When divorced couples were asked, “Why did your marriage fail?” 86 percent said, “Deficient communication.” If that is true, then communication in marriage must be extremely important.
Communication involves self-revelation on the part of one individual and listening on the part of another. In its simplest form, communication is talking and listening; however, unless talking and listening are accompanied by honest, loving feedback on the part of the listener, little communication can take place. In fact, miscommunication and misunderstanding will probably be the results. In good marital communication the husband and wife each share thoughts, feelings, experiences, values, priorities, and judgments while the other listens sympathetically. Both partners share on the same open, honest level.
One of the main purposes of this book, of course, is to discuss some practical ways to enhance this process—to get you speaking each other's language.
God's communication to man is the model for our communication with each other. The Scriptures say that God has spoken to man in many ways throughout history. He has spoken through angels, visions, dreams, nature, creation, and, supremely, through his Son, Jesus Christ. All of this is recorded in the Bible. How did the Bible come into existence? “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21 NKJV). The result is that the Bible gives us words from God. Thus, we have the potential for knowing God because God has spoken. Yet we know there are many people who do not have a relationship with God because they have either not listened to his self-revelation or they have responded negatively and walked away to live alone. Thus, they have no relationship and no fellowship with God. There is no intimacy between them and the Creator.
On the other hand, for those who have accepted Christ, intimacy with him is a matter of degree. It is obvious that some Christians are much closer to God than other Christians. The vehicle for gaining intimacy with God as a Christian is regular communication with God. We are to listen to God as he speaks to us through his Word, and we are to respond to God with our honest thoughts, feelings, and decisions. When God speaks, we listen to him. When we speak, God listens to us. Through this process over a period of time, an individual can have a growing intimacy with the God of the universe. There is nothing in life more important than this kind of relationship with God; it enhances all of life both here and hereafter.
The same is true in a covenant marriage: communication leads to intimacy. In 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul raises a question that every woman has asked, “Who … knows the thoughts of a man?” Answer? Only “the man's spirit within him” (NIV). Essentially, Paul is saying that only you know what is going on in your mind. The old saying “I can read him like a book” is simply not true. Wives, you may think you know what is going on in your husband's mind, but actually, you don't. Husbands, you know that you don't know what is going on in her mind, right? If you have been married for thirty years and you have had lots of open communication, there may be some truth to the statement, “I can read him like a book.” Ultimately, however, it is never fully true. We cannot read another person's mind.
Body language is supposed to tell us about people by the way they fold their arms, cross their legs, sit, speak, or use facial expressions. It is true that we can pick up cues from a person's behavior, but we can never know what is in others' minds simply by looking at them. For example, when you observe a lady crying, you may assume that she is troubled. However, you have no idea by observation whether she is experiencing grief over the loss of a spouse or a child, whether she has just been fired from her job, or whether she has just hit her thumb with a hammer. Her tears may even be tears of joy. Only if she chooses to tell you will you know what is behind her tears.
Verbal communication is essential in order to understand what is going on inside other people. If they do not tell us their thoughts, their feelings, and their experiences, we are left to guess. Unfortunately, our guess is usually wrong, and we misunderstand them. That is why communication is an absolute necessity if we are to reach intimacy. We will never experience what God had in mind when he ordained marriage if we do not communicate with each other. As we come to understand the process of communication and learn how to overcome barriers to communication, our experience of intimacy will bring us the joy God intended.
Now Your're Speaking My Language is designed to enhance communication and intimacy. We will look at some of the reasons why 86 percent of those who divorce say that the main problem was deficient communication. But before we look at the weightier matters, let me suggest an easy step to enhance communication: plan a daily sharing time with your spouse. Couples who have a “sit down, look at me, let's talk” time each day have a higher level of intimacy than those couples who simply talk “whenever and wherever.” Couples who practice a daily sharing time will tend to talk more with each other at other times as well.
So, what do you talk about in this daily sharing time? Just keep it simple. Here is what I call the “daily minimum requirement”: “Tell me three things that happened in your life today and how you feel about them.” Based on a survey I conducted, my conclusion is that 50 percent of the married couples in this country do not meet this daily minimum requirement. When I share this idea with couples, someone in the group will say, “Oh, we already do that,” or “I'm sure we share at least three things with each other every day.” So I probe. “Great. Share with the group the three things you shared with each other today,” to which they typically respond, “Oh. Well, we didn't have time to talk today; we had to come to this meeting. You know you have to rush to get here on time.” I say, “Fine. Share with the group three things you shared with each other yesterday.” “Well, uhh. Last night was PTA meeting, and we never have time to talk on PTA night.” “Fine. Share with us the three things you shared with each other the day before yesterday.” “Well. That was soccer night. We don't ever get a chance to talk on soccer night, especially when we lose.” You, too, may come to the realization that you may not be meeting the daily minimum requirement.
Some couples complain, “My life is the same every day. I don't have anything to share. It is always the same routine. There is no need to share it.” The fact is that none of us experience the same thing every day. It may be true that our job is monotonous. We may do the same physical functions every day on our jobs, but all of us think different thoughts throughout the day. We have different feelings. And some things are different each day—traffic patterns vary on the way to and from work, the lunch menu is not always the same, conversations we have with people will vary from day to day along with the weather and the information we receive on the radio or television. Things are not the same every day. Perhaps we are simply using this as an excuse for not sharing with our spouses.
“But nothing important ever happens in my life,” some say. Who determines what is important? Is eating lunch important? Is getting a drink of water important? Perhaps your life has not been exciting today, but it has been your life. It you want intimacy in your marriage, you must share life. If you had a boring day, let your spouse in on your day so he/she has an opportunity to respond to your boredom. If you don't self-reveal, your spouse has no way of knowing where you are emotionally, and he/she is left to guess. Often the guess will be wrong.
Every couple needs a daily time when they can look into each other's eyes, talk, and listen as they share life with each other. This kind of quality time spent daily is one of the most fundamental exercises a couple can do to enhance intimacy in a marriage relationship. Many couples go for days without such a sharing time. Each is involved in a busy schedule, and they simply communicate those things necessary for carrying on the daily routine. Emotionally, they grow further apart.
What we are talking about here is the simplest and easiest level of communication—sharing with each other some of our day-to-day events and how we feel about those events. Regular communication on this basic level builds a platform that supports communication on more intimate and sometimes difficult levels.
Couples who desire an intimate relationship must share not only some of the things they experience throughout the day but also their feelings about those events. For example, a husband comes home from work and shares with his wife that he had a conversation with his supervisor and was informed that he is to receive a pay raise. The wife asks, “How do you feel about that, darling?” He may respond, “Elated! I didn't expect a raise until the first of the year.” On the other hand, he may say, “Do you want to know the truth? I feel disappointed. The raise should have been twice as much as it was.” Whichever way he responds, the wife now knows her husband better. Because he has shared a little of his emotional life, she can enter his world and have a greater sense of emotional intimacy. If he does not share his feelings verbally, she may detect something of his emotional response by his physical behavior, but the communication is much clearer when he verbalizes his feelings to her. We are emotional creatures, and we have emotional responses to the things that happen to us throughout the day. If we are going to build intimacy in marriage, we must learn to share some of our emotions.
For many couples, daily communication consists of the following scenario: Husband walks into the house. Wife walks into the house. Wife says to husband, “How did things go today, dear?” He responds, “Fine,” as he turns on the TV to watch the evening news, or he heads for the backyard to mow the grass. Though they have been apart for eight to ten hours, cut off from each other, he summarizes their time apart with one word—fine. And the husband wonders why his wife complains that they no longer have intimacy in their marriage! One word is not an adequate summary of ten hours apart. We must learn to have daily communication times.
Good communication is the road to intimacy. Poor communication leads couples down dead-end streets and through numerous detours. In the following chapters, it is my objective to provide a road map to help you reach the destination of an intimate covenant marriage through productive communication. We begin, in chapter 2, by looking at some unhealthy patterns of communication. Good communication requires that we identify and eliminate the unhealthy and then find new ways of communicating that foster understanding and intimacy.