I remember it well. My wife and I were lying in bed and I felt guilty. Here we were, chasing after my calling to go into ministry and she was still working in a job that was not ideal. But it wasn't the fact that we were chasing after my calling that put the knot in my stomach. What bothered me was that I had no clue what SHE wanted to do with her life. She was a wonderful artist, wife, and mother to our infant son, but was that what she wanted to be and do? Was the job she was doing from 8-5 Monday to Friday where she really wanted to be? What were her hopes and dreams? Where did she want to be with her career in 5 years? I didn't know what was on her heart. My pain was that as a husband I should have known.
Communication is more than just speaking and thinking that your message will be heard and understood. Meaningful communication is much more than just a one-way street. Effective communication requires less talking and more listening, hearing, and responding. It requires being intentional. While communication happens when one person speaks to another, it's never just a one-directional event. True communication is dialogue where relationship is nurtured. The listener hears and digests the content and reflects information back to the speaker. The listener plays a powerful role in helping the speaker to feel heard. Good communication bridges a gap between people allowing an exchange of words, actions, and emotions. It moves us from isolation to community.
Scripture gives us clear guidelines on the words we are to use when speaking to others. We need to be kind and loving. We need to use words that are both sincere and meant to build up others. Scripture doesn’t detail how to handle all the ins and outs of everyday life, but it guides us to use words of grace and truth. While we may not be able to find specifics to every concern, there are texts that remind us of how communication in relationships is meant to work.
James 1:19 says that we are to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." Communication is about listening first, but we cannot listen if we do not engage. Communication has to be about WANTING to hear, WANTING to know, and WANTING to share. It's about taking what is said as is and nothing more. I tend to begin to plan a response when my wife gives me information. But planning a response keeps me from fully listening. Set aside all other distractions to hear what is actually being communicated. The important listening is tuning in to more than just information to hear the emotions of the heart.
But let us not stop at simply hearing the spoken words--let us listen to their heart and pick up on their emotional cues. Listening to your spouse's heart does not mean that you go out and purchase a stethoscope. Listening to their heart means that we wonder about, listen for, and acknowledge their emotions as well as their words. It is tuning in to the emotions behind the facts that are being communicated and naming them.
We are not going to use only an auditory avenue for communication but we should watch for visual cues as well. While my wife was upset and using words to convey her frustration with her job she was also using her hands, her eyes, and other body language. Such gestures offer cues and often communicate what we don’t want to say out loud. People may hide their feelings via words but body language and tone are much more difficult to hide. And just as we ask questions to inquire further about what was said, you can use questions to better understand when it seems that words and body language are out of sync with each other.
We may think we hear what was said, but we often hear incorrectly as we process through our own filters. I've learned over time to respond with a question to gain better understanding. This not probing for information, but seeking to understand what the speaker is experiencing. Asking questions about what they said or what their words mean to them shows that you don't want to miss any words nor their intention either. Ask, "How does this make you feel?" or "What would you like to do about that?" Simple engaging questions shows that you are listening, that you are engaging, and that you want to know more about their experience.
In the end communication is about you and your partner. It's about sharing and hearing, loving and engaging, watching and encouraging. It's about two people sharing both sides of the relationship. In our case it was also about sacrifice and hope. When I finally rolled over and confessed my guilt, my wife was not only flattered but she stated that she had never felt neglected. Her "hope" and "desire" was for me to be happy and she knew that ministry was going to make me happy and that God was calling us there together. Never once did she feel that she was being set aside so we could focus on me. And it was also in that moment that I realized that it wasn't "my dream"--it was ours. My wife saw the gifts God had given us, so the further pursuit of my studies and ministry became "our" dream. And THAT is what a marriage truly looks like: that two become one (Mark 10:8).