten an answer, but later he doesn’t remember any of it. Instead of getting frustrated over it, just try to make sure you have his attention and he’s not distracted before saying something important. (After all, aren’t we the same way? We can multitask talking with some things, but other times we’d really like to finish what we’re doing first.)
6. Don’t assume. We can cause so many problems when we do that. Once during our early marriage, I was taking items to donate somewhere, and my husband asked me to get a statement from the place so we could deduct the donation on our income taxes. It’s not a problem now, but at the time I felt extremely awkward asking for it, and I felt like we were supposed to give “not letting our left hand know what the right is doing,” and this would be a violation of that. I stewed over it until we finally did talk about it, and my husband explained that he didn’t want to the statement as a means to take credit for what we had given: he just didn’t want to pay a penny more in taxes than necessary. Similarly, once my son and daughter-in-law joked about digging coins out of the couch for a date (Don’t we all remember early married days like that?), and so my husband saved his pocket change for several weeks and then gave it to them for a date night. At first my daughter-in-law thought the change was a subtle hint that they should be using the laundromat instead of washing laundry at our house. We laughed about it, but some misunderstandings based on assumptions can cause serious problems, especially if we stew over it rather than saying anything.
7. Speak to him with respect. This should probably be #1. Especially if you’re dealing with a perceived problem, don’t lash out. Don’t talk to him like he is one of the children. Think of how you carefully you would word things if you were talking to your boss, your pastor, or someone you highly respected. You know what? You’re supposed to respect your husband like that. Even more than that. (Ephesians 5:33).
8. You don’t have to say everything in your head. I’m not talking about keeping secrets, but there are two aspects of this. First, I tend to want to tell every little detail of a story or situation (maybe it’s part of having three times more words that need an outlet, I don’t know), but it can be incredibly boring to listen to (or read. I am striving for conciseness, but it is not my natural bent.) I know because I feel that way when people are telling a very long story with a lot of detail that isn’t really needed. When I see eyes starting to glaze over, it’s a reminder to get to the point and leave out extraneous detail.
Secondly, you don’t have to point out every little fault or flaw. How would you feel if he did that to you? Love covers a “multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). We all have our “besetting sins” that make us not the easiest person to live with.
9. Be careful about teasing. This is subjective and varies from person to person, but I’ve heard some couples say things to each other “in fun” that would have devasted me. You should never make fun of him, to him or to anyone else (that goes back to the respect issue), but be careful about little teasing barbs and sarcasm as well.
10. Attack the problem, not the person.
11. Remember every Scriptural instruction about the use of our words applies to marriage, too. It’s easiest to drop our guard with those closest to us when those are the ones with whom are words should be most carefully guarded. There are too many verses to list here, but a good topical study would be to look up “words,” “speak,” “tongue,” and related words in a concordance or Bible search program. If it seems too much to look through the whole Bible, just look through Proverbs: there is enough there for us to work on for a long time. But here are just a few:
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health. Proverbs 12:18.
Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt. Colossians 4:5b
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Ephesians 4:29-30.
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. Proverbs 16:24.
The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness. Proverbs 15:2.
I’m sure I am forgetting some great principles in communication in marriage. Can you think of any others?