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).
What is the least obvious and most important part of a fish tank? The water. Water is essential for the life of the fish. Water makes the plants sway. Water is what reflects the light in “aquatic” ways. Yet no one ever looks at a fish tank and says, “Wow! You’ve got great water.” If the tank is algae-ridden, then people say, “Yuck! You need to clean your water.”
Water in a fish tank is the equivalent of day-to-day communication in marriage. It is essential for the vitality of the marriage, surrounds all the special and significant moments, and captures all the “relational” qualities of a marriage that we were made to enjoy. But day-to-day communication is too often ignored or neglected unless it reaches a point that it is noticeably unhealthy.
In this chapter we will talk about two aspects of cultivating healthy day-to-day communication: (1) cleaning the tank – removing the contaminants of good communication, and (2) filling the tank – providing a lifetime-supply-answer to the question, “So, what are we supposed to talk about for five decades?”
Cleaning the Tank
Good day-to-day marital communication requires regular attention. It is not something you can leave on autopilot and expect to have frequent, quality interactions that cover the breadth of life issues that face a marriage. The majority of what we’ll look at how to prevent the responsibilities of life from stifling the friendship that sparked the marriage. It is learning to maintain the elements of friendship while “doing life together.”
Often communication books will provide a ratio of how many positive comments are needed to cancel out a negative one. If we try to keep up with the math, it tends to become laborious, disingenuous, or legalistic. But if we see the picture behind the numbers it can provide the benefit without the bondage.
Communication has a tipping point at which it becomes toxic; deteriorating health rather than contributing to health. If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you know you must regularly test the water’s pH level. In marriage, equilibrium is lost when unpleasant conversations begin to overshadow pleasant ones. The solution is not eliminating all unpleasant conversations. Instead, we must engage in enough enjoyable, meaningful conversations that the home remains a life-giving environment.
Self-Examination: In what ways are you prone to negatively skew the equilibrium of your relationship: pessimism, critical comments, being purely functional, discontentment, failing to encourage, impatience, unrealistic expectations, etc.? It is important for us to grow in self-awareness in this area, because we all do this in some way.
State of the Union Addresses
Many couples get caught looking for “the right time” to have important conversations. When life doesn’t slow down, it begins to feel like there is never a good time. So, the difficult and logistical conversations stockpile until an unpleasant conversation begins as a response to a moment of hurt. This dynamic either creates an ugly argument or a sense of despair as we think, “How did we let things get this bad?”
Most often, things really aren’t “that bad” and any of the points in the argument could have been addressed peaceably if they were discussed individually. This is why couples can make up and act like nothing happened, which is encouraging about the state of the marriage but puts them back in the cycle for the next eruption.
A State of the Union Address is simply a regularly set time when a couple looks at one another and asks, “How are we doing?” Have I begun to neglect anything that is important to you? Have I missed any changes in your life that make you feel less cared for by me? Have I started doing anything that is a concern for you?” Giving up one evening of television or activities per month (or even once per quarter) for this kind of conversation can revolutionize most marriages.
While these conversations may sound like maintenance at first, if you will try them, you’ll find them to be highly romantic. Two people asking first-person evaluative questions out of a commitment to the marriage is highly bonding. It shows the kind of selflessness and other-mindedness that comprise true love.
Self-Examination: If I asked my spouse these kinds of questions on a monthly or quarterly basis, could I receive his/her answer without being defensive? On what interval and when should we set aside time for a State of the Union Address?
Filling the Tank
When you finish reading this section you should never again be able to say, “What is there for us to talk about?” In this section, we will discuss ten types of day-to-day conversations. If you go to bradhambrick.com/dailytalk you can download a PDF document with 270 conversation prompts organized under these ten headings. At the end of this section we will discuss how to assimilate “all there is to talk about” within your marriage.
Daily Review Topics
In marriage it is important to know what is going on in the life of your spouse, not as a parent, spectator, or news reporter, but as a prayer partner, encourager, and friend. Showing interest in the incremental changes of your spouse’s life is a way to show your love. Otherwise trivial things are significant because they are happening in the life of someone important to you. The perpetual honor-of-interest is a great way to affirm your spouse and counter the drift-of-indifference that erodes many marriages.The perpetual honor-of-interest is a great way to affirm your spouse and counter the drift-of-indifference that erodes many marriages. Click To Tweet
There is a level of intimacy that comes from considering challenging, personal questions together. One measure of closeness is the kinds of questions you’re willing to engage with another person. Your spouse should be the person with whom you have the most and best conversations. This is a way to make sure that nobody else becomes more of an “insider” in your life than your spouse. Conversations like these are how you get to the point that the person who knows you best loves you most.
Married couples should flirt and have intimate conversations. You stoke the fire of your interest about anything (i.e., job, hobby, sports, faith, politics, etc.) by talking about it with those who share your passion. Why would we not do the same for our marriage with our spouse? Often when we talk about other interests, we are not learning new information; we are merely rehearsing what we enjoy again (often in the same words we’ve used many times). Why would we be hesitant to do this with our marriages? Too often we only rehearse our disappointments. Use these questions to spark many conversations where you rehearse the delights of your marriage with your spouse.
Thinking about and preparing for a shared future is a way that we demonstrate commitment. Too often the word “planning” is heard with a sterile, business meeting connotation. Think about how someone plans for a vacation, business venture, retirement, or having children. While there are details involved, the overarching tone is excitement for what is ahead. Marital planning conversations should have a similar feel.
Enhancing something is a form of love. Men who love their cars are constantly tinkering with them. Women who love their homes are perpetually updating the decorations. The fact that they find something to improve is not an indication that they are dissatisfied with their car or home; actually, it reveals they delight in them. Similarly, if we love our spouse and marriage, we will engage in conversations about how to steward this as one of God’s blessing.
Confession of sin, weakness, and shortcomings is a way we display how much we value our spouse and marriage. When we confess, we show that we value our spouse and marriage more than our pride. When faced with a choice of whether to defend ourselves or honor the marriage, confession proves we choose the latter. The gospel reminds us that every marriage is comprised of two sinners in need of grace. Confession is how we display that we believe this reality.
Personal Interest Topics
What do you enjoy simply because your spouse enjoys it? What do you know a good deal about merely because it is important to your spouse? The longer we are married the longer these lists should become. A couple doesn’t have to enjoy the same things in order to enjoy one another – this is a destructive myth. When we are selfless enough to show interest in the things that intrigue each other, our marriages will always be rich and our conversations full.
Spiritual Growth Topics
A gospel-centered marriage has one ultimate purpose: Christlikeness. Both husband and wife are striving to be more like Christ in order to find personal satisfaction, bless one another, and reach the world. If that is the shared mission of husband and wife, then there is plenty to talk about. If both husband and wife are willingly pursuing Christ and realize that we are changed by grace, then these are safe conversations.
We were created to live in community. Our spouse should be our best friend, but not our only friend. We should have friends who are mentoring us, friends we are mentoring, friends we just “do life with,” and friends we are seeking to win for Christ. There are sides of your spouse’s character that you will only get to see and enjoy when he/she interacts with people who are different from you.
Random conversations can be fun, light-hearted ways to enjoy your spouse. Enjoy chasing rabbits together. As with all the other categories, be creative and add to the list. These lists are not meant to be exhaustive (or exhausting), but merely to get you thinking about the possibilities.
Shift: Now the question shifts from, “What is there to talk about?” to “How are we going to have all of these conversations?” That is a powerful shift in mindset. A lesson like this can have the effect of a heavy rain – there is so much information no action soaks in. Here are three suggestions help you assimilate these conversation possibilities.
First, rank your skill, comfort, and delight in each area of conversation. Compare that with your spouse’s/fiancé’s skill, comfort, and delight in each area. This is part of perpetually learning one another. Become aware of when you are communicating in each other’s areas of strength and weakness. Allow this to help you give grace to one another when you’re communicating in an area of weakness. Be intentional about engaging conversations in your spouse’s areas of delight.
|Daily Review||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Reflective||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Romantic||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Planning||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Evaluative||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Confessional||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|General Interest||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Spiritual||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Social||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
|Random||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5||1 2 3 4 5|
Second, you can set the list from bradhambrick.com/dailytalk at your dinner table and take turns picking a subject when you have dinner at home. If you have children, this may be difficult. Put the list in the area of your home where you settle after putting the children to bed. Regardless of when and where, the main idea is to place the questions in an area where you are regularly spending time with your spouse so that you remember to initiate conversations.
Third, you can put your favorite conversations from this list (along with your preferred additions) on slips of paper into an empty tissue box and pull out randomly whenever there is a free moment for conversation. This brings a playful element to these conversations, which is important. In this version you can also add slips of paper with compliments and words of encouragement to one another to be drawn out and echoed during these times of conversation.
After a commitment to listen well, the next most important communication commitment you can make is to talk about life. If Christ wants his bride to “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17) and husbands are to “love their wife as Christ loves the church” (Eph. 5:25), then a gospel-centered marriage should be filled with conversations.
Despite the modern American proverb, quality time does not replace an adequate quantity of time. In the absence of a significant amount of pleasant conversation (those not built around a conflict, disagreement, or problem solving), a normal amount of “hard conversations” will begin to make a good marriage feel like a bad marriage.
The call of this lesson is simply to enter each other’s worlds by having frequent conversations. Ask good questions, listen well, and share your thoughts. Become an expert on your spouse’s life. Don’t allow silence to atrophy your awareness of the person God wants you to know best and love most over the course of your lifetime.