Every person who marries brings his or her own dictionary to the marriage. Unless definitions are clarified, the words we speak to each other cannot be understood. A message shared between you and your spouse can be easily misinterpreted, depending on how it is worded (words omitted or too many words) or simply because it is incorrectly received by your partner. Sometimes even a written message gets messed up, such as the following ad that appeared in the classified ads section of a small-town newspaper on a Monday:
FOR SALE: R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Phone 958 after 7 P.M. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him cheap.
On TuesdayNOTICE: We regret having erred in R. D. Joness ad yesterday. It should have read: One sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 958 and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him after 7 P.M.
On WednesdayR. D. Kelly has informed us that he has received several annoying telephone calls because of the error we made in his classified ad yesterday. His ad stands corrected as follows: FOR SALE: R. D. Jones has one sewing machine for sale. Cheap. Phone 958 after 7 P.M. and ask for Mrs. Kelly who lives with him.
Finally on ThursdayNOTICE: I, R. D. Jones, have no sewing machine for sale. I smashed it. Dont call 958 as the telephone has been taken out. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper, but she quit.1
Before giving a definition, remember that when you and your spouse are communicating, there is more than just one message. There are actually six, and this is where the problem arises.
First, you have something you want to get across to the other personwhat you mean. Perhaps youve thought about it, or you just formulate it as you open your mouth. But it may not come out the way you intended. So the second message is what you actually say. Now, lets turn to your spouse. The third message is what the your spouse actually hears while filtering and processing the information, which leads to the fourth messagewhat your spouse thinks he or she hears! Uh-oh, now the possibility of misunderstanding increases.
If the communication stopped here, it wouldnt be so complicated. But the fifth message is what your spouse says about what you said. Now its back in your lap, because the sixth message is what you think your spouse said about what you said.
Discouraging? Rather. But it does illustrate why so often communication is hard work. We want the other person not only to listen but to understand what we mean. The old proverb, Say what you mean and mean what you say, is a worthy goal, but not an easy one to achieve.
It would be so much easier if each of you spoke one anothers language (more about that later in the book).
What Do You Think?
Here are four questions to help you think about yourself as a communicator.
1. What is your personal definition of the word communication?
2. Is communicating with your spouse difficult for you?
Often Sometimes Almost Never
3. Does your mate seem to have difficulty understanding what you mean?
Often Sometimes Almost Never
4. What do you think your mate would say about your ability to communicate?
Great So-So Well . . .
Consider this definition of communication: It is the process of sharing yourself verbally and nonverbally with another person in such a way that both of you understand and accept what you say. The second part of the definition involves listening on the part of the receiver (an entire chapter will be devoted to this important topic). Acceptance doesnt mean agreement; but the listener can accept that what you say is the way you see thingsthe way you believe or feel about something.
Everyone communicates. Its impossible to not communicate. Some people say the longer they are married the less they need to talk about certain issues because they know each other so well. Could it be that the longer a couple is married, the more they learn what not to talk about? Is there any subject in your marriage relationship that needs to be talked about that isnt being talked about?
There are numerous books, programs, seminars and articles available on communicationguidelines on what to say, how to say it, how not to say it, 17 better ways to say it and so on. All the help youve ever wanted or havent wanted is available. But what if we didnt have any of these helpsnot even one? What if we only had one resource to give us communication guidelines? And what if that one resource was the Biblethe Word of God? Would it be sufficient? Lets look at just the biblical teaching on communication.
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. Putnams Sons, 1993), p. 28, adapted.
3. Ibid., pp. 123, 124, adapted.
Excerpted by permission from Communication: The Key to Your Marriage by H. Norman Wright (Regal Books), p. 61-64.
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 booksincluding the best-selling Always Daddys 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.