Lesson Four
Communication – The Basis for Real Love

Pastors and counselors are often asked to determine the basic causes for the increasing divorce rate. Finances, sex problems, problem children, and in-laws are only a few of the supposed monkey wrenches that jam up the marriage gears. However, the basic cause is a breakdown in communication.

Two Christians can solve any difference if they are willing to talk things over and arrive at an acceptable solution. They may merely agree to disagree, but at least communicating will prevent the problem from festering and ultimately creating bitterness, malice, and in some cases even hatred.

We have noticed that some people are so busy reaching for their own personal plans and goals that they don’t make time for important daily communication. Good relationships are vital in welding a family together. They are more important than a clean house or a neat lawn, and it will do a wife well to remember this principle when her husband tracks mud on her new beige carpet. It is easier to clean the carpet than to repair a damaged relationship.

At a recent couples’ retreat, one man made this confession, “For years I’ve gotten furious with my wife for being late – even a few minutes late. However, today it all came to a head. We’d had a beautifully harmonious start this morning, but I ruined it all. I began railing at her because she had made me a few minutes late for flag raising. I’d even thought about not going, for it was an optional function, but once I had made up my mind to go, I became unreasonable.” This man realized his problem and decided to remedy the situation by changing his habitual response and alleviating his bitter feelings. His wife was overjoyed for this new determination; for his previous responses had spoiled many happy times.

No one can deny that sharing living arrangements has its own brand of upsets. Married couples face many “unique” irritations, such as how the toilet paper is put on the holder. Some people prefer that the paper roll off the holder in front; others prefer it to roll off from the back. Failure to agree on “which technique is correct” may cause considerable irritation.  

One woman, who heard this illustration, related the story to her husband. She ended her narration by saying, “Isn’t it funny that people argue over such a stupid incidental?”  

His reply was, “I don’t think it’s funny at all. You’ve been putting it on wrong all these years, and I’ve had to change it every time.” They then began to argue over “who was correct.” Realizing what was happening, they both began to laugh. Before the subject was closed, she agreed to put it on the “right” way in the future.  

The desire for one partner to prove constantly that he or she is right indicates an insecure and divisive spirit. If this attitude persists, it may destroy a marital relationship. Each must learn to give, and to give out of a joyful heart. When problems do arise, and they are sure to, talking them over reasonably and maturely will prevent more severe upsets in the future.  

As we have already pointed out, men and women think differently; thus react differently. Scientists have observed differences even in early childhood and infancy that would validate this claim. These distinctions are too flagrant to be attributed to environment. Although some of these early characteristics are innate, others are acquired, and many of them are carried over into adulthood. Some of these are particularly consistent.  

Women tend to be subtle and to hint. Men are more blunt and direct. A husband and wife were driving down the street at noontime and came near Textile Hall, where a craft show was being held, she commented, “I understand that the Hall is pretty crowded at night, but at noon it’s not so much so.” Her husband continued to drive and passed the street to turn off to the Hall. “Don’t you want to go?” she inquired.  

“Go where?” he replied.  

She said, “What in the world do you think I’ve been taking about?”  

His response was, “Let’s go, now that I know what you want.”

Though a man thinks of anniversary and birth dates as trivial details, a woman will remember them and consider this remembrance very important.  

Women are more verbal. Men are slower to put things into words and will usually not bother talking unless they have full attention. This is one point a woman needs to be careful to remember and not interrupt her husband or finish his sentences for him.  

It is also important that men keep in mind that women are more romantic and idealistic. They enjoy involving themselves at the feeling level (candles, perfume, and music are examples of these characteristics). Men tend to be more realistic, more action oriented (food and love without the extras).  

Women are usually schedule-oriented, whereas men are pragmatic and flexible in their planning.  

Women often ramble in their explanations. They enjoy accentuating details and inconsequentials. Men are more often logical and concise in relating their ideas.  

Because of natural hormone cycles, women are more periodically depressed than men. Consequently, they vacillate more in their moods; they are less predictable in their behavior than men.  

Men are at times loud, brash, and uncultured. Women, however, are more gentle and refined. Thus, men may tend to have more temper outbursts when frustrated.  

The above traits do not all apply to all men and women. Generally, however, these are typical characteristics of each sex, and it may be helpful to remember these differences when upsetting situations arise. We tend to equate equality with sameness. Men and women are equal before God, but God made them very different to fulfill their unique and complementary roles in God’s perfect plan.  

Jay Adams, author of Competent to Counsel, gives several valuable rules of communication. They are based on Ephesians 4:22-32. Verses 22 through 24 admonish us to “Put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  

The word conversation is an Old English word meaning “manner of life or behavior.” Since most behaviors toward a spouse are verbal, husbands and wives should concentrate on improving verbal responses. Verse 23 emphasizes the necessity of making up the mind to change. Christians are to rid themselves of corrupt behavior and start behaving God’s way.  

Ephesians 4:25-32 provides specific rules for good communication. “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). Openness and truthfulness are the bases of Christian communications. A person should be willing to discuss all subjects with his partner and not hide feelings. Honestly stating that one is angry, disturbed, or feeling put down is a giant step toward clearing the air.  

Couples also must be interested in one another’s work, ideas, and opinions. They should ask questions and listen to one another, not necessarily interjecting personal ideas; for the art of conversation is the ability to ask the proper questions about topics which concern the other person – topics about which he feels qualified and informed – then to listen to what the other has to say. Reading the Reader’s Digest, the newspaper, and other informative sources will aid a wife in keeping up with the current issues and events that interest her husband in his world of business. Interesting, stimulating conversation with a husband is built on more than comments about the baby’s runny nose or the latest soap opera tragedy. Really listening and commenting appropriately keeps communication flowing.  

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). Anger short-circuits good communication. Anger, like love, thrives on expression and response; therefore, Christians should be careful about unrestrained expression. Feelings of mild opposition or irritation may become more intense when they are emotionally expressed. A Christian should first analyze the immediate reason for the irritation, then verbalize this reason rather than the feeling involved. Instead of saying, “I’m sick and tired of hearing about your mother,” he says instead, “Your mother called again and wants us to send her a fifty dollar check; I don’t think we can afford it.” If, however, anger does arise, a couple should agree to table the discussion until the anger subsides.  

Timing is important! Wise couples don’t discuss important matters when tired, hot, or hungry. Also, they don’t over-react by screaming, yelling, or crying. A man must feel secure in talking with his wife. She should refrain from retreating to the refrigerator or he from jumping into a car for an aggressive ride. Neither should blow up or clam up – they should talk up instead.  

It is also imperative to stick to the topic when solving a problem. The big mistake ten years ago or another issue has no part in today’s difficulties. The following letter was printed in a local newspaper:

“I’ve been married 17 years to a man who is good to me and the kids, but he’s always been the quiet type until we have an argument about the bills . . .

After he yelled about that for awhile he said, “And another thing, why do you make fish all the time? You know I hate fish.’ I was shocked. I never knew he didn’t like fish. He always ate it without a word.” Scripture also admonishes us to dispose of anger and heal the breach before going to bed; “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Praying together nightly and going to sleep holding hands is an ideal way to end a day.  

The third rule of communication is an admonition to be industrious – to take full responsibility for one’s share of the work. Verse 28 of Ephesians 4 states, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Stealing someone else’s time by shirking responsibilities causes anger and interrupts good communication. Men tend to be lazy around the house. A few years ago, a study of husbands of working wives revealed that the husbands helped their wives an average of 1½ hours a week, but helped so reluctantly that they made the wives feel guilty. These wives had an average of 27 hours of household chores a week beyond their normal 40-hour working week. Men often fail to realize all the work their wives do continually - cleaning, cooking, taking care of the children, and other numerous tasks. A good husband will assist his wife during times of extra burden and will encourage the children to help by doing regular chores. In this way he can ease some of the family workload, especially holidays and times of entertaining. The wife, if aided in this way, will then have more time for daily rest and conversation.  

Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” What one says, how he says things, and the gestures and facial expressions he uses determine whether his communication is corrupt or edifying.  

There are several ways to communicate an idea. For example, I can call a person “level-headed” or “flat-headed,” or “thrifty” or “stingy,” but the terms I use will determine the effect of my communication. I can also say, “You have a face that would stop a clock.” But it would be better to say, “When I look into your face, time stands still.”  

People who are hard-pressed for something nice to say should try sticking to general expressions rather than specific statements. For example, when viewing an ugly baby, a person may exclaim, “What a baby!” and be making a gracious exclamation. One pastor I know says, “Now, that’s a baby.”  

Most important, each Christian is responsible for the effect of his conversation. Jokes, expressions, and general conversation should be mentally tested before being blurted out. (Let me insert here that ethnic jokes are never in good taste for the Christian.) A Christian must consider what will edify and administer grace, for he can never hide behind the lame excuse, “How did I know he would take it that way?” However, the receivers of corrupt communication have a responsibility to take it with grace and not react carnally. We must never let other peoples’ problems become our problems.  

Voice inflection and intensity also convey meaning. “I love you” can be said lovingly, sarcastically, harshly, angrily, helplessly, or any number of other ways. The voice can convey sincerity and truth or hypocrisy and falsehood.  

Men need to be particularly careful that their gruff, aggressive voices don’t give children the wrong impression. All parents need to be cautioned that children are quick to pick up vocal insinuations or impatience or irritation. 

Gestures and facial expressions also play an important part in conveying meaning. Christian parents need to develop the habit of smiling and nodding approvingly toward their children and spouse. Too often critical, negative, scowling expression or stance may say more than words. Gestures should be generally open, accepting gestures, rather than closed (crossing arms) or rejecting ones (hands on hips). 

In conversation a positive attitude is much more effective than a negative, critical spirit. Nagging never edifies, and trying to change a spouse by nagging will be futile. Couples marry to love, not change or remake. Thus, it is not productive to nag about irritating habits or mannerisms. Mature people can discuss such matters, but not all people are mature. If one spouse is unable to handle the discussion, it should be dropped. A Christian must keep a positive faith attitude and be sensitive about how he will affect others by what he says. 

Verses 30-32 of Ephesians four give us the fifth principle on communication. “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” 

When a partner is wronged, a genuine “I’m sorry” from one or a sincere “I forgive you” from the other is all that is needed to clear the lines of communication. Bitterness between mates grieves the Holy Spirit and damages the relationship. If allowed to fester, it can cause a breach that may even affect the physical relationship. 

Another caution is that bitterness soon develops into hatred. Hebrews 12:15 warns us, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;”

One gospel worker’s wife was very bitter when she came to one counselor.

She had prepared a long written list of complaints about her spouse, dating back to 19 years before. Some of the incidents even occurred on their honeymoon. She was told that the very fact that she had kept a written record indicated a bitter, unforgiving spirit. The counselor suggested, “Let’s tear up this list and ask God to forgive you for your sin of bitterness.” Her immediate reply was, “I’ll ask for forgiveness, but don’t tear up the list; I don’t have another copy.” She finally realized her problem and took care of it because complete forgiveness means forgetting and never reminding a spouse of the incident. Remembering someone’s past mistakes is a sure sign that there has not been a Christlike forgiveness. 

Studies on marital desires, indicating that the wife ranks companionship number one, whereas the husband ranks it number three, validate the importance of good communication in the marriage. Everyone struggles with the feeling of loneliness and the fear of rejection, but these feelings are increased in marriage when one spouse leaves the other out of his thoughts and feelings. Companionship based on Christian communication will alleviate some of these negative feelings and enhance the unity and oneness of the marital relationship. 

Striving for this unity with the spouse by proper communication – speaking the truth in love – will thus promote harmony in the family. In the marriage relationship, this sharing of a life with another can be especially intimate and rewarding.

CASE HISTORY

A preacher called from out of state asking if a counselor would be willing to counsel his wife. He said she was ready to have a nervous breakdown, and when she finally called a week later, the counselor found out why. She told him that she had been terribly depressed for the last year and a half and that she had thought about suicide. Lately, she had become very nervous, and she was afraid that she was going to go “berserk.” “It all started,” she said, “when my husband made his great confession to me.”  

Apparently a year and a half ago he had attended a seminar in which he was instructed to confess all to anyone he had ever wronged (a very questionable suggestion). He went home and told his wife about two affairs he had had within the first year of their marriage. 

After the second affair he had gotten saved and was later called to preach. He attended six years of college and seminary, had taken a church, and had had a fruitful ministry before he attended the seminar that prompted his confession. His wife admitted, “The confession may have cleared his conscience, but it has wrecked me, and it’s going to wreck our marriage.” She also admitted that since the day of the confession she couldn’t stand for her husband to touch her, and she rarely spoke to him. 

Her basic problem was evident – she was disregarding Ephesians 4:30-32. It wasn’t his past causing the problem, but her ungodly response of bitterness, which the Bible warns us of in Hebrews 12:15. “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;”  

She realized that she was nervous because her strong physical needs weren’t being fulfilled. In addition, she was placing her husband in a terrible place of temptation by not meeting his physical needs, especially since this had been his weak area prior to salvation. The counselor urged her to follow Ephesians 4:32 and forgive her husband completely and then ask his forgiveness for the year and a half of punishment she had put both of them through.  

She called the counselor a month later and said that her depression and nervousness had disappeared almost immediately, and her husband reported that the last month had been like one long honeymoon. Following God’s principles helped this woman to regain her own sense of stability and brought happiness to her family life.  

Fill in the Blank or Answer the Question:

1.     Lesson Four is titled: “______________________ - The Basis for ________ Love .”

2.     The basic cause of divorce is a breakdown in _____________________ .

3.     Two Christians can solve any ________________ if they are _________ to (1)______________________ and
 (2) _________________________

4.     Women tend to be ______________ and to ______________ .

5.     Men are more ______________ and ____________________ .

6.     Women are more _______________ ; men are ______________ to talk.

7.     Women are more _________________ and _________________ .

8.     Men tend to be more _________________ , more ___________ oriented.

9.     Women are usually _________________ - oriented.

10. Men are more ____________ (practical) and ____________ (adaptable).

11. Women often ______________ in their explanations.

12. Men are more often ___________ and _____________ in relating ideas.

13. Women are more periodically ______________ than men.

14. Women are ________  _____________________  in their behavior.

15. Men are at times __________ , _____________ , and _____________ .

16. Women, however, are more ______________ and _______________ .

17. Men may tend to have more _____________  _________________ .

18. The above are ______________ characteristics of each sex.

19. __________________ and ___________________ are the bases of Christian communication.

20. _________________ short-circuits good communications.

21. Don’t discuss important matters when ___________________________ .

22. ____________ to the topic when solving a problem.

23.  Husbands helped their wives an average of _______ hours a ________ .

24. Wives have an average of ______ hours of household chores per week.

25. Our communications are received as _____________ or ____________ .

26.  A ______________ attitude is much more effective than a critical spirit.

27.  ________________ never edifies.

28.  ________________ between mates grieves the Holy Spirit.

29.  Remembering someone’s ________ mistakes is a sure sign that there has ______  ___________ a Christ-like forgiveness.

30.  Studies show that the wife ranks ____________________ number one.

31.  However the husband ranks it number _______ .

32.  Companionship based on ___________  _______________ will enhance the __________ and _______________ of the marital relationship.

33.  Have you been sharing these lessons with your mate? _________