"My 6-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.'" (Micky Miller Regal)
Have you ever felt like your spouse was "scribbling with their tongue' as you're trying to understand what he or she is talking about because it doesn't make any sense to you?
In our almost 42 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 type of communication gap, we'd like to share with you a portion of what Dr. Judson Swihart (the Director of Counseling Services for Focus on the Family) 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, because as Swihart says (which we've found to be true):
"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, report facts, fix problems, clarify status, and establish control. Women are more likely to view language as a means to greater intimacy, stronger relationships, and fostering cooperation rather than competition.
"In other words, it's 'debate vs. relate.' That means you & your spouse may be tuned in to very different 'meanings' in what each of you is saying. This provides fertile ground for hurt feelings & misunderstandings. What one of you thinks is the other's 'hidden meaning' can be 180 degrees out of line with what the speaker really intends to communicate.
"This can lead to distorted conclusions about the other person's motivations. 'She's an unreasonable, demanding nag who won't leave me alone,' he thinks. 'He's an insensitive, domineering bore who doesn't have a clue about my feelings,' she tells herself.
"...Of course, one size never fits all. Females don't fit neatly into one communication-style box and males into another. Some men can be quite nurturing and emotionally empathetic in their language; some women are aggressive and task-oriented in theirs.
"Still, you needn't be surprised if you and your spouse 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 you can understand emotionally, it will have little value.' The author goes on to say, 'If you're 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 GIVING love. Try making it your goal not to change your spouse but 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 --that your marriage is in a hole that just gets deeper, do something about it. Schedule a time with each other once a week [or more often if you'd like] to try a communication exercise. For example, the wife talks 5-10 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 5-10 minutes and she listens. She can ask only for 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' [or time] 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 than 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."
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 through the ways we speak to an treat one another.
We need to understand that conflict is GOING TO HAPPEN in our marriages --that's a given, because of the closeness of the relationship and because the enemy of our faith works overtime to try to get us to fight against each other. After all, if we're fighting against each other, our attention is taken away from fighting against the adversary --the enemy of God.
For this reason (and many more) it's even more important to LEARN how to deal with and resolve conflicts in God-honoring ways. We pray that Marriage Missions International will continue to be a resource for you in this endeavor, through what God leads us to make available on the web site Marriagemissions.com for your use in the "Communication and Conflict" and the "Communication Tools" and the "Gender Differences" Topic (along with other topics, as well). We hope this will help.
May God Bless your relationship,
Cindy and Steve Wright