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The Key to Intimacy (Part 4 of 5)

  • Dr. H. Norman Wright Counselor/ Therapist
  • 2001 10 Oct
The Key to Intimacy (Part 4 of 5)

"What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it because there is a whole army of evil desires within you? You want what you don’t have, so you kill to get it. You long for what others have, and can’t afford it, so you start a fight to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask you don’t get it because your whole aim is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure." (James 4:1-3, TLB)

Does this Scripture mean that couples aren’t going to have conflicts? Not at all. Two unique and different individuals cannot come together without adjustment and conflict. The individual tastes, preferences, habits, likes and dislikes, personality differences, values and standards will confront each other. But remember, conflict is not the same as quarreling. Disagreeing is not the same as quarreling.

Verbal conflict in itself is not harmful; it can open doors of communication. On the other hand, a quarrel is defined as verbal strife in which the emotions have taken over and the focus is more on the other person than on resolving the problem. When the quarrel is over, there is usually a greater distance between the couple or a residual bad feeling.

The Word of God is specific about what to with quarrels:

People without good sense find fault with their neighbors, but those with understanding keep quiet (Prov. 11:12, NCV).

Starting a quarrel is like a leak in a dam, so stop it before a fight breaks out (Prov. 17:14, NCV).

Foolish people are always fighting, but avoiding quarrels will bring you honor (Prov. 20:3, NCV).

Just as charcoal and wood keep a fire going, a quarrelsome person keeps an argument going (Prov. 26:21, NCV).

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Rom. 12:18, NIV).

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Eph. 4:31, NIV).

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14, NIV).

Avoid Criticizing

Criticism is a special brand of communication that cuts and destroys. Its purpose is not to resolve conflict or draw a spouse closer. It’s a way to feel justified and superior. It’s a way to release anger. Every time you criticize, you find fault. You’re saying to the other person, “You’re defective in some way and I don’t accept you.” Criticism does have an effect on the other person; he or she will turn you off, counterattack or become resentful. Criticism is a no-brainer. It doesn’t work. It’s ineffective. God’s Word is clear on the issue:

Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother (Rom. 14:13, AMP).

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (Matt. 7:3,4, NIV).

All couples will have complaints to voice from time to time. That’s normal. Complaints, however, can be voiced in a way that a spouse will hear them and not become defensive. For example, instead of focusing upon what annoys you, talk more about what you would appreciate your spouse doing. Your partner will be much more likely to hear you and consider your request. Talking about what you don’t like just reinforces the possibility of its continuance with even greater intensity. The principle of pointing your partner toward what you would like conveys that you believe he or she is capable of doing what you have requested. If you do this consistently, along with giving praise and appreciation when your spouse complies, you will see a change. This way of relating to your spouse accomplishes much more than criticism. The same dynamic applies to children. The power of praise can never be underestimated.

I’ve also seen this principle work in the raising of our golden retriever, Sheffield—not that I’m comparing people to dogs. Sheffield was trained in the basics when he was four months old and now brings in the paper, takes items back and forth to Joyce and me, “answers” the phone and brings it to me, and picks up items off the floor and puts them in the trash. All it took was ignoring the times when he didn’t do it right and giving praise and hugs when he came through. If I had criticized him I would have destroyed his spirit.

I don’t think we are much different in this respect. Affirming and encouraging responses can literally change our lives because we want and need others to believe in us. An unusual example of this affirmation is found in the Babemba tribe in southern Africa. When one of the tribal members has acted irresponsibly, he or she is taken to the center of the village. Everyone in the village stops work and gathers in a large circle around the person. In turn, each person, regardless of age, speaks to the person and recounts the good things he or she has done. All the positive incidents in the person’s life, plus the good attributes, strengths and kindnesses, are recalled with accuracy and detail. Not one word about the problem behaviors is even mentioned.

This ceremony, which sometimes lasts for several days, isn’t complete until every positive expression has been spoken by those assembled. The person in the circle is literally flooded with affirmation, then welcomed back into the tribe. Can you imagine how the person feels about himself or herself? Can you imagine the person’s desire to continue to reflect those positive qualities? Perhaps a variation of this ceremony is needed in marriages and families today.

Criticism is the initial negative response that opens the door for other destructive responses to follow. Criticism is different from complaint because it attacks a person’s personality and character, usually with blame. Most criticism is overgeneralized (“You always . . .”) and personally accusing (the word “you” is central and the word “should” is given prominence).

1. Sven Wahlroos, Family Communication (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 3.
2. Clifford Notarius and Howard Markman, We Can Work It Out (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993), p. 28, adapted.
3. Ibid., pp. 123, 124, adapted.

Excerpted by permission from Communication Key to Your Marriage by H. Norman Wright (Regal Books), p. 73-76.

Dr. H. Norman Wright is a graduate of Westmont College (B.A. Christian Education), Fuller Theological Seminary (M.R.E.), and Pepperdine University (M.A. in Clinical Psychology) and has received honorary doctorates D.D. and D.Litt. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and Biola University respectively. He has pioneered premarital counseling programs throughout the country. Dr. Wright is the author of over 65 books—including the best-selling Always Daddy’s Girl and Quiet Times for Couples. He and his wife, Joyce, have a married daughter, Sheryl, and a son, Matthew, who was profoundly retarded and is now deceased. The Wrights make their home in Southern California.