Tomorrow my husband and I celebrate twenty-two years of marriage. We thought we knew what we were getting into when we got married. We had no idea, but we agree we wish we had done it a lot sooner. There have been a lot of adjustments made, a lot of maturing done, and a lot of storms weathered. We’ve learned a few things along the way, and one of them proves what relationship books and counselors will tell you– Open, honest communication is key.
Communication involves two processes – speaking and hearing. I did a quick search about speech in Scripture and there is plenty of advice on choosing your words carefully, and about the power of words for good and evil. I didn’t find as much on hearing. Oh, hearing appears numerous times, but it’s in the context of hearing instruction in order to obey, or God hearing prayers. How we listen to each other is covered indirectly by verses like these.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
What do those verses have to do with hearing? In our marriage, here’s how those guidelines Paul gave have played out.
Positive Assumptions – This is just a fancy way to say you choose to act in humility not pride and give someone the benefit of the doubt. Whatever stupidness he or she may have uttered, take a moment, strip away the sheer stupidity to find the non-stupidness he or she probably meant. Make an active choice to believe the other person never intended the stupidness at all, but is merely clumsy, inarticulate, tired, cranky or clueless. The words may still sting, but the wound will not be as deep or lingering. (Of course, I am in no way suggesting you dismiss or endure verbal abuse.)
Baggage and Translation – You each had a life before marriage and that life influences how you interpret and translate what you hear. We joke that the only argument we’ve ever had was over a a peanut butter sandwich. In Jon’s experience, a peanut butter sandwich, by definition included the jelly. In my understanding, a person had to say he wanted jelly, that is, he had to ask for a peanut butter AND JELLY sandwich. So when I presented him with his peanut butter sandwich, his first remark was “Where’s the jelly?”
Goofy examples aside, research has shown that we rely on nonverbal cues, on body language, on facial expressions, on tone of voice far more than the actual words. Then we mash that together with vulnerabilities and fears that may be rooted all the way back in our childhoods before we hear anything.
One of the most significant conversations in our marriage was a series of “when you say this, I hear this” statements. Not only did it open the door for much more effective communication, but it gave each of us a sense worth and value because we were heard, understood and known. In other words, our interests were protected. (Or at least that’s how it worked for me.)
Hearing each other with grace and humility is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in our marriage. What is a big lesson you’ve learned in your relationships?