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Learning to Communicate

By Elizabeth George

CBN.comMost every bride returns home from her honeymoon with stars in her eyes and dreams in her heart about the romantic road that stretches endlessly ahead of her and her beloved. I know I did. Jim's and my honeymoon was brief-only two days long-because we had to be at work on the Tuesday that followed our Memorial Day weekend wedding. Never mind, I thought, we have the rest of our lives to be together! Truly, it seemed like we were standing on the threshold of a lifetime of joy, love, excitement, and passion.

But on that day when Jim returned to work and I went to my job on the university campus, real life set in. I walked to my nine-to-five job, while Jim commuted an hour in heavy traffic to Oklahoma City to his job at the pharmacy inside a large Costco-type warehouse. Jim worked until nine o'clock at night, only to face another one-hour drive back home. When he staggered through the door that first night, dead tired, I conceded, Well, there goes our first amorous dinner and our first love-filled night in our first-ever "home" (albeit a one-bedroom apartment). This scene was repeated for the remainder of our first should-have-been-blissful week, until Saturday arrived…and Jim staggered out the door at four o'clock in the morning to travel to his monthly two-day weekend U.S. Army Reserve meeting. When he arrived home in the dark Sunday night and fell into bed so he could get up the next day and begin his daily commute to work for yet another week, we both realized we had some adjustments to make.

Every couple has their bouts with reality checks and fine-tuning. And every couple has to learn how to communicate so the needed adjustments can be made more smoothly. All couples have to do the communicating and the adjusting over. . . and over. . . and over again as the issues and challenges of life change, not only daily, but also within each day.

Thank goodness God's Word gives us guidelines not only for our marriages but for our communication. The Bible tells couples like you and your husband the best way to share and receive information as you work your way through emotions, disappointments, and confusions to reach solutions to the barrage of challenges you encounter. So pay attention! The section that follows is a life saver.. .and a marriage-saver!

"Like Apples of Gold…."

In poetic language the writer of Proverbs 25:11 paints this word picture of good communication:

A word fitly spoken is like
apples of gold in settings of silver.

Dear wife, this kind of beauty should be the goal for all of your communication, but especially with the person most important and closest to you-your husband. So here are several of God's keys to godly speech. Your words are to be

....soft. "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). The words we choose to use have an effect on the hearer. Harsh, loud, caustic speech leads to arguments and quarrels, while soft, gentle words bring about peace. And here's another fact: "A soft tongue can break hard bones" (Proverbs 25:15 TLB)!

….sweet. "Sweetness of the lips increases learning" or influence (Proverbs 16:21). Do you want to get your point across? Then realize that "pleasant words promote instruction" and understanding (16:2 1 NIV).

….suitable. "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (Proverbs 16:24). Kind, sweet words have a medicinal effect on both body and soul.

….scant. "In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Proverbs 10:19). The more you talk, the more you are sure to sin! Another Bible translation is very vivid and down-to-earth in its language: "Don't talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow!" As someone put it, "Sometimes the most skillful use of the tongue is keeping it still."

….slow. "Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19). In even fewer words, make it your aim to "listen much, speak little, and not become angry" (TLB)! Why? Because "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (verse 20 NKJV). No good ever comes from sinful anger.

Do you want your speech to be like apples of gold in settings of silver? Like 14-carat gold fruit in a sterling silver basket? Priceless? Indescribable? Admirable? Exquisite? Desirable? Then learn to speak with godly wisdom when you communicate with your husband. Choose words that are soft, sweet, suitable, and, by all means, scant.

"Like a Constant Dripping"

What happens when you and I don't communicate God's way? What results from a failure to pay attention to God's wise guidelines for our speech? Proverbs has more word pictures for us, detailed in these verses:

"The contentions of a wife are a continual dripping" (Proverbs 19:13).

"Better to dwell in a corner of a housetop, than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (Proverbs 21:9).

"Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman" (Proverbs

"A continual dripping on a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike" (Proverbs 27:15).

I'm sure you get the picture! The message is that a crabby, cranky, nagging, quarrelsome complaining, ill- tempered wife annoys her husband in the same way a constant drip gets on our nerves and "drives us crazy." In fact, as these proverbs report, it not only drives a husband crazy, but it can also drive him away. To escape the constant drip, drip, drip of a wife's sour, negative words, a husband will choose to live in the attic, on the porch, on the rooftop, or even in the wilds. He would rather risk the elements, do without the shelter and comfort of home, even take his chances against the threat of wild animals than stay one more second in the presence of a belligerent wife.

So I urge you to evaluate your speech patterns. Ask God to reveal if you are falling into the "contentious" category. . . or if you are articulating the sweet speech that marks you as a wife after God's own heart. Are you majoring on yourself or are you majoring on your husband-on helping, following, respecting, and loving him? Are you a listener or a whimperer? Do your words minister a calming influence or do they resemble a raging torrent of destruction?

Performing Radical Surgery

If you don't like your evaluation of your communication tactics and topics or the results of such tactics and topics (and, believe me, every wife falters and fails in this area!), then something has got to change. Radical surgery must be performed on your heart and your tongue. I'm sure you desire to utter words that are fitting of a wife after God's own heart-words that are pleasing to the Lord and that portray you as a wise and sympathetic wife. I'm sure you wish for your speech to minister to your husband and edify your relationship with him.

So I'm suggesting that, in order to turn the corner on your communication, you must...

Take it to the Lord in prayer-pour out your struggles, disappointment complaints, bitterness, fears, and failures to God. That's what dear Hannah did. Hannah was a woman and wife after God's own heart. There's no doubt that she had an extremely difficult marriage and family situation. To begin her list of woes, she was married to a man who had two wives. And to top that off, "Hannah had no children" (1 Samuel 1 2) The other wife, however, did But Hannah's heartaches didn't stop there. Adding insult to injury, the other wife "provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb" (verse 6).

What was Hannah's solution? As we discuss the answer, note this too-Hannah is one of the few women in the Bible about whom nothing negative is reported. To our knowledge, gained by what is-and isn't-reported in the Bible, Hannah didn't lash out at her husband or at his other wife. What did she do instead? When Hannah "was in bitterness of soul... [prayed to the Lord" (verse 10). In His presence she wept in anguish and silently prayed in her heart before the Lord, pleading with Him and vowing to Him about the issues in her miserable home life (verses 10-13).

Do you perhaps have an unbearable, seemingly impossible situation at home? What under your roof tries and tests your soul? Name it-and then take it to the Lord in prayer. In His presence you may express all that you feel and fear. You can divulge your personal bitterness of soul. Precious reader, thank God that you and I "do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need"

(Hebrews 4:15-16). Let us boldly take our problems to the Lord in prayer.

Make a decision to "cut it out"-While you are pouring out your heart to God admitting your faults in the Communications Department, confess your failures in the Sweet Speech Department. Then ask God to help you do "radical surgery" on your speech. Seek His help in cutting out and eliminating the practices, words, decibel levels, and emotions that go against His communication principles, that fail to honor Him, and that fail to accomplish His will for your mouth.

This principle of drastic action comes from a lesson taught by Jesus when He told offenders of God's law how to deal with the eye or hand that sins. He said of the eye to "pluck it out," and of the hand to "cut it off" (Matthew 5:29-30). As you can see, Jesus called for radical surgery!

Beloved, you and I, as women after God's own heart who desire to be wives after God's own heart, must treat our sinful speech patterns in a drastic way. They are wrong, unproductive, even counterproductive. They do not accomplish the will or purposes of God (James 1:20). Therefore, we must be done with such speech. In short, we must "cut it out"!

So please, partner with God. Ask for His help in curbing wild, rampant, destructive, and ungodly speech. Yet another proverb tells us, "There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health" (Prov 12:18). Your communication with your husband (or anyone!) will improve a thousand percent when you cease wielding the sword of rash, venomous words.

If you want to be wise, then remember that "in the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise" (Proverbs 10:19). A sure way to be wise-and to cut it out-is to restrain your lips. Just say nothing. Try it for a day. It will be difficult, but it will be the best day of your life...and of your husband's, too! It will be a day marked by wisdom.

And it will be a day of glorious victory, peace, and self- control you'll want to mark on your calendar. It will be a day lived as a wife after God's own heart.

Proceeding Ahead

In a previous chapter we learned that companionship is one of the benefits and blessings of marriage. As Solomon observed, "Two are better than one." Of course you and I as wives should be able to share our concerns with our husbands. But wise, godly speech like "apples of gold in settings of silver" and increased persuasiveness is all about how we ay what we say. It's when we fail in these laws of sweet speech that we have to…

  • come to a halt (say nothing),
  • take a break (from our old and unsuccessful ways of communicating),
  • take a step backward (pray and search our hearts),
  • regroup (make a decision to do it God's way), and then proceed ahead.

That's what I had to do, over..and over..and over again. I remember it all too well. At the time when our daughters were preschoolers, my Jim had four (yes, four!) jobs. Jim had resigned from his pharmaceutical sales job to answer his "call" to ministry and go back to school for the Theological training. And, bless his heart, this dear man did not want me to go to work with two little ones in the home. This was a time when not only did I wish Jim could spend more time with our girls, but I wished he could spend more time with me!

At first I handled our new situation in the wrong way. I whined. When that didn't work, I cried. When that didn't work, I screamed When that didn't work, I stomped and sulked, making good use of "the cold shoulder." What a brat I was!

God's Better Way

But then I began growing in my knowledge of the Bible. Soon I understood more about Jim's roles as a Christian husband (one role was to provide for his family). I also understood. ut my roles as a Christian wife (one being to help Jim). And I also discovered God's good-better-and-best methods of communication-the ones we are discussing in this chapter. I knew in my Spirit-convicted heart that something had to give. Something had to change. So, my friend, here is what I did in my efforts to learn to communicate God's way. I began...

...learning to pray. At the first hint of frustration or self-pity, I prayed.

…learning to say nothing. Whenever my emotions approached the danger point, I again prayed, and then did whatever was required to stop the flow by saying nothing.

…learning to wait. I knew Jim was tired and almost stretched to the limit (and so was I!). By God's grace, I learned to wait for the right time to communicate. For us that became once a week during our 89-cent Coke date at the fast-food restaurant across the street while an angelic neighbor watched Katherine and Courtney.

...learning to make a list. While I waited, I faithfully and carefully-and prayerfully-wrote down everything I felt Jim and I needed to talk through. This list included issues like methods of disciplining our daughters, decisions that needed to be made, and financial concerns. (The chapter on finances is coming up soon!)

...learning to make an appointment. If our Coke date wasn't going to work out, I would approach Jim and schedule another time for us to talk about pressing matters. By doing this, Jim could pick the time that was best and most convenient for him. From that moment on, we both anticipated the exact time for our talk.

…learning to write it out. Many times I would, with much prayer, write out the exact words I wanted to say-how I wanted to "present my case" and any options or solutions I had thought of. I learned this from Proverbs 15:28-"The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil."

...learning "to take the blame." This is my own phrase for communicating about serious issues with "a meek and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4 Kw). My principle drawn from these guiding words for women was (and still is), "Meekness takes the blame." Let me explain.

With this motto in mind, I would ay to my husband, "I'm having a problem understanding this.. .or seeing how this can work... or accepting this change. Can you help me out... or help me with my thinking?" Without this motto in mind, my mouth would automatically blurt out something hostile and accusing like, "Why do you always..." or "Your idea is stupid" or "How come you don't..." Did you note the diff You and I can begin our sentences with "I" or with "you." The choice is ours.

And I've found that when I begin with "I" (as in "I'm having a problem understanding this" instead of "Your idea is stupid"), our communication as a couple goes much more smoothly.

Now, how's that for "learning" to communicate? Needless to say, these seven disciplines (and there are more) put me-and my marriage-on the path to improved communication and increased blessings. And they can do the same for you!

Heart Response

I love music, orchestras, and concerts. Perhaps that's because I played the violin in my junior high school orchestra. I like to think that I did my part and made a positive contribution to the group and those in our audiences.

But what do you think would have happened if, on Day One of my violin undertaking, I grabbed my new school issued violin, ran onto the concert stage, plopped down in a chair, and began playing with the other members of the group? What a racket you would have heard! What squeaks, screeches, squawks, and scratches you would have been forced to endure!

But, no. Both you and I know what it requires to play in harmony in any setting, whether in an orchestra, in a choir, in a drama troupe, on a sports team…or in a marriage. It requires learning the proper techniques. And it demands time as you practice, practice, practice!

If I could say one thing to you after reading through this important chapter on this oh-so-vital skill of communicating with your husband, I would say this: Don't just run in to talk to your husband, plop down, grab at any thing your sometimes-empty brain finds handy, and blurt out thoughtless or insensitive words. Instead take the time to prepare your heart and your words. Pray about timing, tone, and topics. Ask God for help with godly discipline over the thoughts of your heart and the words of your mouth (see Psalm 19:14). Make it your aim to convey information, to bless your precious husband, and to create harmony. Seek to do an excellent job of verbalizing your heart to your husband in a godly way and with godly wisdom. By all means, make an effort and take the time to learn-and apply-God's rules for communication. You'll be glad you did. And I guarantee your husband will, too!

Little Things That Make a Big Difference

1. Follow God's guidelline for good communication.

Are your words soft, sweet, suitable, scant, and slow? Begin reminding yourself each day to "put away" speech patterns that don't match up to God's standards and to put these five elements of whole some communication in their place instead. Ask God to guide you when you are communicating with your husband.

2. Identify any speech patterns that must go.

Read Jesus' words about "radical surgery" in Matthew 5:29-30. As you consider your speech, what must go-at any cost!-and when? (And remember, delayed obedience is disobedience.) By making a decision to "cut it out," praying faithfully, sprinkling a few well-placed sticky-note reminders around the house, and, of course, by the mighty grace of God, you can give it up.

I still remember going through such an exercise (and exorcise-ing!) when I became convicted about screaming at my two little preschoolers. I knew it was wrong and destructive. And yet I did it... until I reached the radical surgery stage. Sure, there were slip-ups. And sure, change took a l-o-n-g time! But progress was made day-by-day, decision-by-decision, word-by-word. God enabled me to grow and to change in a way that bettered our home life and blessed my family. Again, what must go-at any cost!-and when?

3. Make it a goal to encourage your husband.

Have you ever been wounded by the "wieldings" of someone else's sharp tongue (see Proverbs 12:18)? And worse yet, have you ever done damage to another person in the same way, with your words (like I did when I screamed at my little girls)? Your goal as a wife after God's own heart is to help, heal, and minister to your husband with your words- not to slash and slice him to pieces. Your rash words can resemble the thrusts of a sword or they can disperse refreshment that promotes health, edifies, encourages, and delivers grace to your husband (Ephesians 4:29).

A careless word may kindle strife.
A cruel word may wreck a life.
A brutal word may smite and kill.
A gracious word may smooth the way.
A joyous word may light the day.
A timely word may lessen stress.
A loving word may heal and bless.

4. Be quick to say you're sorry.

The can say you are sorry for temper, for negative responses, for hurtful words, or for sinful attitudes, the better! This is the quickest and best way to defuse a situation that could get worse or clear up any disturbance in your relationship with your husband so the two of you can go on with a God-pleasing life.

I've found out a few things about this "little thing." One is that whenever there is a disagreement or argument between Jim and me, everything else gets put on hold until we get things settled. No progress is made…nor is there any energy to make any progress! So we've both learned to be quick to say we're sorry. I've also learned that if I am faithfully and regularly acknowledging my sin to God, it's much easier to apologize to my husband because I'm already in the habit of saying "I'm sorry" to God.

5. "Say what you mean, but don't say it meanly!"

I like this advice from a book I purchased in an airport. Enough said!

6. Seek to please God with your words.

King David of the Old Testament prayed, "Let the words of my mouth…be acceptable in Your sight, 0 Lord" (Psalm 19:14)! God is the first person you must please with your words. And that is the desire of every woman after God's own heart.

"Taken from A Wife After God's Own Heart: 12 Things That Really Matter in Your Marriage by Elizabeth George; Copyright 2004 by Elizabeth George; Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR; Used by Permission.

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