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Everyday Communication for Spouses

Truth in Love 455

Practical ways to apply biblical communication in marriage.

Mar 4, 2024

Dale Johnson: You know, I couldn’t think of anybody any better to visit with us today on this issue of communication than my brother, Stuart Scott, and I’m so grateful to have this brother here with us. Stuart is the ACBC Director of Member Care and Professor of Biblical Counseling at Bob Jones University and Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. He’s also the Executive Director of 180 Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky, and he teaches in the area of biblical counseling as an adjunct professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He serves currently as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Dr. Scott is the author of The Exemplary Husband, the Communication and Conflict Resolution, the Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide for Parenting, Killing Sinful Habits: Conquering Sin with Radical Faith, and most recently, he’s the author of Wayward Children.

Dr. Scott and his wife Zondra have been married for 32 years and they have two grown children, Krista and Mark, and two grandchildren. They currently live in Greenville, South Carolina. Dr. Scott, as we were talking about communication even before going live today, we were talking about how difficult this topic is, and so but I’m so grateful to have you here with me today to navigate this very difficult, practical topic. It’s not hard to understand how we should communicate from the Bible. It’s very hard to practice, but I’m glad that you’re here with us to talk through this today, so welcome to the podcast. 

Stuart Scott: Thank you, Dale. It is a blessing and when you said you couldn’t think of anyone better to talk about it, it’s probably because I fail a lot and I’m growing, but I’m repeating things constantly, constant reminders and lessons, but it is a privilege really just to minister to others who are also growing. 

Dale Johnson: And I think that’s a really healthy perspective, right? These are things that we strive to conquer and to get better at, but as daily life unfolds, we constantly recognize we need to be reminded of these and that’s what we want to do today, is to remind ourselves of some of these very important principles from the Scripture on biblical communication and that’s sort of where we want to start. I mean, this is a topic that anytime we ask listeners about, “hey, what are some things that you guys want to hear about?” This is one of the things that’s on the top of the list and I think in reality it’s because we all struggle with this and so many ways in making sure that we’re maintaining biblical fidelity in the ways in which we communicate with one another and particularly our spouse, in part, because we’re most vulnerable to them. We’re most our self around them, and so it’s logical for us to see the worst parts of us come out in those moments, even around those that we love most dear. I think, in part, the reason we think we need teaching on this all the time is because we fail at it so much. So I’m looking forward to our discussion today.

Listen, what we’re going to do is just work through this, Stuart, and what I want to do is just give you some freedom here to talk through some of these principles that I think would be really really helpful for us to be reminded of and for us to put into practice and I want to emphasize that for our listeners. It’s nice to know these things intellectually, but even as we’ve talked already briefly, putting these into practice is where the rubber meets the road and where it’s really difficult. So taking some of these principles that we’re going to discuss today and putting them into practice. Maybe make it your aim over the next two, three or four weeks to take some of the things that Stuart’s going to mention and put these things into practice. So, lest we forget all these wonderful things that the Bible talks about and in encouraging us in communication, let’s dive in and I want you, Stuart, to help walk us through some of the things principally and contextually that the Scripture gives us on how we should communicate particularly with our spouse but this is applicable to close relationship. So, I want to just start there with an open window for you to dive in and give us some of these principles that are so prominent in the Scripture. 

Stuart Scott: Yeah. Thank you, Dale. And when I was asked what kinds of things would be helpful in the communication between spouses, I first thought of James 3:2, we all stumble in many ways, if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he’s a perfect man able also to bridle his whole body. Then we start, as you said, we start with the premise or presupposition, we don’t have all of this perfect. Matter of fact, I was just sharing just yesterday, I jumped in on an issue before I asked questions. You know, I just… what we teach all the time—don’t answer until you’ve heard the matter. I didn’t hear it. I just jumped in, so when I started to put my mind on this topic and writing down various sort of principles, reminders, I jotted 15 to 20 of them probably within five minutes. There are very common everyday kind of reminders, and we need the Spirit’s help, right? Being in Christ, we definitely need to be Spirit-controlled and humble to keep learning in these areas. So I can just read off a few of them and then I can pause and see if you want to talk about any of these.

The first is if one of the spouses is sick or tired you’re more easily prone to sin, fleshly. So late at night, when both are tired and of one’s not feeling well. I mean you don’t even have to add a health issue, just tired. It’s not the time to try to talk through serious stuff. We have to be at our best, relying on the Spirit, not at our worst when we’re just wanting to go to bed and rest our eyes. Side note: It is interesting that most elder meetings are late at night. Maybe they shouldn’t be discussing major problems in churches late at night. But anyway, that’s just if we can hold off on a huge issues, serious issues until we’re better rested, that’s just with any kind of issue especially communication. You can’t coast and assume everyone’s okay, especially during this busy time of the year right now. We have to keep working at it and slow down. Zondra and I are opposites, and she’s much more durable than I am, so opposites have to both work. I have to pick up more communication and she has to tone down some, it’s just both have to be selfless and be giving and working to help the relationship.

Another one is don’t try and multitask when serious issues are being discussed. It’s not the time to look at our phone or keep watching TV. I’m telling you, I’m the worst offender in all of these. These are the areas that just came to my mind right away that I have to keep working on.

Another one, not to interrupt or talk over your spouse when they’re speaking. We see it on TV all the time. The news—I watched some of the news, and they talk over each other at the same time, and it’s just horrible communication, but let the other finish and really give them full attention.

Dale Johnson: I want to pause here, Stuart, you’ve already said somewhere. I know personally, man, these are hard things to flesh out, and I think of the tiredness when I go back to when Summer and I were early married, and we sort of learned this principle in the school of hard knocks to some degree, right? Where you’re married, you’re excited to be married, and you know the time where you’re settling down from the day and when you’re getting ready for bed, and that happens to be the time where some of the issues come up and it can even be in times where you’re eager to talk to one another but this is the time where things are a little bit more quiet and especially when kids roll around, this just seems to be the time that’s best. I agree, I mean there have to be other times that you organize during the day or set aside time during the day to make it a point to have meaningful communication outside of this late-night especially when there are serious or significant issues that you need to deal with.

And then this other one about interrupting. I think what happens over time, Stuart, sometimes is we get to know our spouse so well… we know their flaws, they know our flaws, and when they start talking about a particular issue, we sort of think well, I’ve heard this a hundred times I think I know exactly where this is going. And then we have a tendency to interrupt and that communication is not helpful. It’s not listening well or trying to understand the other person but these are good reminders and it’s you know, it’s interesting even as you’re talking and I’m sure as our listeners are hearing what you’re saying, they are immediately thinking of particular ways in which, man, I don’t think I thought that I I do those things as much as I do, and now that Stuart’s mentioning this, oh my gosh, I’m kind of one of the worst offenders of this as well. So this is really helpful for us to think through this and to pause because, I mean, it is disrespectful to the other person, it’s assuming, which the Scripture warns us about, and so making sure that we’re communicating well even with somebody who we know very well like our spouse. So, these are great. Let’s keep working through some of these that I think would be helpful reminders as well. 

Stuart Scott: As you mentioned, at home is going to be the time we let down the most, which is not good. Often we won’t even violate these. There are principles of controlling the tongue, not being bitter, living with your wife, and an understanding way; there are all just principles and applications of that. But at home, that’s not the time to go into a me-time or sort of the self-care mentality: It’s all about me. Because if you both do that, there’s going to be a lot of fleshly responses to one another. At home, we should be at our best, praying for God’s grace and loving each other the best, not the leftovers.

But here are a couple more. Giving your spouse a heads up on when you want to talk about an important topic. Not when they’re doing something else or right in the middle of a task, and you just pop in with an issue you want to talk about. Just give them a heads-up. Like can we think about a time? Can you give me a time? Can you talk about this later? But boy when you just jump in and push, it just doesn’t go well. 

Dale Johnson: I can stop you on every single one of these because I can give examples, it’s so terrible. As I think about this you mentioned that you’re the least verbal one, well Summer in our family is less verbal, and I can remember early on she would say things like, you know, I’m like well, we’re wasting time of our life, let’s just talk it out and we can move on, and she would say things like well, if I’m pressed to talk about this particular issue right now, I’m going to say things I regret and it was as if I didn’t believe If her, you know, and I just, you keep pressing until you figure out, you know, what? Yeah, she’s going to say things she regrets, and then I’m going to say things that I regret, and you begin to learn over time, yeah, the Bible warns us about doing those kinds of things. And so, yeah, we should probably pay attention to what the Scripture warns about and not just be so selfish and wanting to pursue, even if there was a desire to like, let’s move through this, to do it in a way that that’s helpful for both spouses and giving the person a heads up in this particular case that you’re mentioning giving them a heads up of some topic you’ve been stewing in mulling over this maybe all day or for a week. You bring this up to your spouse, it hits them in a different way and they’ve not considered what you’re talking about in the way that you’re talking about it, and so yeah, giving them a heads up of what you’re wanting to chat about so they can really think before they respond and that that’s really helpful. So, sorry to stop you again, but I’m just, as you’re talking thinking of very specifics. So, yeah keep going. 

Stuart Scott: Another one is be careful how much we share about the problems each of us have… my wife’s dealing with lots of issues during the day. I’m dealing with a lot of issues, especially in our our field of counseling and church issues. She’s not able to bear all of her issues and burdens and mine, only the Lord can handle all of those, we take all of those cares to the Lord but sharing important issues but not everything. It’s just overwhelming, very difficult to both be able to talk and love each other and care for one another if it’s a complete sort of dump of everything that’s been bothering me or weighing heavy all day, just maybe a couple of major ones and be able to talk and pray together, but I think we expect maybe too much on spouses to be able to be the complete burden bearer of their own and of their spouse, so I don’t share everything, all of the burdens, I don’t share what I do in counseling, who I’m counseling, and all of the issues that she’s not part of, the problem or the solution. I just, you know couples that go, we’re going to share everything, everything is going to be, that’s maybe not a wise thing… very heavy and depressing if not careful. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that but it just has a lot going on the more we’re in ministry. If you have children, she’s got burdens throughout the day with all the different kids, and you’re dealing with issues at work, and only the Lord can handle all of that. 

Dale Johnson: One of the things that I see is then it becomes some sort of competition as to who has the tougher day and more difficult day and you know who can be excused a little bit more or their attitude be justified in significant communication back and forth. But I think there’s something to another person bearing the burden that I’ve had to go through, you know in a given day and adding to their their burden in an unnecessary way. I really appreciate the way you’re describing that is there are certain scenarios where you know, what she, what my wife walks through in a given day has enough trouble of its own and I don’t need to maybe add to that and I like the way you described that were she’s not been a part of that problem and she’s not a part of that solution. And so, there is no reason to burden her with those things, and I think that’s living with her in an understanding way as 1 Peter 3:7 tells us to do.

Stuart Scott: Right and it’s also shouldering a burden but not taking the whole thing. I mean, I can’t bear all of her burdens. I’m not supposed to. I’m to help shoulder it, yoke up with it, but not take it all, she can’t take all of mine either, but the Lord can, and I think that encourages us to keep praying without ceasing and be wise in what we share.

Another thing, allow time to think and calm down when one is starting to get angry, maybe both are. I think of Nehemiah 5: 6-7 when he was getting angry at hearing a report of something that was going on. And it says there, “And so I took counsel with myself,” and I’m going, “I love that phrase”. If you keep pressing, just what you mentioned, you may get a spouse who’s going to say things that haven’t thought it through well, or to guard our lips or our tongue from some things we shouldn’t be saying, because once it leaves our mouth, as Dr. MacArthur once said, it’s like blowing a dandelion, you’re not going to put all of the things back. You just blew it out and it’s hard to recover it all. Getting a person or just saying I just need some time to think and pray, not escape or ignore the problem, but I just need some time. I’m a slow processor. She’s a fast processor, and sometimes that doesn’t go real well, so for me, I just need some time, let me get my thoughts together, let’s pray, and then we’ll come back and let’s talk about it, because I can tell it’s not going in the best God-glorifying direction right now.

So anyway, that is a, that Nehemiah 5, and it’s like a wise man ponders his way in Proverbs 14 as well. Another one is the pronouns, listening carefully to pronouns, and this isn’t a gender issue. This is, we need to, you know, I know I, and I know you, what’s the we? I don’t know if you’ve had to deal with this, but it’s like, “we” really need to… is that we? Is it that you? Is that me? And clarifying that the pronouns and responsibilities is really helpful. Just yesterday, that came up, you know “we” really need to…, and I’m going, I heard we, is that you? Is that me? And she said, no, it’s you.

Dale Johnson: Zondra and I are a lot alike, where I use the we pronoun quite a bit, and what I mean is it would be helpful if you would do this, but I can just imagine her as she’s listening to this and she’s like, amen. Amen, Stuart. That’s right. 

Stuart Scott: Oh, another one is when you keep bringing up the same issues but no resolution. Sometimes just venting. It’s like the news, they just keep venting about the border issues, and you’re going, I’d like to hear about some resolution because it’s depressing to keep talking about the problem without any steps, practical and specific steps. And that really helps us not to keep rehearsing the same problems over and over and over again; let’s talk about specific and concrete steps for you, me, and both to take towards this. It saves a lot of time of rehearsing the same thing over and over again.

Another one, when she’s addressing an issue with me, it’s an area she sees she’s bringing up to help me, and I get defensive and I turn it, and now we’re talking about her. That is just not God-like, right? It’s not humility, it’s not godly. I can think of her weaknesses, she can think about mine, but when bringing up an issue about someone else, is where we have to just, Lord help me not to be defensive, to listen carefully, this isn’t the time to turn it and talk about things she needs to work on, or he needs to work on. That’s our pride. We get defensive like that. I think in a positive way, just trying to be heavy on encouragement. Every day has enough trouble, so anything positive, anything encouraging goes a long way in the relationship to help so we’re not just bringing up problems or difficult issues to talk about. So that’s one I have to just keep praying and working at, it’s not hard. I see things all the time if I open my eyes up of what she’s doing right, but I need to notice it and say things. 

Dale Johnson: This is one of the things I’ll mention very quickly, Stuart, that I see in counseling with couples that can often change the ballgame. One of the very basic homework that I will give is, I’ll say something like this, next time when we meet in 7 days, I want you to have a list of five things every day that you appreciate about this other person. And what’s always interesting is that the first couple of days are super easy. Oh, they’re such a great wife and such a great mom, and it’s very generic, and all the meals that they cook are amazing. Well, I tell them, when you come back and you have 35 things that set that seven days times five different things that they need to be all different. Well, they get to day three or four, and like, man, I really have to study about this thing, I’ve got to think really hard about this other person that I live with, and I can’t think of basic things. Well, it’s not that those things aren’t there, you’re not paying attention.

And so it teaches them to really pay attention to the other person and to start thinking about ways in which they’re grateful that they’re not considering in a normal week’s time. And honestly, that’s one of the biggest things I think that I see help to change communication as they start seeing in a different perspective the other person and start considering some of the things that they really appreciate. It seems to take the edge off of the things that they don’t appreciate, and so I think that’s a really really helpful way of thinking about it. Plus, it gives them something to talk about other than the problems, where it seems like, you know, problems have become the focus of every aspect of communication dealing with conflict, dealing with some issue. And so, every time we get together and sit down and talk, it seems to go into a heavy direction and it’s really hard to bear and I’d rather us just not talk and you sort of get in those patterns versus offering encouragement as you’re mentioning here, or things that you’re grateful for, for the other person or giving things that are praiseworthy in the other person, that helps just to lighten any interaction of communication. So that’s a big one and I see that really unfolding in counseling a lot.

Stuart Scott: Just a couple more, I mean we could probably go on, the more time I have to think about things that I have to keep learning, I could keep writing more of these things down. I think just never talking ill about your spouse around others unless you’re in counseling and it’s something that you have to bring up to help them and you’re being guided and it’s a solution, or yet in an edifying and glorifying to God, but I do have to correct some things or bring something up and that’s in counseling, but not in public. And I hear that, or I hear different people talk about their spouse and it’s their weaknesses, it’s the things that they’re really failing in, and I just see it’s more about our own failure to try to present your spouse in the best light as much as possible. I just hear it at times, and I feel bad for the spouse who’s getting shut down and talked down to, and it’s not edifying. That little tongue can set hell on fire, it says in James 3, so just to keep working at that. I just think whenever there’s an issue not to clam up and walk away unless it’s because I need some time to process to come back and talk it through. Clamming up and walking away from an offense or anything really important or discouraging, it doesn’t go away, it just is building a wall between the two spouses they can’t talk through. It’s not water under the bridge. I heard a guy the other day just say well, I know I practice forgetting what’s behind. Well, that’s not what that verse is saying about unresolved issues. So we think it’s easier. We think we’ll just move on, but no, love works through the issues. 

Dale Johnson: Stuart, these are so well said and honestly I want to make sure that we’re taking these seriously. I joked today, in part because we see our own failures in some of this, but the reality is these things are very difficult. But these things are biblical ways to posture ourselves toward our spouse; we’re promoting good relationships, we’re promoting sanctification in each other, we’re not becoming a stumbling block toward each other and tempting each other to sin in different ways. And so, we need to be reminded that these are the kinds of things where repentance needs to be a consistent thing that we practice as believers so that we grow in these things so that we walk by the Spirit so we don’t continue to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Stuart, this has been a helpful reminder; we need a refresher course on this stuff quite frequently and thank you for being willing to be vulnerable but also to share some things that you’re consistently learning so that we could do the same. 

Stuart Scott: Absolutely. Thank you, Dale. 

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