A few weeks ago, we started a conversation about building a better marriage. However, I feel like I need to confess something up front. My marriage is not perfect. Phew! Its like a weight has been lifted off my chest! Don’t get me wrong, my wife is amazing! She is the glue that keeps our family together and I love our relationship! I’m just telling you that it isn’t perfect. Our marriage is like anything else in life that is worth doing, it takes real work to make it thrive and go the distance. Jean and I have to be intentional about things like date nights, talking about our finances (ugh) and discussing how we could be more effective parents.
Let’s get real for a second, life is super busy and moves at break neck speed doesn’t it? It is hard to find time to sit down much less sit down and actually have a meaningful conversation! Which leads me to the first tool of building a great marriage: communication.
I know right now you’re thinking, “This guy is a genius! I’ve never heard ANYONE say that communication is an important part of marriage before!” Okay, tone down the sarcasm. It is not appreciated. Here’s the God’s honest truth: we all know that communication is important, we just don’t do it well. Let me correct that last statement, we either don’t do it well or we don’t take the time to do it at all. If we are good at communication, we sometimes take it for granted that it is happening. If we are bad at communication, we just avoid it because of the pain that it causes. Sometimes we communicate to people without actually hearing what the other person is saying back to us. The only thing we are concerned with is that we tell them what we deem as “critical information” and then walk away.
We can either be satisfied with the status quo or we can actually do something about it. If communication is important, then let’s make a serious effort to infuse it into our relationships and to do it well.
I’m not sure who said it, but I heard this quote just the other day, “Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life, without it, it dies.” Good one…guy who said that. It is absolutely true. Without it, your life lacks intimacy and a growing knowledge of your spouse who is constantly changing.
Let me hit you with some solid logic:
The person that you are married to today, is not the person you married years ago.
Now calm down for a second. Take some deep breaths. I’m not saying that a clone is living in your house with you or that alien body snatchers have possessed your spouse. Because I know that’s what you are thinking. What I am attempting to say, is that as we age, we change. Some of that can be really subtle change over time and sometimes it can be drastic change due to events or circumstances. Regardless of what type of change has taken place, you would do well to pay attention to it.
One of the most underestimated and underutilized part of communication is listening.
What I am about to say next is important, are you listening? Good, then we are on the right track. In the world that we currently live in, it is more important that we express ourselves and be heard than to sit back and listen to the opinions of others. Let that sink in for a second. What is seen as valuable in our current environment, is that we speak our peace and then walk away.
This is not effective communication.
Listen to this truth from Scripture and especially the first few words:
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2
It says, “a fool”. Stop. If you want to express your opinion and drop the mic, then walk away. You are a fool. If you want to say something ugly to hurt other people behind the safety of your computer, you are a fool.
However, if you want to enjoy a deep level of communication or just be effective at it, you need to listen.
When you communicate with your spouse, listen more than you talk. Your goal should be to truly understand the heart behind what they say, not speak your truth and then leave.
As a matter of fact, your default should be listening instead of speaking. Listen to what James has to say for a second:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19
If your goal is to listen, your communication with your spouse will improve. By the way, most people when they are listened to, want to return the favor. Sure, there are people that just want to talk and don’t want to hear what you have to say. However, I am sure of this, if you are in a relationship with someone who loves you, they will begin to listen to you if you listen to them. With listening, comes understanding. With understanding, comes a strong relationship.
Effective communication starts with listening.
When you listen attentively, not waiting to speak but actually listening, it leads to understanding. If you feel like connection is a problem in your relationship, you’re got to try this! Because…
Understanding leads to intimacy.
If you want to be known, I mean really known by someone you have to listen and understand that individual. If you are having a serious discussion about something and your goal is understanding, you will have to try to not to take what they are saying personally. If you are the person talking, the best way to avoid this is by avoid blame or using words like “you always” or “you never”. Those are called “absolute” statements.
If you are doing the listening, the best way to show that you understand what they are saying is by repeating what is being said, “What I hear you saying is that it frustrates you when I watch the Spurs while you are trying to tell me something important.” Not that this has ever happened to me, it is just an example (wink, wink. nudge, nudge).
Some of this may be awkward at first but the more you do it, the more you begin to discover your own delivery method for communicating these principles. If your goal is winning the argument, making the other person understand that you were right…you’ll never get there but if you do the hard work of listening you will begin to understand WHY they are taking a different stance on the topic. Then maybe you will gain a new perspective on the topic and have a more nuanced approach. You see…
The goal of communication is understanding.
Understanding leads to intimacy. You can’t love someone you don’t know. When you understand someone and really hear them, you begin to appreciate their point of view. Even if you don’t agree with their point of view, you can understand how they arrived there.
One more thing. If you are going to listen to your spouse, you’ll need to listen to God along the way.
The absolute best way to practice listening is to carve out time every day, even if it is just two minutes, to listen to God’s leading. Maybe you just want to pray about your marriage. Perhaps you’d like to work on a personal issue that is causing you grief in your relationship. Whatever it is, spend some time listening to God. I know, it can be totally weird at first. But just throw out a topic to Him like “God, I am so set in my ways, could you help me to be more open to listening to my husband/ wife so that I can understand where they are coming from?” Then spend a few moments in silence. Maybe read a passage and pray over it. Ask God for His leading in that and then end the prayer. Be on the lookout throughout the day for Him to give you insight into that topic.
That’s it! Listen to God and listen to your spouse. I know that sounds hard but guys, listening is real work!
I confess, I don’t always do this!!! I need to do it more. One thing is for certain, when I do this, it seems like I am closer to my wife and we have better dialogue and I understand the person I’ve been married to for 20+ years! I also know that when I understand her, I gain a new perspective, a more nuanced perspective, than I had before.
Let God change you this week by listening to Him and listening to your spouse.