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By Dan Flournoy

One of the major causes of marital discord is the problem of communication. Often couples will come to my office seeking help with their marriage. In filling out the necessary forms prior to our first session, they most often indicate that communication has been a problem area. Couples who have been married for ten, twelve or even twenty years will say that communication is a major concern. When asked how long this has been a problem, they often agree that their inability to communicate began almost from the start of their marriage. I sometimes respond by saying, "You mean to tell me that you have been married for twenty years and you haven't been communicating all this time?" Sheepishly, they admit this to be the case.

Well, the truth is they have been communicating all these years, but not in a satisfactory way. They communicate well enough to buy a house and two cars. They communicate well enough to have three children and get them fairly well educated. They communicate well enough to do the shopping and take vacations and a hundred and one other things that need to be done in order to exist from day to day. Yet, they say that they do not communicate. What do they mean when they say, "we don't communicate?

What is communication? One dictionary defines communication as"a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior"(Merriam Webster's Deluxe Dictionary: Tenth Collegiate Edition, 1998). One thing seems to be lacking from this definition. It is the word listen. Without listening, there can be no real communication. A Dennis The Menacecartoon illustrates the point well. Dennis and his redheaded friend, Margaret, are playing "house." While setting the table for tea, Dennis says to Margaret, "OK, we'll play pretend husband and wife. You keep on talkin' and I'll pretend to listen." In all too many marriages, this is the way it is. One keeps on talking while the other sort of pretends to listen. Without listening, the communication process is incomplete. For every talker there must be a listener. Do you want to improve your communication skills so as to improve your marriage? Then, learn to be a good listener!

Those who study such things tell us that most people speak about 150 words per minute. Yet, the average person can hear at the rate of 600 to 800 words per minute. Thus, one of the problems of communication becomes apparent. While your spouse is taking at 150 words per minute, you are listening at a much faster rate. That gives you too much time to be thinking of a response when they quite talking. Rather than thinking up a response, why not take that extra time to really listen to what the other person is saying. Digest it before spitting it back in their face!


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1. Don't be distracted. Listening involves giving your complete attention to the person talking.

2. Keep eye contact. Some years ago, Kenney Rogers recorded a song entitled The Gambler.The old gambler is giving some advice to the novice and tells him, "Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces. Knowin' what the cards were by the way they held their eyes." A good listener keeps eye contact. Much of communication (approximately 55%) is non-verbal, i.e. facial expression and body language (Norm Wright).

3. Don't think of what you're going to say next. Just let you objective be to take pleasure in what is being said. Make sure you really have the message before offering a response. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who answers a matter before he hers it, It is folly and shame to him."

4. Learn to share in the other person's experience. You can tell your story later. It is not necessary to play the game "I can top that!" In case you are discussing something that could be considered an argument, remember James 1:19, "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger."

5. Give feedback. An occasional "yes!" or "that must have really been great" encourages the other person to keep talking. It lets them know that you are still there and not off in "la la land."

Communication is a skill to be learned. Some think they are born with the "gift of gab." This may be so, but sometimes being gabby may not mean one is a good communicator. We have known those who talk a lot but fail to listen. Often they are sitting on the other side of my desk telling me that in twenty years of marriage, they are having problems with communication!

--Dan Flournoy


By Dan Flournoy

Communication is a skill to be learned and practiced. It is a vital component of every relationship, especially marriage. Volumes have been written on the subject and the Bible, likewise, has much to say about it.

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it (the tongue) shall eat the fruit thereof" (Prov. 18:21).

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a network of silver. As an ear-ring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, So is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear" (Prov. 25:11).

"A soft answer turneth away wrath; But a grievous word stirreth up anger. The tongue of the wise uttereth knowledge aright; But the mouth of fools poureth out folly" (Prov. 15:1).

However, the question remains, "How do we communicate?" Those who do research on such things as interpersonal relations and communication, tell us that a message is communicated in three ways:

1. Content measures about 7% of the total communication. The actual words of the message make up less than 10% of what we say.

2. The tone of voice measures 38% of total communication. Notice that the way we say things, i.e. tone of voice, has almost five times the impact of the actual words. One statement may be given a completely different meaning simply by changing the tone of voice.

3. Non-verbal communication is about 55% of the total communication. By far, the most important part of communication is what we call "body language." Facial expressions, hands on the hips, a cocked head give a different meaning to the actual content of the message.

It is most important that all three components match. Suppose the message is "I love you" but the eyes are looking at the ceiling, the shoulders are slumped and the voice trails off. The content ("I love you") is fine but the overall communication says something else. If all three match, people will not only understand but will also believe what we say.

One problem in marriage is the fact that people communicate on different levels. Consider the various levels of communication and think about how youcommunicate with your spouse.


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· Level One: "The Grunt." This is absolutely the lowest level of communication...a monosyllabic word such as "Huh," "Ugg," or "Uungh." It seems to be an answer, or perhaps a salutation, and it may even convey more to us if we know the person well.

· Level Two: Cliché Conversation. This type of talk is very safe. We use phrases such as "How are you?" "How's the dog?" "Where have you been?" "I like your dress." In this type of conversation there is no personal sharing. Each person remains safely behind his defenses.

· Level Three: Reporting the Facts About Others. In this kind of conversation we are content to tell others what someone else has said, but we offer no personal information on these facts. We report the facts like the six o'clock news (should). We share gossip and little narrations but we do not commit ourselves as to how we feel about it.

· Level Four: My Ideas and Judgments. Real communication begins to unfold here. The person is willing to step out of his solitary confinement and risk telling some of his ideas and decisions. He is still cautious. If he senses that what he is saying is not being accepted, he will retreat.

· Level Five: My Feelings or Emotions. At this level the person shares how he feels about facts, ideas, and judgments. His feelings underneath these areas are revealed. For a person to really share himself with another individual he must move to the level of sharing his feelings.

· Level Six: Complete Emotional and Personal Communication. All deep relationships must be based on absolute openness and honesty. This may be difficult to achieve because it involves risk - the risk of being rejected. But it is vital if relationships are to grow. There will be times when this type of communication is not as complete as it could be.

It may be that you and your spouse are trying to communicate on different levels. Try to discover the level at which youare communicating and then consider what level your spouse is on. Should you discover that you are on different levels, see what you can do to get on the same level and then gradually move to a higher level together.

--Dan Flournoy

*[Adapted from H. Norman Wright - marriage seminar. Also found in various sources including Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? By John Powell(Allen, Texas: Tabor Publishing Co.), 1969]


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