Dr. Dale Johnson discusses communication in marriage on this week’s edition of Truth in Love. For more podcasts like this one, visit our podcast page.
Heath Lambert: If you are married then one of the problems that you face is the problem of communication in marriage. It is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent the case that every married couple experiences trouble in communication. So I am thrilled that this week on the podcast we are going to be tackling that problem. Something I am even more thrilled about is how we are going to be tackling that problem. And that is with the help of Dr. Dale Johnson. If you have listened to Truth in Love in the past, then you will know that back in the Spring I announced my intention to resign as the Executive Director of ACBC effective on October 2nd at the ACBC annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas. And I am thrilled that the board of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselor’s has selected as my replacement, Dr. Dale Johnson, a biblical counseling professor, and author, and the next Executive Director of ACBC. And he is going to take on this issue of communication in marriage this week on the podcast. And I hope you appreciate what he has to say.
Dale Johnson: This week we want to revisit the issue of marriage communication. It is often that married couples find themselves having affections in different directions and life becomes common and they forget how to communicate to one another. And they forget to speak in affectionate ways to one another, almost speaking to each other in very intense or disrespectful ways. How would we deal with issues like that? Where maybe there has been small points of bitterness over time that have built up in a marriage that has led to different types of communication. We know from the Scriptures that speaking to one another comes from the heart of a person. And as we know in marriage we interact a lot in our marital relationships, and sometimes those offenses are not dealt with in a proper manner. And so, if we are not dealing with those particular issues in a proper manner, one of the things you will see in the counseling room is the couple struggles to communicate with one another.
So this week I want us to address this particular issue and how we would think through this in the counseling room. We want to focus particularly on how the couple speaks to one another. We want to look at the issues of the heart particularly as what are the hindrances that keep them from speaking in kind and tenderhearted ways to one another. They have forgotten the biblical command and demand for us to speak in tender ways toward one another. One of the things that we will see often, looking particularly at Ephesians 4:29 is the Scripture tells us, “Let no unwholesome communication proceed from your mouth, but only such a word that is edifying that brings grace to the one who hears.” Now if we were to pause for a second and think through that particular verse there is a wealth of information there that is very critical about communication with a couple. And so if you think about a couple oftentimes, we as individuals, we speak to our spouse in a lot of different ways. Sometimes we might get angry about things and we speak harshly, or we are short with them because our minds are in a different direction. When we notice those particular things it is very common for us in our sinful nature to speak to one another in a way that is self-defensive—that is a very common problem in marriage. And we want to make sure that we are addressing those issues because unwholesome words come from our self-defensiveness when we are trying to defend ourselves against what we think the other person has said or spoken against us.
Another common issue that you will see in the counseling room relative to communication is when we are self-preserving. We want to preserve our particular way or our thoughts about a particular issue. And we will often clash with the desire of the other spouse. And in our want and desire to have what we want, or to preserve what we desire at that moment we will often rashly speak—or harshly speak—unwholesome words to our spouse. But the Scripture tells us not to speak those kinds of words; so how do we halt those kinds of words? We have to begin to look at the later part of the verse where he tells us to speak words that edify.
So what that means is that we have to die to our own self and desires and then teach our counselees how to speak in a way that is edifying to the person who is hearing. Now that changes everything because when we think about speaking, now we have to speak to these cousnelees and teach them how to speak to one another in a way that is edifying to the one who is hearing (not just edifying in the way that they think they speak this) but edifying to the one who is actually hearing. And sometimes in the counseling room I will get the couple to speak in a way that is for the edification of the other spouse, not only just for the edification of the other spouse—based on Ephesians 4:29—but also so that the way in which we say these things brings grace to the one who hears. Often this last section is the most difficult, because we will see spouses who in their struggle to communicate often feel like they are expressing themselves in ways that ought to be pleasing to the other spouse. And conflict sometime can ensue because one spouse will take offense—the one who is hearing. And so you have to back up and help the counselees begin to sort out the way in which they think before they speak and the motivation for why they are speaking is not for themselves but for the one who is hearing, and to say it in such a way that it brings grace.
Now does that mean that we never communicate in a way that is corrective? No, to bring grace to someone’s life may mean that we have to speak the truth in gentleness, and kindness, and in love. That is for the benefit of the other person. What we see consistently in that is what is rooted here in Ephesians 4:29. The motivation has to be for the other person. So in other words what is happening is we have to teach the counselees to cease speaking for themselves and really transition against our sinful nature those desires to defend ourselves and to preserve what we want. And learn to speak particularly for the benefit and grace of the other person. That takes a lot of effort. That takes a lot of change. And so helping them to work through that—a couple of ways I might do that is I might ask a couple-starting with the man I may say something like this: “Sir, could you, please, tell me three things that you love about your spouse?” Often times he does not have a problem saying three nice things that he appreciates about his wife. Then I ask the wife the same thing and she, likewise, doesn’t have much problem saying three things that she loves or likes to see in her husband. And then I proceed to ask the question: “Well, sir, can you tell me three things that might concern you about your wife?” And often times there is an awkward pause, because now he doesn’t want to say anything that hurts her feelings. He might not want to say anything that degrades her, at least in front of me, but he started to think now that these are the hindrances that keep him back from proper communication. These are the things in which God has called him to love her despite what he sees in her that might be a concern. Now we are getting to the place of biblical love, him learning now to speak and to love her despite who she really is and speak in a way that is graceful to her. And likewise, the wife to the husband. So we learn in that process, and to teach them to speak in a way that is edifying to each other and it brings grace to the one who hears.
Now what are some homework that I give them? I might give them several things. I want to see in communication-I might ask them to do what has been called the Family Table. Where I get them to sit across the table maybe for five to ten minutes each night each night—at least until we meet the following week—and what I want them to do is for them to have a concerted amount of time where they are sitting across the table from one another where all the rest of life ceases and they are able to communicate well with one another. They are able to listen well, they are able to speak kindly to one another, and not interrupt each other while the other person is talking. So I will ask them to sit for ten minutes each night, one person having the floor up front, they will pray, and then I will get them to ask about the other person’s day so that they now have an opportunity to listen and they are hearing a little bit more about their spouse. They are paying attention to what is going on in the life and the world of their spouse, so that they then can communicate in a way that is effective, edifying them, based on the story of that particular day. And then they will reverse and the other one can ask questions, and begin to allow the other spouse to share their story. So that they are learning to communicate well in a way that is tenderhearted, kind, and for the benefit and grace of the one who is hearing. And then I will get them to come back to counseling and we share those experiences to see what issues may have arisen that were tough issues to talk about, maybe issues that brought up bitterness and anger in the couple, and those things now we begin to deal with in subsequent sessions. And give them practical applications from the Scriptures on how to speak in a way that is edifying and brings grace to the one who hears.
These issues are very common and it is something we need to be very well versed in, in how to deal with these types of issues. Because everyone deals with these types of communication issues whether we are dealing with spousal problems or problems even at work when we communicate with one another. So the goal from that particular point is for the next several weeks we may take the same teaching from Scripture and utilize experiences from their particular week implementing and revisiting these particular principles so that they begin to build habits in their marriage so that they can revisit learning how to listen well to one another and then learning to speak for the sake of the other person rather than speaking just simply for themselves. So I want to challenge you as a counselor to begin to think through these issues so that you can better help those who come to you who have maybe not some of the those major issues that we are accustomed to dealing with especially in the counseling room. But even very common problems that we find in marital situations and this is a way that we can help even the best of marriages to grow in the ways in which they communicate with one another.
You are listening to Truth in Love, a podcast of ACBC. If you would like more information about solving marriage problems, that is one of the things that we focus on at our ACBC Regional Trainings. And so I want to invite you to attend one of those this fall. This fall we will be in Laguna Hills, California and Virginia Beach, Virginia. If you would like more information about those trainings, or about the ministry of ACBC then you can visit us at biblicalcounseling.com.