Hi, this is pastor Ken, thanks for joining me for another Monday Marriage Message. This is the second in a short series I am calling Marital Communication 101.Welcome!
Last week I said that many people assume they will be good communicators in their marriages based on several things. First the obvious, they have been communicating with other people with some degree of success since before they even knew how to speak. Second, while dating most people find communication with their future spouse to be easy…almost effortless. So why does it have to be so difficult now?
The fact that husbands and wives have completely different thought processes as I shared in three previous editions entitled Differences That Divide 1, 2 & 3 is one major reason mutual understanding in our marriages can be so difficult to attain. If you have not listened to those podcasts or do not remember what I shared there, I would encourage you to review those. The differences between compartmentalized and relational thinking are notable and cause men and women to naturally arrive at differing conclusions even when they are considering the same information. This difference in thought process often causes us to attach different meanings to the same words strung together in sentences. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs gives a humorous example of this in his book Love and Respect. He says there, that when a woman says “I have nothing to wear.”, she means that she has nothing new to wear. When a man says “I have nothing to wear.”, he means he has nothing clean to wear. Same words in the sentence, different meaning. However, as I stated in those previously mentioned podcasts (the third one specifically), this difference is not a flaw or a problem just because we find it problematic. God is a good, good Father and has nothing but the best of intention toward us. Our misunderstanding of His purposes concerning our creation does not constitute a mistake on His part. In reality we should be just as grateful and enamored by any differences we find between us and our spouse as we are for the differences in our physical bodies that we appreciate with regularity. Differing thought processes while many times providing a difficulty to arrive at mutual understanding is but one in a long line of reasons we fail to communicate as we want to.
Sometimes our momentary mental or emotional position leaves us vulnerable to misunderstanding. There are times when we respond to our spouse while still considering difficulties caused by others outside of the marriage such as co-workers, the kids, or the person who cut us off on the road two minutes before we got home. Our spouse may have had nothing to do with the adversity, but we allow our residual frustration to fall on them nonetheless. If they are yet unaware of the previously experienced difficulties, they may (and likely will) interpret that the frustration they sense in our response is directed toward them. Scenarios just like this one and others resulting in misunderstandings between spouses occur countless times every day around the world. Again misinterpreted intent is but one of the many things that can quickly and easily derail mutual understanding, and cause people to think they have failed to communicate.
Add to the list things like families of origin and you will have the beginnings (actually you will have only scratched the surface) of a long list of things that cause us to misconstrue what our spouse is trying to communicate. It was in your family of origin (the setting you grew up in) where you developed the majority of your core beliefs. Those core beliefs are the things you decided were inarguable truths, and they were mostly developed through the eyes of a child with little life experience, I might add. They are the basis by which you decipher everything in the world around you. Studies show that the vast majority of core beliefs are determined and decided upon by the age of seven. Core beliefs are sometimes known as limiting beliefs for two reasons. First we address our responses to others and actions based on the ”truths” of our core or limiting beliefs. Second we find it difficult to, or limit accepting as true only those things that line up with our unique set of core beliefs. I am not trying to bore or bamboozle you with psychological mumbo-jumbo but our core beliefs are very much a part of how we interpret everything we encounter. So how does this affect mutual understanding in your marriage? Newsflash – your spouse grew up in a different family of origin than you did, and developed their own set of core beliefs which do not perfectly match yours!
To give example of this from my own life I offer the following. In my family of origin, the only time I ever heard the phrase “Does that suit you?” was when my mom was being sarcastic or condescending toward someone. My mother being the gracious woman that she is with the influence of the Holy Spirit in her life only uttered that phrase then on rare occasions of undue frustration. Fast forward to my marriage with my lovely wife at 34 years of age. We live in southern Delaware where she was born and raised. I was raised in various towns and cities along the east coast but did not come to live in southern Delaware until we married. In this region, and in her family the phrase “Does that suit you?” means nothing more than “Will that work for your schedule?”, and is actually asked as a courtesy. However, because of the limiting beliefs I accepted as truth growing up, I only heard it as sarcasm and a lack of graciousness caused by sheer frustration. For the first several years of our marriage I could not understand for the life of me, why perfectly normal conversations with my wife about the things we had to fit into our schedules had to end with her being totally frustrated and sarcastic with me. They didn’t and she wasn’t. Those misconceptions and misinterpretations of her lack of patience with me existed only in my misunderstanding, and caused me to think she was coming against me when that was not at all the case.
As I mentioned in the first of those three podcast episodes I eluded to earlier, you will find a list of ten things there that can cause us to fail to arrive at mutual understanding. That is as I mentioned moments ago, just the beginnings of a complete list. So what to do? Proverbs 18:2 says: A fool has no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his own heart. This means that when we choose to decipher what is meant by what our spouse says or does only by our limiting core beliefs, and we do not give them an honest chance to explain their words or actions, we are being foolish. The reverse truth contained in this scripture is that a wise person will give their spouse the opportunity to explain that their words and actions came from a position of good will…and then choose to believe them. Yes, this is going to mean an argument with that child inside of us who is trying to tell us how to interpret our spouse’s intentions, but that kid couldn’t have gotten everything right…could they? Besides, much better to argue with the remnants of the child you once were than the spouse actually present with you now.
Questions to Answer:
Which of the things above do you believe contribute to a lack of mutual understanding in your marriage?
How much of what I have shared with you today do you recognize as being true for you?
How willing are you to adjust the ‘Go to’ conclusions you draw quite naturally to develop new strategies to gain mutual understanding with your spouse on a more regular basis?
Actions to Take:
Discuss some recent times when misunderstanding ensued, and ask your spouse to express their heart toward you on that subject prior to the misunderstanding…then be willing to accept what they tell you as truth.
As a strategy to minimize misunderstanding going forward, whenever you feel your spouse is likely to misinterpret your words or actions, begin the conversation by expressing your good will. Take time up-front to explain that the things you are going to talk about are on your mind because you love and respect them. This will do two valuable things. First, it will allow them to know where your heart is and interpret your words with your good will toward them in mind. Second, it will cause you to be more cautious, choosing only words that you would want to hear from someone with your best in mind.
So now, being wise and seeking to understand your spouse’s best intentions toward you, argue with the child inside you who is trying to tell you different, and…Go Be Awesome!