The following is an excerpt from To Have and To Hold, Leader Guide: Preparing for a Godly Marriage by Byron and Carla Weathersbee. The excerpt is found in Session 7: “Communication and Conflict Management,” pp. 131-134.
Effective listening has the potential to enrich all of our relationships, but none more than our marriage relationships. Although speaking comes more easily to some people, no communication takes place without someone listening and trying to understand. In Scripture, even James addressed “listening” before “speaking” when he said:
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to
speak and slow to become angry.”
– James 1:19
Listening is not a spectator’s sport, but it requires active participation. A good listener takes on half of the responsibility for keeping a conversation meaningful and effective. Do you ever feel as if you are talking to a wall? Good listening requires inviting our spouses to share, showing understanding, exploring feelings behind the words, and using reflective listening to clarify what is meant. In reflective listening, you speak back what you understand a person to be saying in an effort to confirm that you correctly understand the message.
Remember, through actively listening to our (future) spouses, we are best able to discern exactly how to communicate effectively when it is our turn to do the speaking.
It is vital that both partners be willing to look at their own patterns of communication and together create a new pattern of communicating—unique to them. Sometimes working through old habits or patterns can be difficult, but developing healthy communication skills is invaluable when seeking the oneness that God intends for a marriage.
Each partner must accept the responsibility to speak effectively and listen actively:
- It is my responsibility to effectively communicate my message to my partner. If the message is not getting through, I must find another way to communicate it.
- It is my responsibility to understand what my partner is saying. If I am unclear about the message being communicated, I must ask clarifying questions and work to understand what is being communicated.What do you need and expect from each other in terms of openness and depth of communication? How do your needs and expectations differ? How would you deal with a breach in trust?
BEGINS WITH LISTENING
Most of us are usually slow to listen, quick to speak, and even faster to become angry. As one of our old pastors used to say, “Most of us do not need hearing aids; we just need aid in hearing.”
Good listening begins with a complete focus on the one doing the talking. We can be there but not all there. Distractions come in many forms.
Being fully present requires active listening. It demands that we reflect on what is being communicated and how it is being said. Often this includes asking the right questions—clarifying what is being said rather than judging or indicting.
LEARNING TO EXPRESS ONESELF
Unsuccessful communication can be similar to speaking in two different languages. If a message were clearly spoken in English to a person who only speaks Spanish, there’s a good chance the message would be misunderstood or, at best, only partially understood. A person attempting to communicate a message has the responsibility to speak in a “language” the listener understands. Too often one partner gets angry and frustrated when the other one doesn’t comprehend what’s being said despite every effort to understand.
We should each determine what we want to say, how we want to say it, and when we want to say it. Using restraint and good judgment when communicating can make a big difference in the effectiveness of a person’s message. Proverbs 10:19 (NASB) points out the potential dangers of an uncontrolled tongue:
“When there are many words, transgression is
unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.”
We must remember to consider the listener’s background, gender, and personality traits when deciding how to best communicate our message.
We should not expect our partners to read between the lines. We have all heard the old axiom, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” We are wrong most of the time when we try to guess what another person is thinking. If we want our spouses to help with the dishes or help clean out the garage, then we need to say just that. You must not expect him or her to read your mind. My husband and I have an agreement: We have decided not to fault each other for not responding to something that was not verbalized. If I do not say it, I cannot expect my spouse to know it.
Spouses need to be careful not to speak rashly, always weighing their words before speaking them. It is also wise to pick an appropriate time and place to speak. You may wake up ready to go into heavy conversation, but your partner, who is not a morning person, may not respond in the way you would like. Avoid words like “should,” “ought,” and “must.” These are considered parenting words and can communicate a sense of arrogance, pride, or superiority. “Always” and “never” may come across as defensive words possibly resulting in a negative response from the listener. They are often not helpful when attempting to communicate a message.
Communicating will eventually become less difficult and miscommunication less frequent as a couple grows, matures, and spends years together. Good communication is the most challenging and difficult during the first years of marriage.