When you communicate, do you have a tendency to debate or relate? How about your spouse? What is his or her communication style? When you talk to each other about something important do you walk away with a good understanding of what each of you said?
My six year old was dazzled the first time he heard the Welsh language being spoken. “Mom,” he said, “it sounds like they’re scribbling with their tongues.” (Mickey Miller Regal)
Have you ever felt like your spouse was “scribbling with their tongue” as you’re trying to understand what they’re trying to communicate? For some reason it just doesn’t make any sense to you.
The Scribbling Debate
In our 45+ years of marriage we can personally testify that we’ve been there many, many times. When one of us will say something and the other will completely miss the point in what the other person is saying. And when this occurs it can be confusing and painful —for both of us!
So, to help all of us “unscramble” some of the mystery involved in this communication gap we’re sharing with you a portion of what Dr Swihart wrote in the excellent book titled, The First Five Years of Marriage. Whether you’ve been married 1 year, 5, or many more, we believe you’ll benefit from the following (as we have):
“Any marriage counselor can provide tons of examples of husbands and wives who, having lived together for 20 or 30 years, are in some ways a mystery to each other. The obvious answer is that God chose to wire males and females very differently. Some would even suggest that this illustrates His sense of humor.”
He then goes on to give the following insights:
“It’s possible that the communication gender gap lies in how messages are perceived. But the style and content of the messages themselves differ, too. Men tend to use language to transmit information, and report facts. They like to fix problems, clarify status, and establish control. Women are more likely to view language as a means to greater intimacy. This leads to stronger or richer relationships, and fostering cooperation rather than competition.
“In other words, it’s ‘debate vs. relate.’ That means you and your spouse may be tuned in to very different ‘meanings’ in what each of you is saying. This provides fertile ground for conflict, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings. What one of you thinks is the other’s ‘hidden meaning’ can be 180 degrees out of phase with what the speaker really intends to communicate.
“This can easily lead to distorted conclusions about the other person’s motivations. ‘She’s an unreasonable, demanding nag. She just won’t leave me alone,’ he thinks. ‘He’s an insensitive, domineering bore. He doesn’t have a clue about my feelings,’ she tells herself.
“… Of course, one size never fits all. Females don’t all fit neatly into one communication-style box. And males don’t fit into another. Some men can be quite nurturing and emotionally empathic in their language. Some women are aggressive and task-oriented in theirs.
The Need for a Translator
“Still, you needn’t be surprised if you and your spouse sometimes seem to need a translator. In his book, ‘How Do You Say I Love You?’ Dr. Judson Swihart notes, ‘Often the wife comes in [to the marriage] speaking French and the husband speaking German —in an emotional sense. Unless you hear love expressed in a language that you can understand emotionally, it will have little value.’ The author goes on to say, ‘If you are going to communicate an attitude of love toward your spouse, you must learn to speak his or her language.’
“It’s hard to do that if, like too many couples, you enter marriage focused on being loved rather than on giving love. Try making it your goal not to change your spouse. Rather, try to adapt to his or her style of communication. Turn your attention to hearing the heart of your partner rather than to the frustration you may feel about not being heard or understood.
“If you feel stuck, and that your marriage is in a hole that just gets deeper, do something about it. Make a date with each other once a week to try a communication exercise. For example, the wife talks 10 minutes about feelings or issues she has. The husband does nothing but listen. He may respond only with, ‘I don’t understand. Could you restate that?’ or ‘What I hear you saying is…’
“Then he talks for 10 minutes and she listens. She can ask for only clarification or affirmation that she’s hearing him accurately.
“At the end of the exercise, neither of you is allowed to try to ‘straighten the other one out,’ by reacting angrily to something you didn’t want to hear, or debate the issue. During the next such ‘date,’ the husband will talk first and the wife second.
“Other approaches to getting ‘unstuck’ include attending a well-recommended weekend Christian marriage retreat, participating in a couple’s support group through your church, or enlisting the help of a licensed Christian marriage counselor.
“This is not a hopeless situation. In fact, compared to many marital conflicts, it’s a state that can more quickly and remarkably improve —when two children of God who are committed to their marriage decide to work on it and seek appropriate help.”
Debate or Relate as Christ
To learn even more on this issue, please visit the COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT topic on this web site. See what you can learn as you read more. Also, the COMMUNICATION TOOLS topic has a lot that can help you with this issue of debate or relate. And if you put “communication styles” in the search feature of this web site, you’ll find even more.
Above all, It’s important that we reveal and reflect the heart of Christ within our marriages. If we aren’t resolving conflict in healthy ways, what does that say to others, who may be considering making Christ their Savior and Lord (as we claim that we have done)? The testimony of our love for Christ and for each other should speak loudly. It should speak through the ways we speak to and treat one another.
We need to understand that conflict IS GOING TO HAPPEN in our marriages. That is a given fact, because of the closeness of the relationship. Plus, the enemy of our faith works overtime to try to get us to fight against each other. That causes added problems. After all, if we’re fighting with each other, our attention is taken away from fighting the enemy of our faith —the enemy of God.
For this reason it’s even more important to LEARN how to resolve our conflicts in God-honoring ways. We pray that Marriage Missions will continue to be a resource for you in this endeavor.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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Filed under: Marriage Messages