As Kristi sits down to dinner with her children, she avoids looking at the empty chair at the table where her husband, Mike, usually sits. Mike should have been home an hour ago but he is late — again.
It’s not uncommon for a last-minute emergency to arise at Mike’s workplace but Mike also has been known to grab a bite after work with co-workers. When either happens, he rarely calls to let his wife know he will be late.
Kristi understands that emergencies happen. She doesn’t even mind that he wants to spend time with friends from work. But Kristi is tired of eating cold meals with cranky kids.
How can she let Mike know how disappointed she is without starting another argument?
Say what’s on your mind: communicating well with your spouse
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Though the ability to communicate is a gift from God, positive communication, especially between spouses, takes work, in large part because men and women typically communicate in very different ways.
“Some of the most striking differences between the sexes are the unique ways that men and women interact verbally,” write Rhonda H. Kelley and Monica Rose Brennan, co-authors of “Talking Is a Gift: Communication Skills for Women.”
Kelley and Brennan describe several important distinctions between the ways men and women tend to use language.
For example, men tend to talk more about sports, work activities and accomplishments. In contrast, women are reluctant to boast but are eager to talk about family, friends and feelings.
Differences in language
Women tend to share more about their problems and concerns in order to receive empathy and understanding. They find relief in just “letting it all out.” But when a man hears “problem,” he tends to think “solution,” which his wife might perceive as critical of her own efforts in the situation.
Research also shows that while men and women speak approximately the same number of words per day, where they speak those words varies. Men use most of their words at work. Women tend to talk more at home. And when men speak, they tend to focus on information, speaking only when they have something to say, whereas women use language to affirm and connect with others.
H. Norman Wright, author of “Finding the Right One for You: Secrets to Recognizing Your Perfect Mate,” divides communicators into two groups: amplifiers, or those who give a number of descriptive sentences as they talk, and condensers, those who give only one or two sentences.
“In approximately 70 percent of marriages, the man is the condenser and the woman is the amplifier,” according to Wright. “Neither is a negative trait but the amplifier wishes his or her partner would share more while the condenser wishes his or her partner would share less.”
Wright suggests that adapting to the style of your spouse will aid in conversational compatibility.
“Try to speak in your partner’s style,” he advises. “If each would adapt their natural style to their spouse’s style when they talk, each would respond better.”
This is especially important for parents.
Research has shown that children mimic their parents’ communication behaviors, with girls often following in their mother’s style and sons often following in their father’s.
“Poor communication can lead to growing apart as a couple. It also impacts your kids because they learn from watching you. So teach them how to do it in a healthy way by communicating well with your spouse. This may seem like a simple thing to do, but it requires action, intentional effort, desire and the willingness of you and your spouse to make it happen,” writes Marcus Kusi, co-author of “Communication in Marriage: How to Communicate with Your Spouse Without Fighting.”
One of the easiest ways to start communicating well is to use only words that build up, according to Gary Chapman, author of “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.”
‘Love is kind’
“Many couples have never learned the tremendous power of verbally affirming each other. Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love,” Chapman writes. “Love is kind. If then we are to communicate love verbally, we must use kind words.”
Tone of voice is as important as word choice, according to Chapman.
“Sometimes our words say one thing, but our tone of voice says another. We are sending double messages. Our spouse will usually interpret our message based on our tone of voice, not the words we use,” he writes.
In marriage, as well as in other relationships, the benefit of positive communication is a deeper emotional connection, Kusi writes.
“When you start communicating effectively with your spouse, you will feel heard and respected, become more present and listen empathetically. You will become a better spouse for yourself and your marriage. Furthermore, you will start looking forward to talking with your spouse, spending time together and being able to have those difficult conversations.”
Practical tips for making peace, avoiding disappointment in marriage relationships
By Rod Marshall and Lisa Keane
Special to The Alabama Baptist
Perhaps no relationship holds greater potential for disappointment than the most emotionally intimate relationship — marriage. A person may be kind to co-workers, courteous to neighbors and compassionate with fellow church members yet neglect to give the same amount of attention to his or her spouse.
As therapists, we are often tasked with helping our clients see another perspective. In relationships, that means developing understanding and insight about your relational partner. In other words, it is being able to see where someone else is coming from and why that person is behaving in a certain way. Fostering understanding and insight in a relationship does not necessarily mean that both individuals agree, but it does mean both of you are willing to listen and share your own point of view.
To avoid disappointment in relationships, you also must be willing to talk about your expectations. Unmet expectations can be a relationship destroyer. Frequently unmet expectations exist because they were never spoken in the first place. Even if an expectation is expressed, it may not be met. However, once an expectation is communicated there is more potential to work toward it. Marriages work best when the couple is working together toward common goals.
Identity in Christ
Ultimately your fulfillment and your identity must come from Christ. Our ultimate hope and joy come from the Lord and who He says we are in Christ. If two people in relationship are both growing closer to God, they also will be growing closer to one another. However, being in relationship with another means being in relationship with a fellow sinner. At times, we will all let one another down. We will all fail at being understanding. We will all see only one side of the conflict.
It is a good and holy labor to work toward stronger relationships. Here are some practical tips from the male and female perspective to help you reduce the risk of disappointment in your most significant relationships.
Learn my communication style. I may be someone who warms up slowly or is more introverted. I may think of communication simply as a way to gather data in order to solve a problem. Don’t assume I am trying to avoid you or hide anything from you. If it seems like I am “running away” from you, I may be asking for some space to think and process what is going on. Please do not pursue me. That will only motivate me to run away farther or faster.
Give me the benefit of the doubt (unless you are faced with overwhelming evidence that I no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt). Assume the best about me and my motives.
Do not be too surprised if you find out that I am not very good at managing conflict. Sometimes conflict can be scary for me. I very much like to win but I do not want to hurt you. Sometimes these conflicting motives leave me unsure of what to do next. Though I dislike conflict, I love solving problems. If we can work together as a team to solve the problems that are creating conflict, you might find me to be very willing to work toward resolution. It may be hard for me to accept responsibility for the contributions I have made to our conflict.
It is incredibly important to me to believe that you honestly respect me. I do not want to disappoint you. But sometimes it feels like many areas of my life are being judged and critiqued.
Let our relationship be someplace where I can feel respect and acceptance, and I will be more motivated to give you what you need from our relationship.
EDITOR’S NOTE — By Rod Marshall, president/CEO of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. He is a licensed professional counselor who has been married for nearly 30 years and is the father of two adult children.
I want to be treasured and know that you value me. I don’t need to be treated as a delicate flower but as a precious jewel, something that you prize over all things except the Lord. I want to know that no matter how long we have been in relationship with each other, you are still interested in me. Show me your interest by being intentional in our time and conversations. Make time for me.
Know that I might want to outwardly process what is going on with our relationship. Just because I need to talk about something does not mean there is an issue to fix. I value being heard. Often, that alone is what I need. Please listen to me and be willing to give me your attention, make eye contact and reflect back what I am saying.
I need to know that you think I am doing a good job. Whether it be with our family, in our marriage or my job, I need to hear affirming words from you on my efforts not just my outcomes. I need to hear that you see how hard I work and the sacrifices I am making for those around me. Give me specific examples of what you see and tell me how you are thankful for those things.
It is important for me to know that we are on the same team. Sometimes in the midst of our busy lives, I may feel that we are no longer working toward the same goals. Include me in planning for our family and our future. Celebrate with me as we accomplish our goals.
EDITOR’S NOTE — By Lisa Keane, clinical director of Pathways Professional Counseling. She is a licensed professional counselor who has been married for eight years and is the mother of two young children.
Biblical principles provide guidance, insight to resolving marital conflicts
By Kline W. Johnson, Ed.D.
Director, Baptist Family Resource and Counseling Ministry Montgomery Baptist Association
Conflicts in marriage relationships, even Christian marriages, are unavoidable and inevitably lead to a feeling of disappointment in one’s spouse and in oneself. However, conflict should be a temporary issue that a couple resolves intentionally and with love.
Both the Old and New Testament speak to the issue of conflict resolution. Many of the biblical teachings are focused on the relationship of Christians with one another. Because God’s Word gives us directions for functioning in harmony, it is even more important in our marriage relationship.
The marriage commitment is the primary relationship in our human experience of sharing in God’s love and acting in a way that honors God. This relationship also should show respect for your helpmate. In marriage, as in other relationships, the overall goal in successfully resolving conflicts and differences of opinions is unity.
‘A gentle answer’
The writer of Proverbs tells us in 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Anger, psychologically speaking, is a response to a perceived threat. Therefore, it is our responsibility not to provoke a person to anger.
Two other Proverbs give instructions in responding to one another: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame” (Prov. 18:13); “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).
There should be no confusion regarding how we are to follow God’s guidance in our Christian response to other people. A good summary for us is Proverbs 25:11: “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” The adage “think before you speak” applies to all our interactions with people, but especially with our spouse.
In the New Testament, we find parallel and similar instructions including the admonition in James 1:19–20: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
One aspect of conflict resolution in marriage is forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 states: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” When we seek God’s forgiveness, He grants it instantaneously. For most of us, forgiveness is a process.
Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae applies to us as individuals affirming our need to forgive one another. Yes, this teaching includes your spouse and other people. In Colossians 3:13, Paul writes, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
With the biblical principles guiding us, let us review three practical applications of these principles in daily living in the marriage relationship.
- Deal with conflict immediately. As soon as one or both partners become aware of a conflict, arrange an uninterrupted time to deal with the conflict. Delay in approaching an issue often intensifies the conflict.
- Talk things out productively. Conversations should center on the conflict and seek a plan of action that each can accept as being beneficial to the relationship. Attack issues, problems or questions — not your spouse — and deal with only one issue at a time. Listen and ensure understanding of your mate’s view before responding to specific statements. If additional support is needed resolving an issue, a trusted pastor or counselor can offer assistance.
- Handle the outcome respectfully. Recognize that you don’t have to be right or prove that your spouse was wrong.
The Bible tells us to keep no record of wrongs. Do not revisit past disagreements or bring others into the discussion. It is imperative to deal with the issue before sharing the conflict with another person.
Christ and the Church
The Bible has much to say about living at peace with others. Because marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church, peace in the marriage relationship is of utmost importance. Resolving conflict is never easy but the result is harmony in the home.
Editor’s Note — Kline Johnson is a licensed professional counselor who has specialized in marriage and family counseling for 48 years. In addition to serving with the Montgomery Baptist Association, he teaches a couples Sunday School class at Eastern Hills Baptist Church, Montgomery.
- “Now You’re Speaking My Language: Honest Communication and Deeper Intimacy for a Stronger Marriage” by Gary Chapman
- “The Communicating Marriage (Focus on the Family Marriage Series)” by Barbara and Dennis Rainey
- “How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage” by Milan and Kay Yerkovich
- “52 Uncommon Dates: A Couple’s Adventure Guide for Praying, Playing and Staying Together” by Randy Southern
- “131 Creative Conversations For Couples: Christ-honoring questions to deepen your relationship, grow your friendship and ignite romance” by Jed Jurchenko
For more information on dealing with disappointment or to find a counselor, visit www.pathwaysprofessional.org.