By Kenneth and Lynette Hagin
Successful marriages are built on the Word of God and on a couple’s relationship with God. But when it comes to practical everyday living, at the heart of every successful marriage is successful communication. Strong, happy marriages are built on good communication skills, while problems in a marriage often begin because couples don’t know how to communicate effectively.
If you’re thinking about your own marriage and realizing you could use some pointers in the area of communication, don’t despair! No couple starts out their marriage with a perfect system for expressing themselves to each other. Effective communication has to be developed. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort required, you and your spouse can successfully build up this area of your marriage.
What is communication? One definition describes it as a verbal and non-verbal process of sharing information in such a way that the other person understands what you are saying. Communication is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. To communicate effectively, you have to share in such a way—and the other person has to listen in such a way—that comprehension takes place. Good communication, therefore, involves three skills: talking, listening, and understanding. You must develop all three of these skills if you want to successfully communicate with your spouse.
Talking probably seems like the easiest part of communication. After all, most people enjoy expressing their opinions. But the truth is, many people don’t know how to share their thoughts in a clear and civil manner. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your ability to verbally express yourself to your spouse.
Whenever you speak, keep in mind the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29 NKJV). If you’re going to communicate effectively with your spouse, you should speak with his or her benefit in mind. Speak in such a way that you build up your spouse. Say things that impart grace and strength. Positive, encouraging, loving words can go a long way toward building your marriage.
Also, remember that men and women have different ways of sharing information. For example, when a problem arises, men like to hear the facts so they can find a solution, while women often want to share their feelings because they want comfort. If you don’t accept and embrace those differences, you’ll end up frustrated. But when you accept your spouse’s needs and learn to respond appropriately, you’ll find your marriage growing stronger.
Listening is a vital key to true communication. Yet studies have shown that people usually hear only about 20 percent of what is actually said. Why is that? Many times, we begin to think about the response we want to make long before the other person has finished speaking. Some of us even interrupt the conversation, just so we can put in our two cents.
Whenever we formulate a response ahead of time or interrupt someone who is talking, we hear only part of what is said and run the risk of misunderstanding what we do hear. Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame” (NIV). If we don’t hear the whole story, our response can be inappropriate to the situation. We can even end up being completely wrong!
There are ways to improve your listening skills. First, learn to listen objectively. Objective listening is paying attention to what the other person is saying, strictly for the purpose of respecting and hearing them, and not for the sake of defending yourself or promoting your personal agenda. You can choose to focus on what your spouse is saying, rather than on your own ideas. Don’t think about what you’re going to say until your spouse has completely expressed his or her thoughts.
Listening objectively also means listening even when you don’t like what you’re hearing. It may be hard to listen when you don’t like what’s being said, but maybe you need to change your thinking on the subject being discussed. And you’ll never discover your need for change unless you listen to everything your spouse has to say.
Effective listening also involves taking in details. It’s easier to do this when you actively care about what the other person is saying. You may find it helpful to remind yourself that you love the person you’re listening to. Recognize that your spouse is taking a risk by sharing his or her opinions and feelings. Your spouse is facing the possibility that you’ll reject what he or she is saying. But when you respect your spouse for showing courage in sharing with you, you actively show your love for him or her. And love never fails!
The third step to achieving good communication is to understand what the other person is saying. Anyone who has overheard a conversation in another language knows what it feels like to lack understanding. You may hear words, and you may even pick up on the emotions behind them, but if you don’t comprehend the message, you won’t have the understanding you need to respond appropriately.
Sometimes, people have difficulty communicating their message. For example, what you mean to say and what you actually say may be two different things. And if you’ve ever played the children’s game “Telephone,” where you pass a message down a line of people one at a time, you know that people often don’t correctly hear what is being said. Misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of problems—including confusion, offense, and hurt—so it is vital to be sure you understand what your spouse is telling you.
Proverbs 3:13 says, “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding” (NIV). Understanding doesn’t just magically occur; we have to put effort into obtaining it. We gain understanding by talking, listening, and asking questions until we are on the same page with our spouse. Always keep in mind that no matter how long two people have been married, they can’t read each other’s mind. (We may think we can sometimes, but we won’t always get it right!)
It is always best to explain things as clearly as you can, listen closely, and ask questions until you are absolutely sure you understand your spouse’s point of view.
Ten Keys to Communicating
How can you improve your communication with your spouse? Here are 10 keys to help you become better at talking, listening, and understanding.
1. Be willing to expose what you feel and think. Shallow, clichéd communication won’t help you convey the things that will strengthen your marriage.
2. Believe in yourself and in your spouse. Both of you have important things to say, which makes talking and listening a vital activity.
3. Be honest, but don’t be hurtful. Practice the art of civil conversation and constructive criticism. If you’re too upset to communicate courteously, give yourself time to cool down before resuming the discussion.
4. Timing is important. There is an appropriate time to be truthful. If that time isn’t now, then wait for a better time to share your thoughts.
5. Good communication is assertive, not aggressive. Don’t let your conversations be a means of punishing your spouse. Be considerate. Don’t yell or be verbally abusive.
6. Don’t be reluctant to communicate the little things. It is not usually a major issue, but rather the buildup of minor issues, that causes problems in a marriage.
7. Stay with an issue until you reach a resolution. If you quit and leave the issue unresolved, it will eventually pop up later to cause more problems.
8. Realize that “winning” is not the purpose of a conversation, discussion, or disagreement. Communication should lead to negotiation that creates a win-win situation.
9. Make sure to express your love verbally every day. The more you say it, the more it will be true for you and your spouse.
10. Always remember, communication is not a luxury. It is a necessity!
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Rev. Kenneth E. Hagin offers comfort and help from the Word of God concerning issues related to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.
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