Communication! How could it not be on the list of 5C’s? Everyone knows how important communication is to any relationship, yet it seems to be something most relationships struggle to do well. Why is that? Why is communication so uncomplicated in one sense, yet so difficult to master? There are numerous answers to this but one I believe to be fundamental is the concept of self-projection. That is the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, desires, and suppositions onto another. This is particularly true with regard to communication. We tend to communicate in a way that fits our personality, gender and upbringing without considering the audience to which we are communicating.
In his book, ‘Don’t Die With The Music In You’ NRL Super Coach Wayne Bennett writes about the importance of tailoring your communication to your audience. Wayne highlights the changes he had to make as a coach as new generations of players came through the team. In effect what he taught in the book is that effective communication is not as much about what is said but what is heard. Just because you’ve spoken something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve communicated it.
Take for example consider cross-cultural communication. If an English speaking person wishes to communicate something to a Chinese speaking person, a translator will be required. Without a translator all that will occur is speaking, but not necessarily communication. Another situation a translator is required is in marriage counselling. A counsellor is often significantly helpful through interpretation. They mediate between couples in the same way a bilingual translator would. I know with my marriage it took the best part of ten years before my wife I really began to communicate and understand each other well. We had to learn to speak in a way in which the other could understand
In pre-marital counselling, I like to walk couples through a three-step process to effective communication.
- Speak the right things
- In the right way
- At the right time
All three must be accomplished to experience effective communication. Let’s explore each one.
SPEAK THE RIGHT THINGS
Effective communication requires knowing what to say and what not to say. This blog is an example of that. More words are deleted than posted. Every time I write I’m weighing up what needs to be written and what doesn’t.
When it comes to issues you have to pick your battles carefully. If you nit-pick, your spouse will eventually tune you out. And that’s not what you want. You want to be able to speak about what is important to you and to have their ear when you do. So choose carefully what issues are worth discussing and what isn’t. Proverbs often speaks of it in this way.
13 A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. Prov. 19:13
9 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife. Prov. 21:9
The indictment here is not on being a wife but on being quarrelsome. In my marriage, it was me that had this unfortunate ability. I couldn’t let anything go. Every little thing had to be dealt with in my way and on my watch. I was a quarrelsome husband, which led to either not having my wife’s ear or even worse, not having her heart.
A spouse can likewise tune out due to oversharing or simply too much talking. Just ask my wife. I talk her ear off. They may be genuinely interested in your day but it just takes too long and they get lost amongst all the details and detours. Therefore it’s important to consider your use of words. This can be particularly hard if you are a big talker and a stay at home parent. When you’ve been with children all day nothing can be as exciting as knowing that your spouse will be home any minute and you can finally have an adult conversation. Therefore couples need to consider each other’s needs here. The worker needs to prepare himself or herself for a spouse that needs to communicate with an adult. And the spouse that has been couped up in the home needs to consider not bombarding their spouse with a million pieces of information immediately upon arrival. Consider what is or isn’t the right thing to communicate.
IN THE RIGHT WAY
The way in which something is spoken has a great impact on how it is heard. Proverbs puts it this way.
18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Prov 12:18
4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Prov. 15:4
Successful communication is not only about speaking the right things; it’s about speaking them in the right way. In my experience, nothing influences my communication more than my emotional state. Just ask my kids? When I’m tired, stressed or frustrated the tone is completely different.
Notice Proverbs 15:4 said, ‘a gentle tongue is a tree of life’. The way of life is gentleness. Additionally, writer of Proverbs says
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Prov. 18:21
Paul Tripp says of this verse that,
“Words are moving in either one of two directions. Either our words are moving towards life (grace, mercy, encouragement, love and peace, edification) or death (anger, vengeance, condemnation, malice, slander and gossip).”
A marriage that uses words to move towards life will experience just that – life. So consider both your words and the use of those words to build your marriage up and encourage your spouse because ‘the tongue of the wise brings healing’ (Prov. 12:18)
Check out Paul Tripp’s book and videos on ‘War of Words’. Simply brilliant (https://www.paultripp.com/war-of-words)
AT THE RIGHT TIME
Timing is everything. You can speak about the right thing, in the right way, but if the timing is wrong it still won’t be heard. This can be a difficult one particularly in the context of dual-income families, or couples with both work and study occurring simultaneously. In my context my wife and I have four children, I work full-time, study part-time and she works part-time. This increases the need for good rhythms. It’s a busy household and we can’t afford to slip into bad habits when it comes to communication.
Two common pitfalls of communication are nagging and stonewalling. Both are extremely ineffective and unhelpful. Stereotypically a man does one and a woman does the other, but it is not always the case. Following the key to cooperation from the previous post, it is important ‘to judge your spouse by their intention not just their action’. A spouse doesn’t wake up one day and decide to either nag or stonewall. There’s something within the context that moves them in that direction. This is most commonly the timing and context of communication. That is to say that nagging, while ineffective and even annoying is often the choice of communication because the spouse feels their partner isn’t listening. So they keep talking. Stonewalling is the opposite. It is generally done in an attempt to control the tongue from saying something hurtful. Timing and context make all the difference in avoiding these ditches. Each couple has to consider what works for their rhythm and relationship.
Some couples prefer to have a check-in night. One night a week where they sit down with a glass of wine, calendars out and just check-in with each other. This allows one spouse to know they have a set time ahead that is specifically designed for talking. It helps them to avoid nagging and keep their words until the right time following the wisdom of Prov. 21:23
23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Prov. 21:23
For the other spouse, it helps them prepare their ears, as they know this is the time to check-in. They have time to prepare themselves to listen and respond. Therefore avoiding withdrawing or stonewalling.
Other couples prefer to talk on the run. It’s a constant conversation. Before work, while cooking dinner or cleaning up, or just plain old pillow talk. They don’t have a specific check-in time rather they are constantly checking in. Whatever suits your relationship, the important thing is to be creating clear space for effective communication.
Words drive the direction of your life. What you say, how you say it and when you say it matters. So choose life.