As my wife and I get older, one of the saddest things we’ve seen is how many Christian marriages end in divorce. Or, may be well on their way.
One reputable study found that ‘active conservative Protestants’ and ‘active Catholics’ are about 30% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation. Still, that means about 15% of marriages among these groups still don’t survive.
I’m guessing you’d rather not be one of them.
But avoiding divorce – or an unhappy marriage – doesn’t just happen. That’s what this series is all about: helping you get ready for a marriage you’ll love. (Or, nourishing the one you already have.) And, one that glorifies God by pointing beyond itself to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33).
In this post, let’s go deeper in the area that’s more likely to cause problems in your marriage than any other. Communication.
As I mentioned in 9 Topics You Absolutely Need To Cover In Your Premarital Counseling, communication problems are the top factor (65%) leading to divorce.
But what is communication anyway? Like ‘glory’ or ‘holy’, we’re not sure what it actually means. And if we can’t define it, we can’t expect to make much progress.
According to Google, communication is:
‘the imparting or exchanging of information or news…’ and the ‘means of connection between people or places, in particular.’
That’s a pretty big bucket. If communication refers to how people exchange information and connect, no wonder it’s the biggest trouble spot in marriages. When two sinners live under the same roof, and strive for the kind of gospel intimacy marriage pictures, the sparks are bound to fly.
But as we’ll see, men and women tend to have different struggles – and gripes – in this critical area.
Survey Says: Women’s Biggest Frustration
One survey of mental health professionals shows that women’s chief complaint is that husbands don’t validate their feelings and opinions. (Eighty-three percent of professionals mentioned this.)
When I was dating my future wife, this was definitely true for me. I would try to listen, but often move quickly toward offering solutions, or worse, tell her why there were other ways of looking at the situation.
I remember her saying that she wanted me to ‘treat her like a person’, but not getting it. Looking back, I wasn’t letting her process what she was thinking or feeling without imposing my own filter. I wasn’t trying to truly enter her world.
In retrospect, I was afraid that just listening implied I agreed with everything. And would never have the chance to offer an outside perspective, which ultimately wouldn’t help her. But that’s not what my wife was saying; she simply wanted me to care for her first by listening and trying to understand.
Survey Says: Men’s Biggest Complaint
Men, on the other hand, tend to put their wives’ nagging at the top of their grievance list. (Seventy percent of professionals mentioned this.)
Nagging is the tendency to ‘annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging.’
Obviously, guys aren’t perfect, and lack of follow through can tempt their girlfriends or wives to become frustrated and nudge. But nagging comes from a disposition to focus on what’s wrong, which can break a man’s spirit and leave him feeling defeated. Feeling he can’t please you, he will be tempted to keep his distance (see Proverbs 21:9).
Moving Past Our Communication Struggles
So, these are the top communication struggles many men and women face in their marriages. It’s obviously much more complex than that, and unique for each couple, but this is a good starting point.
If these patterns go unchecked, over time they create deep ruts that destroy intimacy.
As you get ready for your marriage (or work on your existing marriage), what can you do about it?
Let me share just one insight, and action step, for both men and women.
Insight – beware of pride.
Guys are notorious for wanting to ‘fix’ things quickly, and there’s an upside to that. But the downside is that we can be very prideful, thinking we have understood a problem and its solution. And often without listening. James challenges us to ‘be quick to hear, slow to speak’ (1:19). Rooting out the pride behind this requires ongoing repentance and prayer.
Action step – just listen.
Instead of rushing to solutions, try listening to what your girlfriend, fiancee or wife is communicating. When you find yourself rushing to analysis, prayerfully set that aside and be present. (There will be time for that later.) Ask questions, and offer support. Jesus himself spent his first thirty years quietly in the world rather than overtly trying to save or fix it.
Insight – beware of a critical spirit.
Any godly man needs his wife’s honest feedback to become more like his Savior. But too much will leave him focused on his failures, with a serious case of gospel amnesia. Women, how do you see your man? Do you define him by his struggles, or, his perfect standing before God in Christ (Romans 3:21-22)?
Action step – speak honestly, then let the Spirit work.
If your boyfriend, fiance or husband is sinning, you have to challenge him (Leviticus 19:17; Matthew 18:15). But not every time. Counselor Ed Welch says, ‘Give anyone more than one hearty criticism a week and that person will get frustrated, hurt or shut down. If they shut down, they draw louder and more frequent criticisms [i.e., nagging] and the cycle can get ugly.’ Speak loving truth, then give the Spirit room to do his work of conviction (John 16:8).
The Trinity: Our Pattern For Communication
I know that we’ve only scratched the surface here. There are many other communication issues, and not all men and women fit these common patterns. If yours are different, then obviously start there.
Ultimately, our goal is to reflect the perfect communication that the Trinity enjoys. Whether you’re on the journey toward marriage, or a seasoned couple, communicating like that will bring you – and your Savior – incredible joy.
- Where do you struggle most with communication? How about your significant other/fiance(e)/spouse?
- What one step would most help you communicate more like Christ?