Hi, this is pastor Ken and I want to welcome you to the Monday Marriage Message. This is another installment in the Marital Communication 101 series.

When driving a car there is a warning light most of us have seen at one time or another. Depending on the make and model of the car, this light will either be a yellow depiction of an engine or will illuminate the words “Check Engine Soon”. This warning light means that there is something amiss that needs to be remedied soon or more serious problems will likely develop. The light does not know what the particular problem is, only that one exists. When you take the car to a mechanic or hook it up to a diagnostic tool, the stored codes which indicate the specific problem are displayed. With this information in hand the operator of the car can address the problem and continue to drive the car as intended.

I find that anger or frustration with one’s spouse while trying to communicate is a warning light of sorts. It usually indicates that some other problem exists that ought to be addressed before continuing. Just as automobiles have certain mechanical failures which illuminate the “Check Engine” light more often than others, anger and frustration that develops while trying to communicate most often is indicative of a failure to understand. With all of the variables that have been mentioned in the past several weeks as we have been exploring this topic, misunderstanding should not really come as a big surprise. As we have discussed, there are a myriad of opportunities for some part of attempted communication to be misinterpreted. Body language can be misconstrued. Tone or inflection of speech can be affected by outside causes having nothing to do with the current conversation. Word choice can mean different things to different people. Additionally, as I mentioned last week, if a conversation does not appear to a wife to come from a position of love, or if a husband senses he is being disrespected, communication will likely break down. All of these, and other obstacles can easily lead to misunderstanding and often times that condition will cause the ‘warning light’ of anger or frustration to appear.

Because misunderstanding is the most common failure code indicated by the ‘warning light’ it should be checked quickly to see if it is in fact, the problem. I find this is almost always the cause of the breakdown in communication. That being the case, it is wise as soon as you notice yourself becoming frustrated or angry while trying to communicate with your spouse, to check and see if perhaps you have indeed just recently misunderstood what you spouse was trying to convey.

The reason this failure to understand often occurs is due to a momentary misdiagnosis of intent. At times, we are all susceptible to crossed wires that momentarily cause us to think our spouse is against us instead of for us. I am not saying this more serious condition cannot occur, only that it is not as prevalent as we may suspect. When a true condition of poor intent or downright evil intent exists in a marriage that is a much more serious condition and requires a more significant repair. However, most often it is a failure to correctly offer or accept good intent and a misunderstanding results. As such the most prudent thing to do is to ask.

Could it be that simple? Yes. Is it really that easy? No. One of the more difficult things to do is to believe we have misunderstood someone. Why is that? Discovering a misunderstanding on our part requires first that we admit to ourselves that our own diagnosis of the current situation should not be trusted. That is a very difficult thing to be willing to do. We all need to be able to trust ourselves, and when we feel that perhaps we cannot, or should not, it is very disconcerting. I also find that when we consider the possibility that we have wrongly identified the meaning of another, especially our spouse, it can be difficult to continue communication in a positive manner without a reset. Sometimes a mechanic will reset the “Check Engine Light” if the problem doesn’t seem to make sense. They will do this to see if the computer will re-establish the code or perhaps find that the code was sent in error if it does not repeat itself. I find that one of the most effective ways to do this with marital communication is through the following method.

When anger or frustration occurs, pause the conversation. Explain to your spouse that when you saw, or heard the actions, body language, words, or tone that produced the ‘warning light’ you took that to mean…and let them know what interpretation you arrived at. Then simply ask the following question. “Did you intend for me to feel…?”and tell them what or how that caused you to react. This allows for your spouse to clear up the misunderstanding so that it does not continue to be a part of your further interpretation of their attempt to communicate with you. This technique while valuable for clearing up miscommunication can still be difficult at first because it can leave the one who is asking for the clarification feeling vulnerable. The more often it is used however, the easier it will become, and the more successful you will both be when it comes to communicating without further misunderstanding.

Ephesians 4:1-3 in the New Living Translation instructs us; Therefore, I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

Questions to Answer:

  • Do the two of you find that you misunderstand each other rarely or often?
  • When a misunderstanding occurs, does it cause frustration and anger to infiltrate your attempts to communicate?
  • If this is the case, how does it affect the conversation going forward? Do you simply push on in a state of misunderstanding, or does it generally shut communication down?

Actions to Take:

  • Commit to choosing to be vulnerable and getting clarification as soon as communication begins to break down because of a misunderstanding.
  • If you are the one misunderstood, be gracious and willing to accept that you were misunderstood without finding fault or being condescending.
  • Be proactive. If you notice misunderstanding on your part or on the part of your spouse, don’t allow it to continue. In kindness and gentleness, pause communication until the misunderstanding can be corrected.

So now, heeding the ‘warning lights’ and correcting misinterpretations as soon as they develop to promote healthy and valuable marital communication skills…Go Be Awesome!