This video segment is one of six lessons in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Communication” seminar.
The GCM series are marriage preparation and marriage enrichment level resources. If your marriage needs restoration level care consider one of the other options available at summitchurch.com/counseling, or visit bradhambrick.com/findacounselor for help finding a counselor near you.
If you are interested in the pre-marital mentoring program built around these materials, you can find everything you need at www.bradhambrick.com/gcm.
NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the GCM seminar notebooks. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at firstname.lastname@example.org (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).
There is nothing more basic than communication. We communicate every day, with every person we meet (even if only non-verbally). We let them know what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, what needs to be done, etc. We’ve been able to that since early in our adolescent years.
But, ironically, the better we know someone and the closer we get, the more difficult communication becomes. It seems like it would get easier. But it doesn’t. Is it because we get lazy or take things about each other for granted? Is it because of how much life we must manage together? There can be a plethora (that means, a lot) of answers.
That is the goal of this seminar: to help you discern (a) why communication is difficult in your relationship, (b) what you can do to improve it, and (c) how those remedies are rooted in the gospel. To help us start on that journey well, let’s look at seven often overlooked things that can make communication difficult.
“With this admission we confess that our communication struggle is not primarily a struggle of technique, but a struggle of the heart. Our war of words is not with other people; it is a battle within (p. 30)… We are the common element in all of our communication problems (p. 40).” Paul David Tripp in War of Words
7 Common Marital Communication Challenges
1. There are many types of communication.
Asking a couple, “Do you communicate well?” is like asking, “Are the two of you a good athlete?” They can both respond, “Yes,” but be talking about things as different as football and swimming. They may both be right and still have a hard time “playing together.” It is important to remember that communication is not one skill but a collection of different skills.
A short list of the different types of communication would include planning, affirmation, conflict resolution, brainstorming/dreaming, listening, processing, nonverbal communication, emotional expression, factual communication, etc. The list could go on and on.
In the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage series we will address communication in three areas. In this seminar, we will address the foundational skills of communication. In the Decision Making seminar we will address the functional skills of communication. In the Intimacy seminar we will address the connecting skills of marital communication.
Couple Discussion Questions: What types of communication are your strengths? Weaknesses? How has not recognizing the varying types of communication resulted in conflict in your relationship?
2. The more we know each other, the less it can feel like we have to say.
Dating communication is easy because everything is new. Early marriage communication is plentiful, perhaps overwhelming, because there is so much to decide. A few years into a marriage additional intentionality is needed to maintain regular, meaningful communication.
As you move from dating to marriage to a long life together, you will (or at least should) move from being a novice to an expert on your spouse. However, no one accidentally becomes an expert on anything. There is a pivotal phase in this process where the “generally informed” person becomes dissatisfied with casual knowing and wants to know all there is to know about their area of passion.
Most dating relationships start with this level of interest (we call it infatuation), but too many marriages neglect the discipline of “continuing education” that is required of any expert. This is the discipline of staying up-to-date on the latest developments in your area of passion (i.e., your spouse) and anticipating the upcoming changes.
Couple Discussion Questions: In what areas of life are you well-informed and keep up with the latest developments? How do you motivate and discipline yourself for continued interest and learning? How can these habits and patterns be used to facilitate an ever-deepening knowledge and appreciation for your spouse?
3. We likely think and process information differently.
Ask each other, “What is the most compelling factor in deciding what kind of car to buy?” or, “What is the best way to relax?” Chances are you have very different answers. The way we think (personality and values) and how we process information (learning style and preferred pace of decision making) impacts our marital communication.
These differences are captured in many different metaphors (e.g., love languages, learning styles, personality types, temperaments, etc.). We like these instruments because they give us ways to articulate things about ourselves that can be hard to put into words.
Learning from these instruments allows us to discern when the things that may not make sense about our spouse’s/fiancé’s response is “just different” (non-moral category), so that we do not respond as if they are “being bad.” One way we protect the restorative power of repentance and forgiveness from being overused in our marriage is recognizing when something bothers us is just due to personality differences.
Couple Discussion Questions: Are you more prone to pride, impatience, defensiveness, or insecurity when your spouse processes information differently from you? How can you remind yourself to see these as moments to continue to learn and honor your spouse? How can you honor these differences?
4. “Understand what I meant…” (grace) “But that’s not what you said…” (literalism).
This double standard is common. When we hear how someone is offended by what we said, we want them to understand what we meant. We prefer not to consider how our words, tone, history, or body language may have betrayed what we meant to say. Yet when we are offended by what someone says, we hold them responsible for what and how each word was spoken.
We experience our words differently from how we experience the words of others. If you ever listen to yourself on the answering machine, you should know you sound different than you think you do. When we speak, we’re aware of everything we’re sorting out as we speak. We feel many things connected with our words that we can’t verbalize. We know the small percentage of what we actually say has a larger context. But too often we respond as if what someone else says is the totality of what we need to understand.
This happens in marriage as much, if not more, than in any other relationship. We are more prone to assume we know what our spouse/fiancé meant. We assume our spouse/fiancé knows us well enough and should give grace to know that is not what we meant. The gospel is most needed in marriage, because our unhealthy tendencies are most prone to express themselves where we most “let our guard down.”
Couple Discussion Questions: What recent examples can you give of this pattern in your relationship? Are you willing to give your spouse/fiancé the benefit of the doubt when what they meant doesn’t match with what you heard?
5. The impersonal becomes personal.
Anyone who has coached a team or taught a class with their child in it knows this effect. If another student or player misbehaves it is less personal than when your child does the same thing. Matters of immaturity are responded to as disobedience or embarrassment – either way the actions become “about the parent.” What we hear/see often says as much about us as the person speaking/acting.What we hear/see often says as much about us as the person speaking/acting. Click To Tweet
Rhetorical questions often reveal that we are personalizing what is not personal. Because we naturally think of ourselves all the time (remember, we are inherently self-centered), we assume that other people are thinking of us when they make choices we don’t like and intentionally provoking, neglecting, or seeking to insult us.
The problem with making the impersonal personal is that we become the central character in our marriage. No longer is God the main character and our spouse/fiancé a co-equal character. We are the main character, and everything takes on meaning as it relates to us. This gives our emotions, preferences, and idiosyncratic (meaning, “unique to us”) interpretations of an event an undue amount of power and control.
Couple Discussion Questions: In your relationship, what is an example of when each of you made the impersonal, personal? What communication habits revealed this tendency? Ask your spouse/fiancé how it made them feel powerless in knowing how to respond.
6. Honoring people in a conflict feels like saying they’re right.
When we honor our spouse/fiancé by restating the strongest elements of what they are saying and assume they have good motives for saying it, it feels like we are agreeing with them. When we restate someone’s position in a way that they would agree with it, we surrender the opportunity to prematurely begin our counterargument by negatively reframing what they said.
Dishonor-by-misrepresentation is one thing that makes political discussions so off-putting. Suspicion pervades and grace evaporates as neither party is willing to highlight (or even acknowledge) the strengths or good intentions of the other side. The result is dialogue that produces tension, anger, and division.
The same thing happens in a marriage when a husband and wife are unwilling to fairly represent each other during a disagreement. One way to define honor in marriage is a willingness to lose an argument before misrepresenting or vilifying what your spouse is saying. When we make this commitment, we will find that it is another example of the gospel paradigm that if we are willing to lose our life, we will find it (Luke 9:23-24).
Couple Discussion Questions: Is it competitiveness, defensiveness, or something else that tempts you to misrepresent your spouse/fiancé in a disagreement? What positions or actions are you most prone to misrepresent?
7. Busy lives mean we cram big topics into small spaces.
When we try to squeeze a 30-minute conversation in a 3-minute window, it is like covering the end of a water hose with your thumb – it spews everywhere. Overcrowded lives set up bad communication.
“In all healthy relationships the well-being of the other person is important to us even when we’re mad, tired, or busy.” Leslie Vernick in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship
This is why it is essential for a husband and wife to ensure they have regular – preferably daily – blocks of time to talk. If important conversations have to be squeezed in tight windows or wait 48-72 hours for an opening, then your marriage is not the functional priority it should be.
After a couple has children, location increases in importance because even within the home viable places and times decrease. Factors such as children’s bedtime and not allowing work to creep into evening hours become important to protect against losing regular time together.
Couple Discussion Questions: What most frequently causes you to rush or expedite important conversations? What aspects of life do you have to manage most in order to maintain adequate time for communication?
Take a deep breath. It might be easy to feel overwhelmed at this point. Rest in the fact that this seminar will not be giving you dozens of skills to learn and master. It will merely ask you and your spouse to adhere to a few gospel principles.
- Enter your spouse’s world like Jesus entered our world by listening well (Lesson 2).
- Show interest in your spouse that is reflective of God’s love and interest for your spouse (Lesson 3).
- Model Christ’s example of humility during difficult conversations as the way to unity and joy (Lessons 4-6).
Skills will be added to these core principles, but skills are merely examples and applications of these three gospel principles. The order is intentional. The more we listen well and maintain awareness of our spouse/fiancé, the fewer difficult conversations there are to navigate. In conflict, preventative love is more desirable than responsive grace, although both are good.
 At the end of each lesson we provide questions for small group study or premarital mentoring. When questions are included within a lesson like this, they are intended for discussion between the married or engaged couple.